Democratic strategist and former Walter Mondale campaign manager Bob Beckel tells me that to a certain extent the appeal by Democrats to their liberal base is predictable, but "if it wasn't for Howard Dean we wouldn't be having this conversation." Dean, the most liberal among the top-tier Democratic candidates, continues to pull the rest of the pack to the left. Beckel says what Democrats ought to be talking about is "no new taxes, no more government programs and how you fuel the entrepreneurial spirit," but he says that won't happen as the candidates try to attract their liberal base by out-liberaling each other. He recalls one of his favorite Jesse Jackson lines: "It takes two wings to fly." So far, Democrats have only a left wing, which is why the DLC poll shows them having trouble getting off the ground.
President Bush seems to be practicing middle-of-the-road politics better than his opponents. He has resisted commenting on cultural issues, such as same-sex marriage, and he rarely speaks of abortion, except to repeat his campaign slogan that every child should be welcomed in life as well as in law, which is supposed to sound non-threatening and does. While his conservative base might wish for a solid conservative or two on the Supreme Court and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, abortion and even flag burning, Bush has shown no outward sign that he will give his base what it wants. He might if he's reelected, but to talk too much about such things now would turn off the centrists and swing the middle to the Democrats.
This was the Clinton strategy. Clinton was a liberal on national health care, gays in the military, abortion and even welfare reform (which he vetoed until polls indicated the people wanted it). But he looked and sounded moderate. Bush is basically a conservative who seeks to portray himself as a non-fire-breathing moderate, except when it comes to the war on terrorism. This is where the country is, and it is where the Democratic presidential candidates and much of their leadership are not. That's the point the DLC poll tried to make, but the pleasures of ideological self-indulgence may be too much for Democrats to resist.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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