July 30, 2005

Get Off Their Backs

I've noticed a new thing going on in the blogosphere lately, and this new thing has been a full out attack -- by Democrats, mind you -- upon the Democratic Leadership Council. It seems that some Democrats are ready to place the blame for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the energy bill, and the general decline of the Democratic Party squarely upon the shoulders of the Democratic Leadership Council. And what's presented as the alternative to the DLC? The Democratic National Committee, headed by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Frankly, I just don't think it's that simplistic.

First, I don't see any reason to blame the DLC as a whole for either CAFTA or the energy bill, even if some of the representatives and senators who voted for the bill happen to be involved in the DLC. Guess what? They're all involved in the Democratic National Committee, so are we willing to say that this is a failure of the DNC just as much as it's a failure of the DLC? Rather than trying to pin this on a certain organizational group of Democrats, we need to realize that CAFTA and the flawed energy bill are failures for the entire Democratic Party -- those on the far left, those squarely in the middle, and even archconservatives like former Sen. Zell Miller. And these are not just failures for the Democratic Party, but failures for America. And the blame for this belongs to all Democrats, not just the fifteen in the House who voted for CAFTA, or the many Democrats who voted for the energy bill.

But is the Democratic Leadership Council responsible for the general decline of the Democratic Party? Again, I think that's far too simplistic. I think we're trying to pawn the blame off on someone else, and a large group of moderate Democrats seem like a good target to those of us who are pretty comfortable on the far left. But the fact of the matter is this: the decline of the Democratic Party is occurring because the party has lost focus. We don't know what our values really are anymore, we can't articulate our values to the voters, and therefore we don't win elections because the voters don't know what we stand for. This is what we learned, above all, from Sen. John Kerry's failure to win the White House in 2004. A man (or woman) who doesn't stand for something besides the latest poll numbers isn't going to win an election. Why we didn't know this before, I don't know, but we need to learn and accept it now after Kerry's crushing failure.

We do need to stand for something; we can't just attack President Bush and expect to win based on that. That's essentially what the Democratic Leadership Council is saying, and I don't see how anyone can possibly disagree with such a basic statement. The one thing that Sen. Kerry did well was attack the Bush administration, and we saw very clearly that it wasn't enough to win the White House. And it's not going to be enough to win back Congress in 2006, nor is it going to be enough to win the White House in 2008. We have to stand for something, while also reminding the American people that they can do better than they've done under the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, and that in fact they have done better.

And that's where I think the Democratic Leadership Council comes in. We're ready to cast them aside, but let's remember that former President Bill Clinton believes in them, and he was the last Democrat to actually win the White House. It seems that the left wants to listen to Gov. Dean and others on the far left who seem to be speaking for the Democratic National Committee, and that's fine -- they have something to say, we should listen, and then we should discuss it. But let's remember that Gov. Dean couldn't even win the presidential primaries for 2004, let alone the general election. Meanwhile, we have both of the Clintons (AKA, successful politicians) involved in the Democratic Leadership Council, along with a number of respected (and successful!) politicians in the Senate, the House, and throughout the state governments. Yes, let's listen to Gov. Dean -- but let's not listen only to Gov. Dean, while ignoring the politicians who can actually get elected outside the state of Vermont. Are we really willing to follow Gov. Dean into the Democratic Party's destruction? Because that's what's going to happen if we listen only to Gov. Dean, and don't listen to the group which is represented by, among others, the last Democrat to win the White House.

It's true that the Democratic Party has problems right now. The fifteen Democrats who voted for CAFTA in the House, the many Democrats who voted for the energy bill, the three Democratic senators who voted for cloture on the Bolton nomination -- these are all personifications of the Democratic problem, and the Democratic problem is a loss of focus. In order to get our focus back, we need to dialogue with one another, not bicker with one another. The Democratic Leadership Council is an important participant in this dialogue, as is the Democratic National Committee. The latter currently represents the far left (we can argue about it all day, but it's true), whereas the former currently represents the moderate elements within the party. All of these voices are important, and all of these voices must be heard and acted upon, if we ever hope to win another election. Alienating any of these voices is political suicide for Democrats; we already committed political suicide in 2004, let's not do it again.

(Cross-posted to Quo Vadis).