House and Senate Democrats have asked the authors of a sharply critical analysis of their party’s strategic election weaknesses to brief them on their political proposals in preparation for the 2008 presidential campaign cycle.
The 70-page report, “The Politics of Polarization,” by two veteran Democratic strategists who worked in the Clinton White House, takes the party and former presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to task for being weak on national security and cultural issues. It also criticizes them for championing a liberal agenda that has driven centrist, married and religious voters into the Republican column.
The most controversial indictment of the party’s failures is the study’s assertion that Democrats cannot hope to win the next presidential election by energizing the party’s base but instead must reach out to swing voters with a less-polarizing message.
The party’s response to the latest critique by William A. Galston, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, and Elaine C. Kamarck, who lectures at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has thus far been positive, Mr. Galston said.
“I’m encouraged that senior party people have not come out swinging against this document. There has been no negative reaction from anyone in the Democratic National Committee, nor from any senior Democratic advisers or consultants,” he said.
In fact, Mr. Galston said, “Democrats in both the House and the Senate have indicated they would like to be briefed on the contents of this report.”
The study, which has been widely circulated on Capitol Hill and among the party’s rank and file, was published by Third Way, a new Democratic advocacy think tank formed by a group of centrist Democrats led by Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, among others, who want to move their party in a more centrist direction.
Mr. Galston and Ms. Kamarck have been down this road before. They co-wrote a similarly stinging critique of the Democrats’ 1988 presidential campaign, titled “The Politics of Evasion,” charging that liberal Democrats “were clinging to a series of myths that thwarted critical thinking and needed change.”
Re-examining many of the party’s same strategic mistakes in his latest study, Mr. Galston said, “I’ve seen this movie before. Here we are 16 years later and the sequel is very much the same.”
Among the major points made in the study:
“The myth of mobilization.” Democrats are not going to be able to win with the old liberal orthodoxy by simply energizing the party’s base and bringing voters “to the polls in record numbers.” In an electorate “where conservatives outnumber liberals 3-2 and where ideology so closely predicts voting behavior, Democrats cannot win the game of ‘base’ ball.”
“The myth of demography.” Democrats are fooling themselves if they think the population growth among major minorities such as Hispanics “will secure a Democratic majority for decades to come.”
“Along with rising Hispanic voter rolls has been a dramatic increase in Hispanic incomes, and these newly affluent voters behave more like the rest of the middle-class electorate.”
“The myth of prescription drugs is our shorthand for the proposition, which seems to bewitch Democratic political consultants, that Democrats can win present-day national elections by avoiding cultural issues, downplaying national security, and changing the subject to domestic issues such as health care, education and job security.”
The report said that as “these myths strengthened their grip on Democrats, recent election cycles witnessed a precipitous drop in support from two vital groups. The movement of married women and Catholics toward Republicans is one of the most significant new stories in modern American politics.”
Democratic margins among married women have fallen “from four points for Clinton in 1996, to even for [Al] Gore in 2000, to minus 12 for Kerry. Among Catholics, the margin decreased from 16 points for Clinton in 1996, to two points for Gore in 2000 to minus five for Kerry,” the report said.