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The Providence Journal

Democrats Need To Get Real


February 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Providence Journal. All rights reserved. 

HERE'S SOME ADVICE for the Democratic Party: Take your 20 most visible elected officials and pundits, and send at least half of them to a secluded island. Don't be mean about it. Choose an attractive atoll with a lagoon. Provide an open bar and tennis court.

Just be sure to cut off all telephone service to the American mainland, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam. No mail, either. Let them give speeches to each other.

That's what the Democratic Party must do if it hopes to ever take anything back a House of Representatives, a Senate, a White House. It has to talk differently about the economy and health care. And it has to deal with the terror issue.

How odd to hear Democrats making phony arguments against the Bush economic policy when their cup runneth over with real reasons to attack it. Republicans persist in their appalling array of tax cuts geared toward the wealthiest. Most Americans aren't even demanding tax cuts for themselves, much less the rich. And the public is overwhelmingly opposed to the large budget deficits that these tax cuts will fuel.

Nevertheless, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) loves to focus on the irrelevant charge that Bush hasn't created jobs in his first two years in office. The minority leader is all over TV assailing Bush for the worst record of job creation for any president since World War II. Unemployment is at 6 percent, an eight-year high, she repeats, unfortunately. That means that joblessness was this high in 1995, halfway through Democrat Bill Clinton's first term.

The point is, a new president doesn't come into office, pull some levers and create jobs. Bush arrived in the middle of a bursting investment bubble, and not long before Sept. 11 hurt the economy further. The problem with Bush's economic policy is not the cards he was dealt; it's the way he's playing them.

Other Bush policies go so counter to mainstream values that they might as well be sent to Democrats in heart-shaped boxes. Administration assaults on environmental protections send even Republicans into despair. Few Americans care for the Republicans' abortion politics, especially when applied to medically important stem-cell research. And there is little passion in the land for privatizing the great middle-class programs: Social Security and Medicare.

So go ahead, Democrats, and criticize proposals that encourage elderly Americans to put their Medicare benefits in the hands of private insurers in return for drug benefits. That's fair game. But don't dishonestly characterize a new incentive as coercive. It insults the intelligence.

Trouble is, supporting stem-cell research and stopping snowmobile noise in Yellowstone won't do us much good if we're all dead. Terrorism is a real threat. And so is the proliferation of dread weapons among rogue states like Iraq. These security concerns were what drove swing voters into the arms of Republican candidates during the last election.

It's the Democrats' special burden to have Eleanor Clift on their side and on the air. The liberal pundit is like a cement truck. She makes loud grating noises, while the same partisan goop churns round and round the barrel. That real issues might influence a political race has not occurred to her.

Moments before the State of the Union address, Clift is on National Public Radio, angrily obsessing over the electoral defeat three months ago of former Sen. Max Cleland (D.-Ga.). She's incensed that Republicans portrayed Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, as soft on homeland security. True, the ads were especially nasty and misleading, but Cleland did help hold up approval of a homeland-security department for months over a minor labor issue.

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) led this unpopular campaign, then abandoned it after voters punished Democrats in the midterm elections over the security issue. Daschle is now out and about, issuing general and rambling complaints about the president's indecision on the war on terrorism.

It happens that lots of voters like the two-party system and prefer the Democrats on many, if not most, issues. But Democrats, please, you have to meet them halfway. Leave demagoguery to the opposition. And finally, you can't just pretend to care about national security. You have to mean it.

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