WASHINGTON -- What has happened to the Democrats over the past few decades is best captured by the phrase (coined by Kevin Phillips) "reactionary liberalism." Spent of new ideas, their only remaining idea is to hang on to the status quo at all costs.
This is true across the board. On Social Security, which is facing an impending demographic and fiscal crisis, they have put absolutely nothing on the table. On presidential appointments -- first, judges; and now ambassador to the United Nations -- they resort to the classic weapon of Southern obstructionism: the filibuster. And on foreign policy, they have nothing to say on the war on terror, the war in Iraq or the burgeoning Arab Spring (except the refrain: ``Guantanamo'').
A quarter-century ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted how it was the Republicans who had become a party of ideas, while the Democrats' philosophical foundation was ``deeply eroded.'' But even Moynihan would be surprised by the bankruptcy in the Democrats' current intellectual account.
Take trade and Central America. The status quo there is widespread poverty. The Bush administration has proposed doing something about it: a free trade agreement encompassing five Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic.
It's a no-brainer. If we have learned anything from the last 25 years in China, India, Chile and other centers of amazing economic growth, it is that open markets and free trade are the keys to pulling millions, indeed hundreds of millions of people, out of poverty. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is a chance to do the same for desperately poor near-neighbors.
You would think this treaty would be a natural for the Democrats, who have always portrayed themselves as the party with real sympathy for the poor -- in contradistinction to the Republicans who have hearts of stone, if they have any at all. The Democratic Party has always seen itself as the tribune of the oppressed of the Third World and deeply distressed by the fact that ``the United States by far is the stingiest nation in the world for development assistance or foreign aid,'' to quote Jimmy Carter, former Democratic president, current Democratic saint.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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