- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

The likely election of Rep. Nancy Pelosi to be the new House minority leader threatens to move her party further to the left, a shift party centrists fear will make Democrats irrelevant in future elections.
The congresswoman gets an undeviating 100 percent liberal voting score from leftist groups like the Americans for Democratic Action, so Mrs. Pelosi's elevation to the Democrats' top congressional leadership post has sparked yet another postelection fight between party liberals and centrist-leaning Democrats. The latter say the party must reach out to independents and swing voters if it is to survive.
The first intraparty warning shot was fired Tuesday when the Democratic Leadership Council, formed more than two decades ago to pull the party into the political center, called Mrs. Pelosi and her liberal supporters "the Jurassic Park wing of the House Caucus."
In a bluntly worded memo to congressional Democrats on its Web site, the DLC said if Mrs. Pelosi is elected, she "needs to go out of her way from the outset to show she understands the party needs to lead from the vital center, not retreat to the fringe."
While the Democrats' dominant liberal wing was cheering Mrs. Pelosi's expected advancement, the DLC was promoting Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee, a DLC leader and a late entry in the party contest.
"Ford's wake-up call for Democrats to evolve or die is exactly what the Jurassic Park wing of the House Caucus needs to hear," the DLC said, though they doubted he had much of a chance to overcome her substantial lead.
Fearful of her unyielding liberalism, the DLC said it hoped Mrs. Pelosi will work to protect centrist Democrats in marginal seats "and not let the Caucus impose left-of-center views on them that will further polarize the country and narrow the party's appeal."
The battle for the leadership post, most of it fought behind the scenes, reignited the ideological strains and blame-pointing that usually follows elections when the Democrats suffer losses as they did last week.
Liberals complained that the party's positions were blurred by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The two supported President Bush on going to war against Iraq and refused to call for repeal of last year's $1.3 trillion in tax cuts.
Centrists said the party's liberal big-spending policies and its failure to enact a homeland defense bill turned off millions of independent and middle-of-the-road voters.
Exacerbating the Democrats' internal warfare is the realization that liberals will now be in full control of their party's House and Senate leadership posts and will likely tilt their agenda in the new Congress even further to the left.
Mrs. Pelosi, an arch-feminist known for her combative political style, voted against the Bush tax cuts and wants them repealed. She opposed the war resolution on Iraq and thinks the party should stand up to Mr. Bush more aggressively than it has.
Mr. Gephardt of Missouri, who is stepping down from his post to run for president, is a longtime DLC supporter who embraced Mr. Bush's war resolution and refused to call for repealing the tax cuts during the 2002 campaign.
"The result is that the left, for the first time since the 1980s, has a shot at taking over the party," the Democratic-leaning, New Republic magazine bemoaned this week.
"The coming fight within the party will be much like the fight on crime, welfare and defense in the '80s. It will be ugly and, perhaps, racially tinged. It may even lead some prominent Democrats to leave the party and join the Greens," the magazine predicted.
But Mrs. Pelosi's supporters at the Democratic National Committee see her promotion as a shot in the arm for a depressed party in need of new leadership that won't cave in to Mr. Bush's demands.
"She is a firm believer in Democratic ideas and won't compromise on them. I think a lot of people will see that as one of her greatest assets," said DNC spokeswoman Maria Cardona.
"What we're getting is someone who can figure out a way to define the differences between the two parties in the 2004 cycle and how we can communicate our message to voters," she said.
Some Democrats, however, say their election losses were not the result of being too timid with the White House, but because they failed to offer a compelling agenda.
"There has to be some positive steps presented by the Democrats that say to the American people, 'Elect us and this is what we will put in place.' That message wasn't there," former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta told National Public Radio.


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