Centrist Democrats warn liberals

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The Democrats’ postelection war about what they should stand for is heating up again, with centrists challenging liberals to “real fights” within the party about staking out a tougher position against terrorism.

In an attack on the party’s dominant left wing, anti-war base, and a warning for new Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean “to do no harm,” the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council said it is “a delusion to think that if we just turned out our voters, we could win national elections.”

Instead, the DLC called on the party to dramatically change its message to “recapture the muscular progressive internationalism of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy and convince voters that national security is our first priority.”

“To win back the White House in 2008, our party must change. We must be willing to discard political strategies that may make us feel good but that keep falling short. We must finally reject the false choice between exciting our base and expanding our appeal, because unless we both motivate and persuade, we’ll lose every time,” said DLC founder Al From and President Bruce Reed in a new manifesto for their party.

Their criticism has been heard many times during the past two decades in their continuing battle against the party’s liberal establishment. But this time, they say, it will take a divisive, all-out political civil war to scrub the anti-war orthodoxy out of the party’s agenda.

“Shoring up our weakness will not come without real debate — even real fights — over national security and domestic priorities,” they said in the DLC’s Blueprint magazine.

The sooner these fights take place, the better, they said.

“We should not shy away from them. It’s far less important that Democrats come together now than on Election Day. And we are far more likely to be together on Election Day if we battle out our differences now.”

In an “open letter” to their party last month, 17 DLC members led by Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana said Democrats had “to make clear to the American people that winning the war on jihadist extremism will be the Democratic Party’s first priority this year and every year until the danger recedes.”

Although they acknowledged that for many anti-war Democrats “Iraq remains a difficult issue,” they said, “It is essential that partisan enmity not obscure America’s vital interest in helping the newly elected Iraqi government succeed.”

But party liberals last week dismissed the DLC’s advice as warmed-over Republicanism.

“I can’t tell the difference between the positions the DLC puts forward and Republican policy,” said Jack Blum, counsel for the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.

“I’ve read this before and I am not carried away by it. Nobody in the Democratic Party, and that most especially includes the liberals in the Americans for Democratic Action, opposes fighting the terrorists.”

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