November 18, 2004


What Are Democrats About? (Harold Meyerson, November 17, 2004, Washington Post)

The themelessness isn't simply Kerry's, however, any more than it was simply Gore's or Dukakis's. Time was when the Democrats were the party of economic justice and opportunity, the party that championed emerging constituencies as well as classes: Catholics, blacks, women. They were the party of the many against the powerful, which played a lot better in the electoral arena than being the party of the one against the many. But, with the signal exception of Clinton's '92 campaign -- a brilliant mix of economic progressivism and cultural centrism -- the Democrats haven't been able to persuade enough voters to choose them as their champions for a very long time. And Clinton's ability to deliver on that promise once in office was a sometime thing. Full employment made life better for the people at the bottom of the economy. But the erosion of the decent jobs of the old industrial economy never really stopped (and, of course, has escalated greatly under Bush), and the jobs that replaced them more often than not offered lower pay, fewer benefits and less security. The Wal-Mart economy has grown on both the Democrats' and Republicans' watch.

From Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich and now to George Bush, the Republicans have developed a clear response to these changes: They are the party of risk, which they call "opportunity." This is most certainly not why Bush won reelection; Americans are not pining to pay for their health coverage or retirement or college tuition with no assist from their employers or their government.

Historically the Democrats have been the party of security, but that's an identity they need to reclaim. The challenge of radical Islam demands more of them than a foreign policy of realpolitik...

Little interest as we have in restoring the Democrats, here are two popular themes they could run on that are consistent with the American charcter: an economic policy that envisions making every citizen an owner of the society, through universal retirement, health, education, and unemployment accounts and home ownership programs; and a morally based foreign policy. They could also use some branding and given those new themes they could call themselves Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2004 8:21 AM

As desperate as the Democrats seem for power right now, on the presidential level it took three straight losses to the Republicans in the 1980s for them to get so desperate they would muzzle their farthest left flank and nominate a NDP guy like Clinton (and even then he had to be hitched to Hillary to allay the fears of those on the left that he might actually mean what he was saying during the 1992 campaign).

While a few in the party post-election this month seem to have reached that point again, others haven't, and by calling for Howard Dean to be the new DNC chairman, it shows there are many right now holding to the belief there's nothing wrong with their ideology, it's just the people who were wrong on Nov. 2 (and even if he was only playing a wild-eyed liberal during last year's campaign and isn't as leftist as he seems, those calling for his selection want last winter's Howard running things).

Hillary began her repositioning to the right on 9/11/01, and the left's faith in her not really meaning what she's going to say leading up to the 2008 election might be able to silence their fanatical rantings about the stupidity/mendacity/just plain evilness of Red State America. But many of them are still going to want a lot of red meat thrown at them over the next four years. We'll see how well the Clinton campaign apparatus can turn them into Ross Perot's crazy uncle locked out of sight of the TV cameras in the basement.

Posted by: John at November 18, 2004 8:53 AM

And he got 42%

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2004 9:04 AM

Expect the press, shown the way by Democratic Party tour guides, to play up the stories of the Republican "divide" between its social and economic conservatives big time over the next few years in hopes of recreating the party's 1992 GHWB/Buchanan split that dampened turnout in the fall and led to Perot entering the race.

Posted by: John at November 18, 2004 9:24 AM

Meyerson needs to be reminded that Clinton won 42.9% of the vote in 1992. His campaign was good, but he did not match Dukakis, Gore, or Kerry. A different GOP candidate would have done as well as Bush Sr. in 1988.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 18, 2004 10:31 AM

A different GOP candidate would have gotten 10 points more than Old Bush in 1988. 'a kinder more gentle America' Kinder than whom? More gentle than whom? And then the Bushies wonder why the Reagan crowd were pi$$ed at them.

Posted by: Bart at November 18, 2004 10:45 AM

All that mattered was the tax hike.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2004 10:55 AM

Q: What's the difference between the Democrats and the Communists?

A: There's a difference?

Posted by: Ken at November 18, 2004 12:11 PM

A healthy democracy depends on countervailing power.

We better be interested in a strong, vital, Democratic Party.

For our own sakes.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 18, 2004 2:06 PM