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Flash Traffic | Political Buzz from Washington

Issue: "Dick Armey's parting words," Dec. 14, 2002

Influential moderate Democrats say their party's liberal leadership and message is "brain dead" and a "colossal failure." They warn that the coming 2004 presidential primaries could be an absolute disaster for their party.

In a lead editorial of Blueprint magazine, "Next Time: Say Something!" top strategists at the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) are brutally blunt. "The real ... failure for Democrats [in the mid-term elections] was with independent voters, who have been trending Democratic for nearly a decade, but who appear to have stayed home or trended Republican this year, in part thanks to negative campaigning and a brain-dead Democratic message."

The DLC blasts the "Democrats' colossal failure to make the election about anything." They further charge that "the party's present message is uninspiring to Democrats and unconvincing to independents and other swing voters." Why? "It does not deal at all with the two overriding issues facing the American people: the war on terrorism and a deteriorating economy." Ouch.

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The core problem, notes chief DLC political guru Al From, is that "voters ... think Democrats are too far left." He cites a post-election Gallup Poll showing that "39 percent of all Americans said the Democrats were too liberal, and 54 percent of Democrats said their party needs to moderate its liberal message."

Worse, "57 percent of Americans think that Democrats are not tough enough on terrorism; 64 percent said the Republicans are," Mr. From adds. "Democrats simply can't let that advantage stand. Our nominee in 2004 must convince voters that he'll keep them safe. If he doesn't, nothing else will matter."

Speaking at a DLC conference in New York on Dec. 3, former President Bill Clinton let loose on his fellow party leaders. Democrats are "weak," he charged, and in serious need of "better ideas." Mr. Clinton told the audience at New York University that "we have a heavy responsibility to cooperate in uniting this country on security issues, and also to come up with better ideas across the board." Yet while highlighting the need to appear tougher on national security issues, Mr. Clinton simultaneously dismissed the urgency of war with Iraq. "Al-Qaeda should be our top priority.... Iraq is important, but the terror network is more urgent in terms of its threat to our security."

While moderate Democrats desperately seek a messenger, the first Democrat to announce his intention to run for his party's 2004 nomination is a liberal from Massachusetts. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) is setting up a presidential exploratory committee, hitting the talk show circuit, and burnishing his liberal credentials by attacking the Bush tax cuts.

A new post-election survey confirms GOP incumbents in tight races held the support of New Investor Class voters. Individuals and families with 401(k) or other stock market investments seem to have largely rejected attacks by Democrat challengers who claimed Republicans were responsible for the weakened economy and the precipitous drop in stock prices. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush won 60 percent of Investor Class voters. Texas Senate candidate John Cornyn--running to hold retiring Sen. Phil Gramm's seat--also won 60 percent. Even embattled Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard held 49 percent. The reason? Pollster John Zogby says that "all signs prior to Nov. 5 pointed to dissatisfaction with incumbents by this group of investors," but "while the economy was the most important issue, I guess they didn't see a realistic alternative presented by the challengers-notably Democrats."

Why is conservative superstar Ann Coulter avoiding nearly all interviews and parties straight through Christmas and New Year's? The New York Times No. 1 bestselling author tells friends she's hard at work on a new book, has a Jan. 1 deadline she'll probably miss, and can barely breathe much less spend a night on the town. So what's the follow-up to Slander all about? "Bashing liberals, of course." It's due to hit shelves next spring.

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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