The party of Dr. No

Gloria Borger:

As it turns out, Howard Dean is not the best choice to lead the Democratic National Committee. If the party is looking for a new spokesman, there is a better choice--David Spade (with apologies to his Capital One ad):

Social Security reform? No. Clear some judges? No way, Jose. Find some agreement on national security? Nyet. Sure, the Democrats are struggling to find their voice, pick their leaders, and agree on a legislative strategy. It's hard work. But it's also too bad they're allowing themselves to look like a bunch of minority naysayers--defined more by old tactics than new ideas. Sad to say, the Democrats are becoming the party of no.

The rationale is inevitably tactical: Democrats are the opposition. They do not control any branch of government. So why not sit back and watch the president take on a sacrosanct program--such as Social Security--and fight with his own Republicans? And since the president hasn't yet offered his own reform blueprint, why should the Democrats? "Right now, the president asked us to give him time to have a plan," says Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who runs the Democratic House campaign committee. He is happy to oblige. Besides, it's not as if the president eagerly courts Democratic voices. "They are so arrogant," fumes one party strategist. "When the administration gets off its high horse, then maybe we can talk."

All well and good. But can't the Democrats walk and chew gum at the same time? Last I checked, voters in the 2004 election weren't sure what the party stood for. Given that problem, the old "give 'em enough rope" strategy to hang Republicans won't work--particularly if voters have no idea what a Democratic agenda looks like. "We're murky, obtuse, and ambivalent," says Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank. "The danger is that we let the tactical imperatives of opposing Bush lead us to the point of view that that's all we need to do."

Exactly. After all, since the Democrats have spent much of the past 30 years talking about saving an endangered Social Security system, how can they now say there is no problem? "If we become the do-nothing party, we become the default party," says Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a "red state" Democrat. "We only win leadership when the other guys fail if we stand for nothing." Sure, he asks, "should the president be required to put forward a program first? Absolutely. But then should we have an alternative? Yes."

Eyeing the exits? But this isn't about solutions; it's about getting even. Democrats point to the success of Newt Gingrich and his revolutionaries, who opposed Hillary Clinton's healthcare reform plan--riding their opposition to a congressional House takeover. But they conveniently forget some important differences between 1992 and 2005: that Bill Clinton won with only 43 percent of the vote, that Gingrich also proposed an agenda-setting "Contract With America," that conservatives had already made progress with disaffected Democrats. Today, Democrats are losing support with working-class voters--most of whom trusted the president more than John Kerry to handle both terrorism and the economy....


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