- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For all the evidence of a divided GOP, the Democratic Party has its own widening cracks that could make a potentially bleak election year even more dour.

In just the past two weeks, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln became the latest Democratic incumbent to attract a primary challenger, pro-life Democrats fought hard to derail President Obama’s health care measure, and civil rights advocates and environmentalists likened the Democrat to President George W. Bush.

Few pieces of the mosaic that is the Democratic Party seem happy.

Labor and gays are restless. Blacks and Hispanics are grumbling. Liberals and moderates are battling. Even some in Hollywood are disappointed.

Mr. Obama must bring together - and fire up - the many Democratic coalitions if he hopes to minimize expected losses for his party this fall in his first midterm elections. The risk if he doesn’t is that Democrats could become so disaffected that they stay home in November.

It’s far from too late. Passage of the health care overhaul would mean a monumental victory for Mr. Obama just when he needs one. This president will have accomplished what others before him couldn’t, a triumph that would give the fractured rank and file something to rally around.

David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, isn’t panicking.

“We are a broad party,” he said in a recent interview. “There’s always going to be some degree of tension.”

Mr. Axelrod voiced confidence that the vast majority of the party’s loyalists will get behind its candidates this fall because the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats are so great.

“Whatever divides us,” he said, “that fundamental split is still animating.”

Despite the dissension, 84 percent of Democrats approve of Mr. Obama’s job performance in the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.

Republicans are wrestling with their own deep splits. There’s a family feud over whether the GOP should strictly adhere to conservative principles or be more inclusive. That infighting is prominently on display in a slew of contentious primary contests.

But the fissures among Democrats, festering for months, are striking because the party controls both the White House and Congress, and unity was in style just a year ago as Democrats celebrated the first months of Mr. Obama’s tenure with bigger majorities on Capitol Hill.

Then, the governing began in earnest - and so did the complaining.

Some of it was expected.

The Democratic Party has always been more of a coalition party than the GOP, bringing together varied factions that include labor, minorities, civil rights activists, social progressives and anti-war protesters. Each part seldom gets everything it wants. Expectations were lofty given the Democratic control of the government. A high bar brings the potential for serious letdowns and, thus, infighting.

The fractures on display this month:

c The American Civil Liberties Union ran a full-page advertisement in the New York Times showing Mr. Obama morphing into Mr. Bush and asking “Change or more of the same?” The ad criticized Mr. Obama for even considering military tribunals for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

c A dozen or so pro-life House Democrats are opposing Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul plan - and putting its passage in jeopardy - because it includes a provision they don’t like. The absence of a public insurance option in the legislation also has angered the left.

c Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted against a jobs bill that they said didn’t focus enough on job-training programs or summer employment. They complain that they’re getting too little support from the country’s first black president. Mr. Obama met with them last week.

c Unions said they will take sides in primary races and labor officials complained that the White House hasn’t pushed legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize workers. The AFL-CIO also rebuked Mr. Obama for condoning mass firings at a poorly performing Rhode Island high school.

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