I often do not recognize today's Democratic Party. Too many of our leaders in the state are morally and ethically corrupt. Whether they beat up women, harass staff members, steal money, fail to pay taxes or make deals for rent-controlled apartments, there is a theme to their behavior: They act as if they are above the law. It is as if the party of FDR is evolving back into the party of Boss Tweed.
But the greater moral failure -- not only in our great state, but nationally -- is the party's inability to seize the moment. Over the last three decades, the American people have been robbed of their economic security by a system that has taken the wealth of the richest nation in human history from the many and placed it in the hands of a few.
My party once was the voice of the common person. Now, it is awash in a torrent of corrupting money from the very corporate interests that have fostered the greatest divide between rich and poor in 100 years. We don't call for the wholesale firing of every Wall Street executive and the indictments of those who perpetuated a scam on the public; instead, many Democrats are pocketing Wall Street donations and torpedoing real financial reform.
With a few exceptions, Democratic leaders don't utter the words "full employment" anymore once a clear distinction between the Democratic and Republican parties.
Brave and ethical leaders stake out positions and follow their beliefs even if their constituents are doubtful. That is what it means to lead. But too many state and national Democratic Party leaders are guided not by clarity of vision but only by the desire to win.
This same failure is evident when you consider my opponent, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Only in our dysfunctional political system could an individual pronounce herself as having "evolved" from past abhorrent positions to a new "progressive" set of principles -- and have the political world nod in acceptance, as if this didn't reveal a person with no principles at all.
As I travel around the state -- not by helicopter or limo but by subway, ferry and compact car -- I hear many expressions of cynicism, anger and blaming of the government. But I also see the greatest opportunity in my lifetime to fundamentally change the rules of our economy. People understand that the system has failed. They will embrace a new system if they see that it is fair.
People ask me whether I am to the "left" of my opponent. I am a patriotic American who believes in the promise of the preamble of the Constitution, which calls on us, as a nation, to "promote the general welfare." We have failed to do so. I am running for the U.S. Senate as a representative of real change -- change that tosses out the party's machine and gives the people the security and the honest government they deserve.
Jonathan Tasini of New York City is running against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in this year's Democratic primary election. He is former president of the National Writers Union.