- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

If anyone thinks the Democrats will be united in the aftermath of their 2000 election battles, they should read the Democratic Leadership Council's bitter broadside against Al Gore's losing presidential campaign.

The centrist-leaning DLC held a probing self-analysis session last week that it titled "Why Gore Lost," charging Mr. Gore failed because he ran as a big-government, class-warfare, old-style liberal. That turned off New Economy swing voters, who largely flocked to George W. Bush.

What has DLC leaders virtually in tears is that they think Mr. Gore, a former DLC-er himself, could have won the presidency if he had run on the DLC's moderate agenda of "common aspirations" instead of lurching left with a special-interests, class-division campaign that alienated "wired" investor-class voters in the vast political center.

In the DLC's long-awaited postmortem, which is likely to reignite the old ideological divisions of the '70s and '80s, DLC President Al From and his warriors of the center launched an angry attack on the Gore campaign and the party's left wing. Their complaints are published in more detail in Blueprint, their magazine, backed up by polling numbers from Mark Penn, who was Bill Clinton's White House pollster.

"This is all-out war for our party's soul," a prominent DLC supporter told me.

Here is a sampling of what New Democrats are saying: "The Gore campaign often looked and sounded like a throwback to the doomed Democratic campaigns of the 1980s, replete with vintage class-warfare themes and narrowly tailored appeals to constituency groups," said Will Marshall, who heads the DLC's policy-making research arm.

"This backsliding from reform-minded centrism to interest group liberalism was a key factor in turning a race Gore should have won handily into a virtual tie," Mr. Marshall said.

Mr. Penn produced postelection poll numbers showing Mr. Gore's left-wing, big-government pitch was a major turnoff for voters in the key states that would have given him an electoral victory.

"The vice president failed to build on Clinton's winning formula of fiscal responsibility and support for smaller, activist government. Consequently, Gore was vulnerable to attacks as an old-style, big-government liberal like Michael Dukakis the very image that brought down Dukakis in his 1988 race against Bush's father," Mr. Penn said.

Mr. Gore's "old style populism" a euphemism for his anti-business, "people versus the powerful" campaign themes "reduced his appeal rather than expanded it," he said. "The message prevented him from reaching the swing voters who could have pushed him over the top."

The architect of the New Democrat movement that led to Mr. Clinton's election, Al From, says Mr. Gore failed to understand the dramatic changes that have taken place in the electorate over the past two decades.

It is more affluent; more educated; more suburban; more invested in the stock market; more entrepreneurial; more "wired" into the high-tech, Internet economy; and more politically moderate, he said.

One riveting example: The percentage of all voters with annual family incomes of more than $50,000 shot up from 32 percent in 1992 to 53 percent in 2000.

Mr. From was struck by the electorate's changing focus at a campaign stop at a fire station with Mr. Gore's running-mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (the DLC's chairman). "He asked the firefighters what they'd be talking about if he were not there. Their answer: The stock market."

"The voters saw Gore as too liberal," Mr. From said. Caught in a time warp of his own making, Mr. Gore "talked to an Industrial Age America, not an Information Age America. Democrats should speak to the new majority as it is, not as it was."

In an impassioned plea to the party leadership to "Change the message," Washington state Rep. Adam Smith, an up-and-coming New Democrat in the House, said the party's reliance on government paternalism does not sell anymore to the new electorate.

People are concerned about "high taxes, a lack of fiscal responsibility" and "government programs that produce dependence," Mr. Smith said. "Nowhere in the national Democratic message were any of these issues addressed."

"If we come out in the next election and say vote for Democrats because they will give you more government, we will lose," he said.

But these DLC leaders know the party's left isn't about to roll over and abandon its big-government causes. Two archliberal members Mr. From put on the panel to "begin a dialogue" saw nothing wrong with Mr. Gore's pitch.

Steve Rosenthal, the AFL-CIO's political director, defended Mr. Gore's class-warfare rhetoric as "his most effective message." Ruy Teixeira, a liberal think-tank analyst, wanted no move toward the center. The Democratic Party "is the party of the '30s and the '60s," he insisted.

For 15 years, the DLC-ers have been trying to pull their party away from the looney left. They made some progress under Bill Clinton on issues such as trade, fiscal restraint and welfare. But the Democratic Party's leftward lurch in 2000 has been a major setback for them. This is a party that still doesn't get it.


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