- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Following the Iowa caucus last year, there were collective noises of relief by various establishment functionaries of the national Democratic Party as Howard Dean, the hitherto moderate and unknown governor of Vermont, fell to defeat. His soaring antiwar, populist techno-campaign for president came down to earth when it faced real voters in real states. Over the previous summer and autumn, Mr. Dean’s campaign had suddenly risen from its rivals like a Roman candle as he pummeled an indistinct assemblage of would-be challengers to President Bush steadily to the left of center on the economy and the war in Iraq.

Now, Mr. Dean appears to have the national chairmanship of his party locked up. You have to give him credit for tenacity. This prospect has delighted Republicans everywhere and terrified savvy Democratic strategists.

The Democratic Party is in a shambles. The recent Democratic response to the Bush State of the Union address, with the faces and voices of Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi was so inept I cannot imagine anything more unwinning. This past weekend, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s appearance on “Meet The Press” to defend his recent critique of the administration’s Iraq policy only confirmed that the senior Massachusetts senator has become the Democrat’s national blowbag. Mr. Kerry, back in the Senate, is, well, Mr. Kerry. At least, Mr. Dean is always interesting.

Only Sen. Hillary Clinton is demonstrating that she understands national politics, but she remains a polarizing figure with tremendous negatives to overcome.

In fact, none of the potential Democratic 2008 hopefuls, except for Mrs. Clinton, are giving a face and voice to a real Democratic recovery. Instead, they are uttering the predictable and tired class-warfare cliches as an answer to Mr. Bush’s proposals for government policy and reform, and following the immensely important voting in Iraq and the Palestinian Territories, they are unwilling to accept the fact that most of them have been consistently wrong about our policy in the Middle East.

This is a Democratic comedy of errors. Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales were selected by Mr. Bush to be his new secretary of state and attorney general, respectively. No one seriously questions their credentials.The Democratic strategy, however, was to hold protracted hearings using the nominees to criticize administration past actions (on which the voters have already passed judgment) and then in the case of Mr. Gonzales, virtually all of the Democrats (except some who have close races in 2006 and, of course, Joe Lieberman, perhaps the most sensible Democrat in the Senate) voted against him.

Think of the spectacle of all this. We see the first black woman and the first Hispanic to be nominated for these powerful positions, and the Democrats spend days attacking them and voting against them. Then the president comes forward with his proposals for Social Security reform, including a small initial privitization option for younger Americans. The Democrats’ almost universal response has been to attack these proposals as a plan which is too risky for “a problem which is not a crisis.” Of course, it is obvious to anyone who has taken basic arithmetic that the Social Security system is permanently unstable and structurally unsound as now constituted. In fact, the whole pension fund institution in the nation, public and private, is an immense crisis about to happen (markets won’t wait for the formal bankruptcies).

My question is: Whose side are the Democrats on? They oppose accomplished (albeit conservative) blacks and Hispanics for high office. They oppose a plan that will save Social Security for young Americans, and offer no plan of their own. They oppose health savings accounts and market reform of health care. They oppose tax policy that clearly creates jobs.

They oppose education reform when the education system, costing more and more, is getting worse and worse. They pretend there is no pension-fund crisis. Their criticism of American policy in the Middle East is based on the ludicrous notion that Arabs and Muslims aren’t capable of, nor do they want, democracy. And then, when millions of Afghans, Palestinians and Iraqis turn out to the polls, they clear their collective throat as if nothing happened, and keep on naysaying

The only hope for Democrats has been, is now, and will continue to be in the political center. President Bill Clinton, whatever his faults, was successful there. Party leaders allow the minority left wing of the party to hold it hostage by mouthing class warfare and isolationist mumbo jumbo that few listen to, and even fewer vote for. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush has been slowly and methodically moving previously Democratic black, Hispanic, Catholic, Jewish, young and blue-collar voters to his side. The 2004 elections were decisive. The 2006 elections could be the landslide no one now is predicting or expecting.

Barry Casselman occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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