What do Democrats want? Many answers, or partial answers, can be found in the 90th anniversary issue of the New Republic, in the post-election issue of the American Prospect and in various other writings by smart Democrats unhappy with the defeat their party suffered in 2004.
These writers avoid the left blogosphere's wacky claims that the election was stolen. They understand that both parties played to win and tried really hard to win, and both parties made massive efforts to turn out their vote. John Kerry got 16 percent more votes than Al Gore. George W. Bush got 23 percent more votes in 2004 than in 2000.
Most of these Democrats focus on domestic policy. New Republic editor Peter Beinart has called for purging those Democrats unwilling to robustly fight the war on terrorism. But that position has not elicited much response, except for calls to show more respect for the military and a certain quietness among vitriolic Bush critics after the Iraqi election.
On domestic policy, the Democrats' thrust is to expand government to help ordinary people. But few get specific. In the American Prospect, historian Alan Brinkley says Democrats should re-engage "with issues of class and power." But exactly how, he doesn't say. In the New Republic, Jonathan Chait argues that, while conservatives are guided by ideology, liberals are guided by facts. Expanding government is a matter of examining facts and doing the sensible, compassionate thing. But he doesn't have the space to get very specific. Nor does he address David Stockman's argument that in policymaking, powerful interests tend to trump powerful arguments -- a criticism Democrats make, sometimes cogently, of Republican practices.
The New Republic's Martin Peretz takes a bleak view: Liberalism is "bookless," without serious intellectual underpinnings, as conservatism was 40 years ago. Back then, the liberal professoriate was churning out new policies, some of which became law. Today, the campuses provide liberals less guidance. The economics departments have become more respectful of markets and more dubious about government intervention. The social sciences have followed the humanities into the swamp of deconstruction. Peretz notices that liberals have no useful ideas about education. That overstates the case, but most reform ideas have come from the right, while most Democrats have focused on throwing more money at the teacher unions.