Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A Progressive Democrat Can Win

-- Matthew Rothschild

Leave it to the wingtips at the Democratic Leadership Council to bemoan the suddenly vibrant progressives within the party.

You remember the DLC, don't you? These are the guys who stomped on welfare and promoted the death penalty.

Now Adam Nagourney of The New York Times might call them a "moderate Democratic group," but I call them Republicans in a very thin Democratic coat.

They still brag about bringing Bill Clinton to the White House, and today they are in a snit over the fact that all the energy among Democrats is on the progressive side.

Even Joe Lieberman, a DLC stalwart if ever there was one, chose not to show up at the DLC's conference on Monday. No one wanted to be tagged as yesterday's Democrat.

So spare me the lecture from Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who is but a faint peel of his father, Birch Bayh.

Bayh the younger barked at progressives at the DLC's conference. "Do we want to vent, or do we want to govern?" he sneered, adding that "the Democratic Party is in danger of being taken over by the far left."

The far left?

Who's he talking about here?

Presumably Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont, who is running a surprisingly strong challenge for the Democratic nomination.

Or maybe he's talking about the activists, many of them on-line, who have helped Dean raise so much money.

But I wouldn't call any of those "the far left," nor would I equate them with the "far right" in the Bush Administration, as Bayh did.

They are actually standing up for what Democrats are supposed to stand up for: peace, jobs, health care, the environment, and civil liberties.

It is Dean's anti-war stance that most upsets conservative Democrats and mainstream pundits, and this may underlie the effort that is under way right now to go after Dean (see Ruth Conniff's "Ganging Up on Dean.")

The New Republic has Dean on the cover of its July 28-August 4 issue, with the headline "Must He Be Stopped?"

Inside, in an article entitled "Bitter Pill," Senior Editor Jonathan Chait writes that "where Dean goes wrong is in suggesting that his anti-war position will help him beat President Bush. In truth, it's a massive liability." Chait also writes, "Nearly as problematic is Dean's implacable opposition to the Patriot Act." He concludes: "Many Dean supporters deeply opposed the war in Iraq and much of Bush's anti-terror agenda, and they feel that the Democratic nominee has a moral obligation to mount a full-throated opposition from the left, regardless of the consequences. That is their right. But they're fooling themselves if they think doing so will be anything other than a political disaster."

(To its credit, The New Republic also ran a dissenting article from Senior Editor Jonathan Cohn showing that Dean is not as liberal as he seems, and citing "one survey in New Hampshire" that "actually shows Dean polling better among independents, and worse among Democrats, than his chief rival there, Kerry.")

Conservative Democrats and mainstream pundits all buy into the proposition that no progressive Democrat can win the Presidency.

But I believe they are disregarding three crucial factors.

First, Iraq is sounding more and more like Vietnam every day. On July 29, Paul Wolfowitz was echoing Richard Nixon. "We don't need more American troops," he told Congress. "What we need most of all are Iraqis fighting with us." But just as Nixon's Vietnamization program failed, so too will Wolfowitz's effort to get Iraqis to do Washington's fighting for it.

Even Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has warned that "the United States may end up fighting a third Gulf War," this time "against the Iraqi people." The occupation and the guerrilla war will be a continual drag on Bush's popularity, as it takes its toll in U.S. lives and treasure.

Second, Bush's lies that preceded the Iraq War will continue to haunt him, chipping away at his credibility and "nice guy" image. A lot of people voted for Bush because they liked him more than Gore, and they were sick of Clinton's slipperiness. As Bush appears slippery in his own right, he is losing support.

Third, the economy is a huge albatross around Bush's neck. This is the primary issue on voters' minds, according to every poll. And there is a great deal of unease about Bush's leadership on this issue, with unemployment at 6.4 percent.

So, despite the conventional wisdom of Evan Bayh, Adam Nagourney, and Jonathan Chait, this actually may be a propitious time for a liberal Democrat to win the Presidency,


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