- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Democrats have stewed in their bitterness juices for several months now, and it’s time for them to get back to grown-up politics. I know many will roll their eyes if I bring up 2008, but a major political party always has to think ahead, especially after it has been down and out for so long.

It would be self-indulgent to talk now about polls, fund-raising, primaries, who’s hot and who’s not. Three years out, little that is useful can be said of these. But it is not too early to speak of what makes a genuine and serious contender for the presidency, particularly when the next election is that rare occurrence when neither party has an incumbent president or vice president in the race.

It is difficult to assess the Democratic field at this time, but several names are commonly discussed, including Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman, Govs. Bill Richardson and Mark Warner and even John Kerry. New names are likely. Former Gov. Howard Dean has ruled himself out of the 2008 contest, but put himself into the mix by winning the post of national chairman, from where he is proclaiming a grass-roots renewal of the party.

Unfortunately, it was candidate Dean who, in 2003-04, while successfully using the Internet for fund-raising and the party’s left-wing base for organizing, led the Democrats astray with his antiwar, isolationist and class-war rhetoric that later vitally weakened the campaign of an already weak nominee.

Looking ahead, a few observations: The left wing of the Democratic Party will always be pacifist, anti-military and isolationist. It will always require class-war rhetoric and higher-tax and redistribution strategies in economic domestic policy. It will always insist on its own version of political correctness in the language and behavior of its political candidates. Each and all of these, however sincerely meant, are ingredients for political disaster in the 2008 national election.

Does that mean that Republican ideas and policies are always the better way to run government? Not at all. But if a party wishes to win a majority of the voters in any election, it had better offer something that appeals to the majority of voters.

In the 2004 election, President Bush had ideas and proposals. The Democrats had a variety of ways to say “no” to them. They were the party of no-change and no-problems. As I write this, Mr. Bush and his administration are working to put into practice what he preached in the campaign. It is not yet clear whether these are all good ideas, whether they can all be passed or whether they all will work. We will now find out.

Events and circumstances in 2007-08 will determine the specifics of the next presidential campaign, but the eventual Democratic nominee, especially if he or she is now a prominent figure, will need to stand out from the crowd before anyone else.

The Democrats, in my opinion, threw most of the 2004 election away by their approach to Mr. Bush’s foreign policy. Instead of a bipartisan approach to an active war in which American soldiers were in constant harm’s way, and after they had clearly consented to the president’s response to the September 11 attacks, the Democrats fragmented into an obsessive critique of whether we had to find so-called weapons of mass destruction, of who had served better in the military 30 years before and of explicit doubt in the notion that democracy is the right of any nation or any culture. In domestic affairs, it should be noted, the Democrats also ran against recovery.

Some Democratic leaders now are in a position to take charge of that party’s foreign-policy discussion, and move the party away from the compulsively negative and no-alternative approach of the past four years. Perhaps the current positive momentum in American foreign policy will falter or face new temporary obstacles and disasters, but the Democrats, while reserving the right to criticize and offer better alternatives, have to reverse their present course of incessant second-guessing and nitpicking about American policy in the world. As things stand now, Democrats are, by obvious inference to any voter, hoping for American failure and for democracy’s failure. This posture defies all laws of political gravity.

Sens. Clinton, Biden and Lieberman and Mr. Richardson each have the experience and stature to lead such a new course. It would not be without short-term risk. The Democratic Party’s left base will howl and whine and threaten. But the long-term reward would be a viable foreign policy for the Democrats, and growing support for the one who makes it happen.

The seeds of 2008 are being planted right now. The harvest is a long way off, but it will be fascinating to observe which, if any, Democrat has the vision to take his or her party now where it will have to go in the end if it is to survive and return.

Barry Casselman is a freelance writer who has analyzed national politics since 1972. E-mail: [email protected]

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