- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

Democratic critics of their party’s devastating 2004 election losses say that its liberal grass-roots base needs to be fundamentally transformed, if not pulled out by the roots, before the party can win again.

In the continuing soul-searching debate over their party’s future, and what needs to be done to halt its decline, no postelection analysis has sparked more uncomfortable political buzz among Democrats than a New Republic magazine critique that calls for blunting the influence wielded by the party’s leftist, anti-war wing in its presidential-selection process.

“[John] Kerry was a flawed candidate, but he was not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem was the party’s liberal base,” said New Republic editor Peter Beinart in a scathing attack on left-wing activists who oppose President Bush’s war on terror.

“The challenge for Democrats today is not to find a different kind of presidential candidate. It is to transform the party at its grass roots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge,” Mr. Beinart wrote in the journal’s Dec. 13 issue.

In a sobering analysis of the influence the left played, he singled out “Fahrenheit 9/11” filmmaker Michael Moore and the Internet activist group MoveOn.org, whom he compared with the party’s Henry Wallace wing in the late 1940s “who saw communists as allies in the fight for domestic and international progress.”

A viable Democratic Party majority requires “abandoning the unity-at-all-costs ethos that governed American liberalism in 2004.”

“And it requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry Wallace.”

His broadside called on Democrats to stake out an unequivocal military call to arms against terrorism and “Islamist totalitarianism” that he said “threatens the United States and the aspirations of millions across the world.”

“And, as long as that threat remains, defeating it must be liberalism’s north star.”

Some Democratic foreign-policy analysts are similarly critical of the party’s turn on national-security issues.

“I agree with Beinart as far as he went. He’s a politics guy and he’s smart. A lot of Democrats know that we are getting our clocks cleaned on national security,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution.

“Some Democrats are allergic to the use of force. They still have a powerful influence on the party. That’s certainly a problem,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

The centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council also weighed in on Mr. Beinart’s side in an article in its Blueprint magazine by founder Al From and President Bruce Reed.

“First and foremost, we need to bridge the trust gap on national security by spelling out our own offense against terrorism and clearly rejecting our anti-war wing, so that Republicans can no longer portray us as the anti-war party in the war on terrorism,” they wrote. “We must leave no doubt that Michael Moore neither represents, nor defines our party.”

But Mr. Beinart’s critique triggered an outpouring of counterattacks from liberal anti-war Democrats, some of whom said he had not proven his point that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups were a serious danger to the United States.

Kevin Drum, writing the Political Animal blog on washingtonmonthly.com, said that “compared to fascism and communism, Islamic totalitarianism seems like pretty thin beer to many. It’s not fundamentally expansionist, and its power to kill people isn’t even remotely in the same league.”

Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, who lost his House seat last month and is running for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship, rejected Mr. Beinart’s argument that Democrats came across as weak on terrorism, saying “The Republican [pre-emptive war] approach is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous.”

Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, also belittled Mr. Beinart’s call for his party’s liberals to be just as tough against terrorism as the Americans for Democratic Action were against communism in the late 1940s, saying that “2004 is not 1947.”

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