- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

Liberal activists kicked off a campaign offensive yesterday in Washington with an attack on President Bush and his policies, and criticized Democratic leaders for not being tough enough.

Some praised Mr. Bush’s talent for promoting his issues and acknowledged that a majority of Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats to protect national security and wage the war against terrorism.

More than a thousand activists gathered at the Omni Shoreham hotel to cheer and applaud a slate of speakers who accused the Bush administration of cutting taxes for the rich, weakening the economy, increasing unemployment, and undercutting Social Security, Medicare and dozens of other social-welfare programs.

In a conference aimed at energizing dispirited liberal activists, as well as fashioning an agenda, Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, said the Democratic Party’s left wing was ready to “take back America” and oust Mr. Bush in next year’s election. But unlike the party’s strategy in last year’s elections, this time “we aren’t going to pull our punches.”

“We’re going to take the gloves off,” he said.

“Those Democrats who tuck their tails and bite their tongues are simply wrong about where the country is,” said Mr. Borosage, whose liberal advocacy group is sponsoring the three-day conference attended by more than two dozen political organizations from around the country.

His remark was aimed as much at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which has attacked the party’s liberal-activist wing, as it was at the party leadership.

While a long lineup of speakers, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, castigated the administration’s economic and labor policies, others echoed Mr. Borosage’s criticism of Democratic Party leaders and what they called a lack of a clear campaign message.

“The biggest failing of the Democrats was not having challenged those tax cuts from Day One,” said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg to long and loud applause.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, got a standing ovation for a fierce attack on Mr. Bush’s economic and war policies in Iraq, as well as for criticizing her party for not being more aggressive in combating the president in Washington and out on the campaign trail.

“Everywhere I go I hear, ‘Where are the Democrats?’ There have been too few examples of the Democrats breaking through this administration’s message and getting our viewpoint out,” Mrs. Schakowsky said.

She said liberal Democrats like herself were always being pushed around by the Republicans and used as punching bags by conservative commentators like radio talk-show king Rush Limbaugh, she said. “We need to push back.”

But Mr. Greenberg delivered some sobering polling data and a few lines of praise for Mr. Bush’s political abilities, which were greeted with stony silence from the large crowd that packed the ballroom.

The country remains evenly divided politically and is increasingly polarized on the issues, and Mr. Bush’s approval ratings are in the low 60s, he said. On homeland defense, “the country was with the Republicans.”

While he was “not in awe of Bush’s approval ratings, I am a little in awe of how he is able to move issues” in a campaign, Mr. Greenberg said. The president had the ability to seize the agenda for political effect and move it in his direction, he added.

Meantime, the Democratic Leadership Council leveled another shot at the party’s liberals in an open letter to the conference that said “we do not believe that the Democratic Party will recapture the White House by simply preaching to the converted in a much louder voice.”

Noting that the conference was largely focused on the economy, the DLC sent this warning:

“Our party’s nominee cannot afford to make the same mistake in 2004, by setting forth the old, tired vision — or by ignoring the country’s legitimate, immediate concerns about the need to make America safe.”

“Too many Americans don’t much trust us to protect them against terrorists and other threats to our national security. We’re not convinced that your panel on ‘Next Stages for the Peace Movement’ will reassure the country on this count,” the DLC said.

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