The Democratic Leadership Council, in a critical report on the party’s weaknesses, said yesterday that voters believe the Democrats care more about taxes and spending than they do about national security and family values.
In a campaign-strategy memorandum titled “What it takes to win the White House,” the centrist-leaning DLC warned the pack of Democratic presidential contenders that they will have to break away from their party’s left-wing, anti-war past and fashion a new values-laden, pro-defense image if they are to have any chance of defeating President Bush in 2004.
“The pounding Democrats took in the 2002 elections made painfully clear that no Democratic nominee can beat Bush without first changing the face of the Democratic Party,” the memo said.
“If you want to win the presidency in 2004, you have to redefine the Democratic Party in 2003,” it said.
Written by DLC founder Al From and its president, Bruce Reed, the memo bemoans what it calls “the Democratic Party’s losing image.
“Your most formidable opponent isn’t Bush or your fellow contestants for the nomination. Your real enemy is the ghost of Democrats past.
“The doubts Democrats worked so hard to dispel in the 1990s that they loved government and taxes too much, and cared about [national] security and values too little have returned,” they said.
The bluntly worded critique of their party’s image on national-security issues comes in the midst of heightened public concern over terrorism and Mr. Bush’s accelerated preparation for a war to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Most of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates have expressed support for using force to disarm Iraq. But many rank-and-file Democrats, and some of their leaders, continue to criticize Mr. Bush’s war policies. Many in the party’s anti-war wing such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean doubt that Iraq poses a threat to the United States and are pushing for continued U.N. arms inspections.
The memo, which appeared on the DLC’s Web site, says that the criticisms of Democrats opposed to the war, combined with the party’s failure to stake out a tougher position on national-security issues and offer new ideas to combat terrorism and deal with Iraq, have fed the public’s image of the party being weak on defense and homeland security.
“No party has ever needed definition, or redefinition, more than the Democratic Party today” on national-security concerns, the DLC said.
Such complaints are being heard from others in the party recently, including House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who acknowledged that the Democrats have credibility problems on national-security issues.
“I think we’ve got to be for a strong national defense. We’ve got to be for a strong homeland security,” he said at a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times last week.
Still, the DLC confessed that Democratic candidates will have a difficult time trying to convince voters to dislike Mr. Bush.
“You will never convince America to dislike the man, and you shouldn’t begrudge him his few successes,” the memo said.