Democrats' Dilemma: Fall in Love or Fall in Line?

12/11/2010 02:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Many Democrats want a better vision for America than the initial deal struck with Republicans. Call us TARPed out -- weary from bailout fatigue, we just can't see meeting Republican hostage takers' demands. Watching Bill Clinton help Barack Obama extend George Bush tax cuts -- something no one could have imagined nearly four years ago during the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary -- it's easy to see why Democrats have cognitive dissonance. Here were two enormously popular Democratic leaders saying we should hand Republicans their "holy grail" because this is the best we can do. Is it? Let's discuss.

Remember our psychology. It is not in our nature to accept top-down edicts. As President Clinton often observed: "Democrats want to fall in love; Republicans want to fall in line" -- yet there he was asking Democrats to fall in line. And President Obama called us to service with "real change that comes from the bottom up." A more interactive approach would go a long way toward uniting us around a common vision.

Respect our principles. Democrats have deep love of country and principle. Those of us fighting this fight since spring 2001 -- when even John McCain opposed the budget busting spending -- aren't realistically going to abandon our principles. We have made fair economic policy a touchstone of every campaign since fall 2001 -- and convinced the American people that we were right. Contrary to the personal attacks on our temperament, maturity, and philosophy, we happen to be an agreement with the majority of the American people.

Examine the policy. Democrats want the best economic policy possible for our country. We can add. We know the math is not there for President Obama to keep his campaign promise. We know that the Senate does not have 60 votes and will not use reconciliation (as Republicans did to pass the cuts in 2001). We know that we have to make a bipartisan deal in order to help struggling families. But we are unconvinced that this is the best deal. That is a matter of basic economics: why one year for workers and two years for the top 2%? Why an estate tax gift to billionaires at the expense of vital necessities for workers? Why no help for homeowners and 99ers? Unlike TARP where only the Fed had the keys to the kingdom, we know the tax code and can propose ideas to make it work better for Main Street. As we learned from Senator Sanders during his 8 hour speech aka the "#filibernie" our nation is ready to engage in debate.

Psychology, principle, and policy are why we have the Democrats dilemma: fall in love or fall in line. My email inbox is replete with laments from Democrats -- particularly young people -- who've slept on floors, donated time, put themselves on the line to stop the concentration of wealth and power to the top 2 percent. I hope they'll engage with the same respect they want -- we all want -- from our leaders. They want to know that Washington is still listening to them; that they can contribute to this debate for a better way for our president, our party, and our country to move forward.

As we look to the future, we must tackle this dilemma head on and address the concerns of Democrats who won't fall in love and won't fall in line so that we can continue to thrive as a big tent national party.