- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

National Democrats continue to wander in the wilderness, searching for the path to the Promised Land. Along the way, the debate is heated and emotional because it’s not only a squabble about tactics, but a battle for the soul of the party.

While the intraparty chatter will continue, there are early signs that some Democrats are beginning to find a voice more resonant with Middle America. The question is: Will the rest of its leadership listen?

Political campaigns write a narrative about parties. And this year’s story about the Democrats created a troubling caricature — a party that preached unrestrained lifestyle freedom of choice, without concomitant personal responsibility. And it was not John Kerry that frightened voters, but the image of his most visible and vocal supporters. Post-drug culture rock and rollers, posing as political advisors, so-called civil-rights activists who are really lobbyists and fundraisers for the race-baiting industry and Hollywood entertainers, so bored with their own nihilism they needed to export it to others. These faces and voices troubled many Americans, particularly those with kids, trying to navigate through an increasingly coarse and dangerous culture.

But recently we see somewelcome strands of moderation. Three separate individuals in the news recently all point to the same conclusion: Democrats are beginning to talk more openly and are taking steps to reject a “one size fits all” ideological relativism and its cultural purveyors. In this holiday season, let’s call them the Three Wise Men, all on the same pilgrimage, with slightly different gifts, talents and missions, but trying to find the same political Promised Land.

The first Wise Man is Al From, CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council. In an essay titled “The Road Back,” (co-authored with Bruce Reed and published in Blueprint on Dec. 13, 2004). Mr. From has a literary “Sister Souljah moment” with the cultural left that Mr. Kerry should have had. “We must leave no doubt that Michael Moore neither represents nor defines our party,” Mr. From writes. “We need to lead, not follow, in the family values debate, by pressing our own ideas to give parents more tools to protect their children from a coarsening culture.”

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is the second Wise Man, attempting to implement some of Mr. From’s suggestions. The Democratic Illinois governor made news recently by announcing a push for state legislation making it harder for kids under 18 to purchase violent or sexually explicit videos.

Games like “Grand Theft Auto” are the target of Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts. They allow players to visit a prostitute and then “kill her if you don’t want to pay her,” according to Joanne Cantor, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, in a Dec. 16 Washington Post article.

Whether Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts will genuinely change cultural coarseness is debatable. Yet there is another motive behind his actions. He is doing something else the Kerry campaign refused to do: impose his personal values in the political arena. Voters may disagree with the effectiveness of his tactics, but they will likely admire his resolve to address the problem.

The final Wise Man is Tim Roemer, who may run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Roemer, a middle-of-the-road former congressman from red-state Indiana, had a strong pro-life voting record in the House and most recently served as a member of the September 11 commission. That he could be a viable candidate for the post, as evidenced by the endorsements he received from the Democrats’ two top congressional leaders, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, signals another possible pragmatic shift on the part of the Democrats.

A new party chair cannot alone remake the party’s image with voters who believe Democrats have lost their way. Yet it is clear that a pro-life former lawmaker from Indiana would probably not have been Mr. Kerry’s pick for the party had he won the presidency. “Something’s changing,” a House GOP leadership aide told me. “I think these are all signs that the Democrats are starting to get it.”

Perhaps. It’s too early to tell what impact the Three Wise Men will have on the Democrats. Will the party leaders follow their lead and signal a renewed openness to more moderate-to-conservative social views? Or will they pursue a path to political oblivion, led by other priests who dogmatically insist the party worship at the altar of the cultural left? Stay tuned.

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