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Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2005 / 18 Shevat 5765

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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After the love is gone | What went wrong? It's the question spurned lovers and political parties must ask when they've lost their prize. And how to go on? Last weekend, Democrats convened in Sacramento, Calif., to begin to answer that question at a forum with the seven candidates to serve as the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Did they care too much or not enough? For this go-round, the loss is an especially bitter pill for many activists because they went down under the leadership of a man who voted in support of a war they despised.

It's hard to lose. It's really a killer when you lose after selling out. Hence, the heavy support for Howard Dean in a room filled with Western Dems, in the neighborhood of

The big divide in this race is between realists and idealists, centrists versus leftists, or, if you will, those who think the party is too liberal and those who think the party isn't liberal enough. (Except they don't use the L-word.)

Former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, who is anti-abortion, former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, Donnie Fowler, son of a former DNC chair, and Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network all walked on the centrist side. Dean, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former Ohio Democratic Chairman David Leland advocated for a more left-leaning DNC. (Leland, for example, complained that there are "too many primaries." He preferred more caucuses filled with activists to pick Democratic nominees.)

After the forum, I shared a taxi to the train station with three Bay Area activists, all Deaniacs. I couldn't disagree with them more on the issues -- one actually was angry at Sen. John Kerry for conceding Ohio. But at least they had deeply held beliefs, and they had every right to be angry that their party lost the White House without a real debate on the war in Iraq.

If the Democrats had nominated an anti-war candidate, at least there would have been a debate on the war, instead of the niggling Kerry distinctions about how Bush waged the war.

The odd thing, I mention to them: I heard the word "Iraq" only once -- spoken by Roemer -- during the DNC forum. The candidates did mention Iraq during a breakfast meeting, they said. California Democratic Party bad boy Bob Mulholland noted that Iraq wasn't the focus because the race for chairman is about who can run the trains on time, not ideology.

In that spirit, sort of, there were two words I heard a lot during the forum: The real enemy is not Iraqi insurgents but Karl Rove, the GOP bogeyman. Rove, damn him, sold the Bush agenda to 51 percent of the electorate.

It's funny how the Democrats denounced the GOP evil genius, as they suggested that they could be Rove but better. So they treated issues as if issues were packaging, not ideas with consequences. Rosenberg noted the party's need to "revitalize our message."

Hence, the de-emphasis on Iraq.

Sacramento-based Democratic strategist Roger Salazar supports Fowler because he believes the party has to move to the center. "You have to have a broader appeal than just the base," he said. And: "The sooner we sober up, the sooner we'll take back control of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."

The rub: It was that thinking that prompted Democrats to nominate John Kerry, who voted for a war most Democrats opposed and went on to lose the general election.

Political consultant Katie Merrill warned that it is a mistake for observers to judge the race for chairman based on the reaction of activists. Only 65 DNC members in the room, and some 440 nationally, will vote for the chairman on Feb. 12. The DNC members will be looking for a solid nuts-and-bolts chairman.

She added that while California might lean heavily toward Dean, Democrats in the South and Midwest want Anyone But Dean. And that A.B.D.-push, I think, is about issues and message.

The two most prominent Beat-Dean Dems are Fowler and Frost.

Fowler summed up the A.B.D. argument when he told the Associated Press, "Dean had the oranges, but he couldn't make orange juice."

What does that even mean?

The real question is: Does it matter if you win, if you lose what you stand for? No candidate really addressed the delicate balance involved in making orange juice that appeals to a lot of people and with real oranges. To the extent that this is not a contest of ideas, it doesn't matter who wins.

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© 2005, Creators Syndicate