If I lead this column by announcing there are profound differences -- irreconcilable differences -- between conservatives and liberals, I'll feel as foolish for stating the obvious as the editors of Time should have felt when their cover proclaimed a few years ago that boys and girls are born different. But tell it to Al From.
From is the self-styled centrist Democrat who played a key role in positioning Bill Clinton as a moderate during both presidential elections and is once again urging his party to shift to the center. At a recent meeting in Raleigh, N.C., he told Democratic leaders that to win in 2004 they had to resist the "temptation" to move to the left and "present themselves" as strong on defense and national security, fiscally responsible, tough on crime and as the party of economic growth.
Temptation? I can think of more alluring vices than liberalism, but then again, I'm not a lefty. And "present themselves"? That's an interesting choice of terms. Note that From didn't advise his brethren merely to be themselves. He knows that won't work, just like it probably wouldn't have worked with Bill Clinton. To get elected president liberals have to mask their liberalism, especially now.
Many Democrats don't see it this way. They are counting on 2004 being a reprise of 1992 with George W. Bush following in his father's footsteps to squander his Gulf War popularity and lose the election by neglecting (or failing in) domestic policy. And they're doing everything they can to help him along: obstructing his judicial appointments, diluting his growth-oriented tax cut, insisting on ratcheting up domestic spending and more.
There are many factors working against the actualization of this Democratic déjà vu. The obvious ones are that Bush 43 is not his father -- he's a scrapper, he's resolute, he's decisive, and he won't underestimate his opponents -- and this time the war is not going to end as quickly. The War on Terror will continue, even if we don't take direct military action against any other regimes between now and 2004.
The people, including many Democrats, strongly trust President Bush to guide us through these perilous times. They haven't felt this good about America since Ronald Reagan was in office. I just got an e-mail today from a guy who said, "George Bush has inspired me to try to find ways to volunteer and help out the Republican Party."
Remember, too, that Bill Clinton broke the mold. Democrats have no candidates with the acting skills to fool a large plurality of the people most of the time, with such canards as "This is the worst economy in 50 years."
But there's another factor helping to handicap 2004 in favor of President Bush. The War on Terror on all fronts -- domestic, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere -- has operated as an X-ray into the soul of the national Democratic Party, freezing them in their real image. It has brought the worst out in them -- their true inclinations having been nakedly exposed for all to see. Try as they might -- or as Al From would prefer -- they will be hard-pressed to reverse their image in time for the election. As of now, they aren't even trying.
And their true image isn't very pretty. It's largely out of phase with the overwhelming majority of American voters. The visible face of liberalism has become bitter and nasty. They are irredeemably angry over Bush's election -- having convinced themselves the U.S. Supreme Court stole the election when in fact it merely apprehended the Florida Supreme Court in the act of stealing it, then made them put it back. They need therapy over this -- they just can't let it go.
Their mainstream has been overtaken by extremists, many of whom are so malicious, so petty, so oddly rooting, it seems, for the administration to be embarrassed in Iraq. No? Then, why were they so quick to predict quagmire? So anxious to prove the military plan was failing? So unwilling to believe Iraqis were happy to be liberated? So quick to focus instead on the few negatives there, such as the looting, and blame America for them? So unwilling to hold their venomous tongues even with our troops in harm's way on foreign soil? So hopeful we'll find no WMDs? So compatible with Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins?
For Democrats to get back in the hunt for 2004 they will have to do more than hope for a sluggish economy. They'll need an immediate, complete and credible makeover. Don't bet on it.