- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

For all the hand-wringing, second-guessing and soul-searching that’s been going on in their party since November, Democrats who want the straight truth about how Republicans have managed to seize their place as the dominant party in American politics need only listen to the man most responsible for effecting the takeover.

Speaking at this year’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, White House political strategist Karl Rove declared: “Republicans have seized the mantle of idealism and reform from the Democrats.” He also stated that idealism, “once largely the preserve of liberalism,” now infuses Republican politics through the president’s pursuit of democracy abroad, and that “the president has made a powerful case for spreading human liberty and defending human dignity.”

Mr. Rove’s analysis of the remarkable transformation in Republican philosophy is right on target; it not only reflects a renewed understanding that America is a nation built on reform-minded idealism and hope for better days ahead, but also indicates a new-found ability to offer a more optimistic and forward-looking message based on promoting democratic principles abroad and protecting liberty at home.

It was not always so. In the past, it was the Democrats who were best able to articulate impressive notions of idealism, optimism and reform.

“[Making] the world safe for democracy” became Woodrow Wilson’s legacy; FDR’s revolutionary New Deal initiatives made him the most beloved Democratic president in history; JFK told us that we stood “at the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams”; and LBJ is best remembered for his Great Society anti-poverty programs.

Whether or not you cared for their policies, these Democratic presidents attracted the attention and votes of the American people by standing for bold, innovative public policy.

Growing up in a blue-collar Democratic home in Kentucky, I experienced firsthand the profound impact FDR’s economic and social policies had on my family and community.

Things have changed, however. Today’s liberalism is no longer the “Why not?” spirit of FDR or JFK, but the “No way, no how” mantra of a party blinded by partisanship and tied to the interests of its far- left special-interest groups.

How else can you explain left-wing activists who shed tears for murderous dictators, but declare it is only a choice when a million innocent lives are aborted each year?

How else can you explain Howard Dean, who thinks it is hateful to believe that marriage should remain the union of one man and one woman, even when evidence proves it is the family structure most beneficial to children, families and society in general?

What’s more, how can you explain Democratic senators whose No. 1 priority seems to be preventing highly qualified judicial nominees from receiving their constitutionally guaranteed up or down votes on confirmation?

The only explanation is that some in the Democratic Party feel so beholden to its extreme factions — the abortion lobby, homosexual activists and the America-hating Hollywood moguls — that it can no longer speak to the interests of middle America or offer any optimistic policy initiatives. Instead, it offers only obstructionism, cynicism and ideas wedded to the past.

This is a strange position for a party that claims to speak for the concerns of the poor and disadvantaged.

And this is where the Republicans have stepped in and stepped up.

The president’s 49 mentions of “liberty” and “freedom” in his State of the Union address indicate just how much these values infuse conservative governing philosophy. Whether it’s the pursuit of freedom for oppressed peoples and the elimination of tyranny abroad, developing an ownership society at home, or promoting a culture of life, Republicans are now speaking directly to the ideals and interests of young, idealistic Americans.

As proof of this change, look at our youngest block of voters. Young people in their 20s are characterized by idealistic optimism; their desires and interests are not yet centered on tax codes or obscure laws about prescription drugs. Instead, they focus on big-picture issues like world peace, human liberty and eradicating injustice.

And young people are starting to trend more conservative and Republican. While academia remains distressingly liberal, outside the teachers’ lounge, the number of conservative college students is growing. In fact, there are now more registered college Republicans than there are college Democrats.

John Kerry’s advice to “not over-hype this election” after the successful Iraqi elections typifies the modern liberal movement’s cynical, reactionary tone. It’s a tone that is not only out of step with a mainstream America that wants to work for a stronger nation and a safer world; it is also dangerous rhetoric in a time of war.

While the electoral losses of 1964 marked a decisive moment for the Republican Party, initiating a dramatic shift in its governing philosophy and agenda, it was Ronald Reagan’s 1980 “Morning in America” speech that finally ushered in successful Republican presidencies based on bold, innovative ideas that spoke directly to the needs and aspirations of hardworking Americans. What will it take for voters in middle America to regain their esteem for Democratic office-seekers? The answer may be directly related to how long the Democratic Party establishment continues to cater to the anti-life, unpatriotic, extreme factions of its once-proud party.

Gary Bauer is president of American Values.

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