- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

This week's gathering of the Democratic Leadership Council exposed divisions in a party that is still searching for an agenda with legs and whose leaders cannot agree on several core issues like taxes and trade.
The two-day DLC conference in New York, which drew about 800 Democrats from around the country, presented a parade of presidential contenders who devoted most of their speeches to attacking President Bush on the declining stock market and the weakened economy.
But much of what they said was overshadowed by unusually sharp criticism from the party against Al Gore's populist "the people vs. the powerful" message that key Democratic leaders said had turned off many voters in the 2000 election.
Not only did DLC Chief Executive Al From accuse the former vice president of sounding too anti-business, but Mr. Gore's 2000 running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, also made some indirect jabs, saying that an "us vs. them" strategy fails to attract moderate, pro-growth, investor-class voters.
If he decides to run for president in 2004, Mr. Lieberman said he would run "as the pro-growth candidate."
Such criticism of their former nominee had some liberal Democrats complaining loudly yesterday that the party's more-conservative wing was pursuing the wrong campaign strategy.
"You've got to wonder about making this a theme when the country is demanding action on corporate reform," said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America's Future, a liberal issue advocacy group. "It magnifies the division between those who want to lead in cleaning up corporate crime and establishing new rules for corporate behavior and those who want to assure corporate America that they are on their side no matter what.
"Here you have Lieberman lecturing the party that they should be very worried that they should not be seen as too anti-corporate. Their sense of issues is pretty off-base at the present time," Mr. Hickey said.
"The DLC and people like Sen. John Breaux [Louisiana Democrat] are pointing the party in a politically stupid direction," he said.
Divisions over whether to repeal or scale back Mr. Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax-cut plan also flared up at the DLC's annual meeting.
Mr. Lieberman and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina called for withholding further tax cuts for those in the top income bracket, and even the DLC itself supports legislative reconsideration of the tax cuts.
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt flatly oppose repealing any part of the plan, despite their belief that the tax cuts have worsened the deficits.
Trade has always been a divisive issue among Democrats and that too was on view in New York. Mr. Daschle seemed to boast about the Senate's action in favor of the trade-negotiating authority that Mr. Bush wants, while Mr. Gephardt and most House Democrats opposed the bill that passed the House last week.
"It still remains a divisive issue in our party," Mr. From said.
But the speeches focused most heavily on blaming Mr. Bush and the corporate accounting scandal for the disappearance of $7 trillion in stock values, the downturn in the economy and a withering assault on what Mr. Edwards called a corrupt "corporate culture in this country."
That kind of rhetoric could not have pleased Mr. From or Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, the DLC's national chairman, both of whom said that the party risked a backlash from voters by making a broad-brush attack on business in general.
Mr. Daschle, for example, read a list of headlines from the major weekly newsmagazines, some of which said, "Can You Afford to Retire?" and "Will You Ever Be Able to Retire?"
But this emphasis on the stock market's losses was seen as a risky political maneuver for the party by some Democrats, who said Monday's sudden surge in the Dow showed how quickly the issue could evaporate between now and the November elections.
"It is a high-risk strategy to bet it all on the economy and the stock market," said Ed Rendell, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, who thinks the party ought to broaden its campaign message and "not put it all on one issue."

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