- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Leadership wary of bloggers’ call for strong stands

Liberal activists have been camping out near President Bush’s ranch and demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq while others are pushing for the defeat of Supreme Court nominee Judge John G. Roberts Jr.

But these groups, whose views have been amplified by Internet bloggers, often have been at odds with Democratic lawmakers who remain wary of alienating moderate voters.

The tension between the liberal factions and the Democratic congressional leadership has hampered the party’s ability to present a unified message to counter the Republicans.

On one side, liberal bloggers contend that Democrats cannot win elections unless they take forceful positions.

“Apparently the class of professional election losers in Washington, D.C., thinks that Democrats can win by saying almost nothing on Iraq (like the party often says nothing on lots of issues, thus perpetuating the perception that Democrats stand for nothing),” David Sirota wrote recently on his blog.

Rep. Gene Green, Texas Democrat, said he and his colleagues must respond to constituents who often are not as liberal as the activists.

“We have to provide leadership, but everybody expects you to be reasonable,” said Mr. Green, who represents a heavily Hispanic district where President Bush received 44 percent of the vote last year.

Some members of the Democratic establishment think it would be politically foolish to attack Mr. Bush at every turn.

“The real risk for Democrats is being perceived as against everything,” said Charles Cook, who publishes the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Mr. Cook said liberal groups such as MoveOn.org often have different agendas from party leaders.

But pollster Andy Kohut at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said agitation by liberal groups may be evidence “of vitality in the Democratic Party” and a sign that party leaders have lost touch with many supporters.

A Pew poll taken in March concluded that 33 percent of Democrats gave their leaders high marks for standing up for party principles. By contrast, 51 percent of Republicans approved of the way their leaders handled party issues.

The tension between the Democratic wings has been evident in the Roberts nomination. Many Democratic senators have been restrained in their criticism of the high court nominee, whose mainstream conservative record has failed to generate widespread opposition.

Liberal groups fighting the nomination, however, have been dismayed at what they view as Democratic timidity.

NARAL Pro-Choice America on its Web site (www.naral.org) has urged its supporters to oppose Judge Roberts, but NARAL’s strategy partly backfired earlier this month when the organization yanked a television spot that suggested Judge Roberts supported violent anti-abortion protests.

After liberal groups complained that Democrats were giving Judge Roberts a free ride, Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts escalated their criticism of the president’s refusal to turn over some records pertaining to the nominee.

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