- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bill Galston has coauthored another critical analysis of what’s wrong with the Democrats in an attempt to move their message toward the political center in the 2008 presidential election.

A veteran party strategist and President Clinton’s first domestic adviser, Mr. Galston has been down this road before when in 1989 he and his centrist-leaning cohort Elaine Kamarck wrote “The Politics of Evasion,” a blistering critique of his party’s self-defeating liberalism after Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential debacle.

After Al Gore and John Kerry, liberals to the core, led their party down to successive defeats, Mr. Galston and Ms. Kamarck are back for one more try to pound some sense into their party’s head. Their central message: liberal, antiwar, welfare-state, soak-the-rich liberalism doesn’t sell anymore; there are not enough liberal voters left to win back the presidency; and the party can no longer afford to ignore deeply moral, cultural and religious issues still at the core of America’s political being.

To be sure, it may be a thankless task, and Mr. Galston wearily admits the party’s dominant liberal wing won’t change its stripes any time soon: “I’ve seen this movie before. Here we are 16 years later and the sequel is very much the same.”

But this time their analysis, in a 70-page report titled “The Politics of Polarization,” seems even sharper — taking the party to task for self-delusions about its remaining base and a series of political myths they dismantle one by one.

Take what they call “the myth of demography,” Democrats’ belief “the rising tide of Hispanic voters” — 8.4 percent — will lift the party back to majority status. Baloney, they say.

“The tide has risen, but the terrain has changed. Clinton’s 50-point margin among Hispanics in 1996 dwindled to less than 20 for Kerry in 2004” as President Bush and the Republicans reached out to this critical ethnic vote with cultural appeals about families, morals, faith and upward mobility.

Democrats claim Hispanics have become poor under Republicans. Not so, say Mr. Galston and Ms. Kamarck. “Along with rising Hispanic voter rolls has been a dramatic increase in Hispanic incomes, and, and these newly affluent voters behave more like the rest of the middle-class electorate.”

No one knows this better than Republican Chairman Ken Mehlman, who has been speaking to every Hispanic and Latino group he can find — talking to them about things like ownership, economic independence, wealth-creation, faith-based help for the needy — themes one cannot find in the Democratic political lexicon.

Take “the myth of mobilization,” that the key to Democratic victory is to energize the liberal base with polarizing campaign rhetoric and pull it to the polls in record numbers.

“But in an electorate where conservatives outnumber liberals 3-2 and where ideology so closely predicts voting behavior, the Democrats cannot win the game of ” ‘base’ ball, except in those rare circumstances in which conservatives are discouraged and demobilized,” they say.

Jimmy Carter, they note, won 72 percent of the liberal vote in 1976 and captured the White House. John Kerry won 85 percent of the liberal vote and lost. The reason, they note, was that Republicans reached out and broadened their base, attracting more married women and Catholics.

Then there is the “myth of prescription drugs,” their shorthand for the idea “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.”

That strategy is doomed to fail after the changes following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for a number of reasons they say should be self-evident to their party:

(1) National security remains the dominant concern of the day “and will trump domestic concerns for the foreseeable future.” Terrorism isn’t going away anytime soon.

(2) Democrats’ “focus on the details of domestic policy proposals comes at the expense of cultural issues, which for many voters are seen through the prism of the candidates’ individual character and family life. Republican campaigns rarely make this mistake.”

Notably, they “found religious faith to be the overriding factor behind the great sorting-out.” Democrats once drew heavily among Catholics and Jews. But today evangelical Protestants, traditional Catholics and Orthodox Jews “tend to be conservative and Republican voters.”

“Democrats win only among less observant voters or those who do not have religion in their lives at all,” they said.

Is anyone in the Democratic Party listening these warnings? Not at the Democratic National Committee where Chairman Howard Dean, the 2004 antiwar candidate, still preaches all the myths.

But there has been a response from sober Democrats in Congress where the Galston-Kamarck study has stirred renewed debate about their party’s ill-fated direction. “Democrats in both the House and Senate have indicated they would like to be briefed on the contents of this report,” Mr. Galston told me.

Stay tuned.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide