(This is a repost of a diary I wrote a few months ago on Daily Kos. It is also, in a way, Part 1 of a series about where I believe our Party should go in the near future.)

Why are you a Democrat?

What makes you vote for the Democratic ticket on Election Day? What made you decide that just voting for progressive Democrats is not enough - that you also need to volunteer for the Obama campaign or for other progressives running in your area?

To me, being a Democrat is not only about supporting this policy or opposing this action. Yes, I do hold most of the same stances as most Democrats when it comes to important issues of the day. I opposed the Iraq War before it started. I support healthcare for all. I believe in regulations for corporations. Dependence on foreign oil? Bad. Corruption? Bad. Regressive tax policy? Bad. Higher pay for teachers? Good. Diplomacy? Good. The right to form and join unions? Good.

But having these opinions hardly has anything to do with my being a progressive Democrat. It's why I hold these positions that has led me in my young life to call myself a liberal Democrat.

Each of us has our own unique set of values, molded by our own unique set of experiences. Our values are formed by the lessons we learn from parents, teachers, managers, coaches, clergy and so on. They come from our interactions with our friends, co-workers, and distant relatives we may only meet at family reunions or weddings. They also come from events of the world around us, such as a neighbor dying suddenly, a local factory closing, or September 11.

But every time I stop to think about the values that guide me, they all lead back to one word.


What, then, are those values of which I speak - values which lead back to respect? Here is a look at the tip of the iceberg.

Why do I support access to health coverage for all citizens? Because I value compassion.

I also value responsibility. I believe that all of us - humans, corporations, the like - must act in a responsible manner to one another. Thus, I support regulating carbon emissions, making our country energy independent, and using diplomacy over militarism.

I value truth, and I understand that the best society is one where people understand the truth and seek it out when necessary. It is also why I believe in the importance of educating everyone, and that education is not merely about being able to determine the number of degrees in the corners of a polygon or the atomic number of each element on the Periodic Table, but in the ability to think for oneself. For those reasons I support strengthening our public education system, and I oppose deception and lies in all their forms.

Compassion, responsibility, truth... they all lead back to respect. As do the many other values I cherish.

I take the words "All men are created equal" to heart. Well, somewhat. All men and women are created equal.

This is especially true when you consider how fortunate you and I are. I was not born into wealth or privilege. Yet, nor was I born into poverty in Africa. I'm not in a high-rise condo, but nor do I find myself in Darfur or South Ossetia. As I said on Thanksgiving, I am not the most privileged person on the planet, but I am luckier than many.

To value respect is to understand the importance of every human being on this planet - that each human being can make our own life richer, if only we let them.

And when people deny this very respect to others, they are in effect denying it to themselves. A person is less able to show respect when they themselves are not shown respect.

Obviously there are those whom we hold closer to our hearts than most anyone else. Yet at the same time, there are countless different ways of showing our love to other people - volunteering at the local food pantry, helping out with Special Olympics, setting up care packages to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Respect. It's amazing how that one word sums up not only my personal values, but also why I am a Democrat.

With Democrats not being seen my some as a party of values, I would like to see more Democrats emphasize the importance of values. By discussing our shared values, Democrats can connect with voters in a way Republicans have been for years.

More importantly, I would like to see all of us Democrats - Party leaders, elected officials, and rank-and-file Democrats - commit or re-commit ourselves to these values.

More to come.

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