Democrats need to come up with some ideas

Posted: Feb 08, 2005 12:00 AM

Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi don't seem to grasp the wisdom of learning from mistakes. From what's evident so far, they seem to have little appreciation of the extent to which Sen. John Kerry's defeat in November reflected the total absence of ideas in the party.

One would think that a decisive loss in the presidential election, along with losses in the House and Senate, would have caused the creative juices to flow in the Democratic Party. Yet, the opposite is happening. Rather than opening up the faucet of ideas, they've completely turned it off.

President Bush put a bold vision and agenda before the American people in his State of the Union address. The Democratic response, given by Reid and Pelosi, sounded like the last chapter of the Kerry campaign.

Is a "Marshall Plan" for America really the best vision that Sen. Reid can come up with? Or to suggest, as the Nevada Democrat did, that somehow we have government investment to thank for the incredible Internet technology revolution of the last 10 years? Or that a few tweaks here and there will keep our massively unfunded Social Security system functioning?

Does Rep. Pelosi of California really think she'll capture American hearts and minds by shrugging off the importance of elections in Iraq to peace and freedom in the Middle East and to our national security at home? Monopolies don't serve anyone well, whether in business or politics. But it's clear that the Republican Party has cornered the market on ideas for 21st-century America. All we hear from the opposition is a chorus of "nos" and cliches about big government that are as old as the Social Security system and as bankrupt.

This is not a healthy state of affairs. A vibrant and creative national dialogue is vital oxygen for a free country. Democrats don't hold up their side when the best they can do is define themselves by being against everything that Bush is for.

Going forward, it seems to me that the Democratic Party has two options. One is to concede that Bush is correct that our goal must be to continue on the path of advancing freedom and personal responsibility, and to contend with him about details on how best to achieve this. Or, they can reject the premise that freedom and personal responsibility are our goals and continue to promote more government.

So far, it seems like they're moving down the latter path.

Listening to Pelosi and other prominent Democrats, it's hard not to sense that they are underwhelmed by the historic strides toward freedom in the Middle East. Sixty percent of the Iraqi people went to the polls to vote despite threats on their lives. This is the same percentage of own population that turned out in this last presidential election. Yet, Kerry cautioned on national TV against "overhype" about what has been achieved in Iraq.

It's impossible not to see the irony of 13 Democratic senators voting against confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. According to The Washington Post, this was the most votes cast against a nominee for that position in 180 years.

Rice embodies America. Here is a woman whose ancestors arrived in chains, who were slaves and considered chattel. Now she'll be the international representative of the freest nation in the world.

Yet these Senate Democrats voted against her confirmation, despite her impeccable credentials, because she believes that Iraqis can and should be free, and that we must help.

Democratic denial that Social Security needs massive restructuring is reminiscent of the Iraqi press officer who announced daily that they were winning the war as American troops were closing in on Baghdad. Even Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., said after the State of the Union address: "The Democrats are going to have to get a better message on Social Security. ... Our only response cannot be to say 'no.' "

Republicans may have cornered the market on ideas, but they certainly have no monopoly on answers. If Democrats want a future, they need to wake up to the truth of freedom. They should get in the game and compete with Republicans to deliver better and more imaginative solutions to turn power and responsibility back to people.

Ironically, it's the traditional Democratic constituencies that are the huge beneficiaries of the ownership agenda. Despite tired Democratic rhetoric, personal retirement accounts will transform the lives of low-income people, not rich people. It's low-income communities that are in most desperate need of school choice and the traditional-values agenda.

There does seem to be one voice going against the grain in the Democratic Party. It looks like it's going to be Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008.