Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2002 / 7 Kislev 5763
How Oz can help the Dems
Memo to the Wizard of Oz: Please send the Democrat Party what they need most these days: A heart, courage and a brain.
Democratic leaders are wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth over the party's loss of both houses of Congress plus the White House.
I think they should dry their eyes. The Democrats still have a strong base. They only need to reacquaint themselves with it.
First, this debacle was a setback, not a collapse. If there had been a switch of roughly 29,000 votes in Minnesota, 11,500 in Missouri and 9,500 in New Hampshire, as The Washington Post noted, the Dems would have held the Senate and the pundits would be blowing taps for Bush's coattails.
That's the beauty of American democracy. You screw up and the people will let you know it. They'll walk away from you like a bad date. No party is immune. No party can afford to display a sense of entitlement to anyone's hearts or minds.
So before, Democrats start forming circular firing squads and arguing over whether they should turn farther to the left or closer to the middle, I think they need to turn to what's right. Instead of debating which old agenda to pull out of the closet, they should go shopping. That's where you can help, Wiz.
First, as the old song goes, They've "got to have heart."
Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe, a master fundraiser but weak on beliefs, complained after Election Day that it was "hard to get our message out" in the midst of wall-to-wall sniper coverage and other big news. Maybe so. But, what was the message they were trying to get out?
As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., used to say, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. The Democrats stand for something, but lately it has been hard for voters to tell what it is.
Democrats had different messages, depending on the state in which they were running. Some were in direct conflict with Dems in other states on such sensitive, but crucial areas as Iraq, gun control, tax cuts and the economy.
Democrats mostly ducked an all-out debate with the president on Iraq, then ducked a debate on Bush's tax cuts for fear of undermining the dozen senators who voted for them. Some of them lost anyway.
As a minority party in Congress, Democrats don't have to be obstructionists. They merely have to offer credible leaders, an alternative vision and some visible conviction about using government to help people.
Will it be more difficult to criticize Bush now? Silly question. When was it ever easy? Some right-wingers even helped hound Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) out of office by questioning his "patriotism." Never mind that he lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. If the zealots can trash Cleland on patriotism, they'll trash anybody on anything.
But, hey, as another old saying goes, politics ain't beanbag. If your beliefs aren't worth fighting for, they're not worth much.
In the interest of comity and "getting things done," as Bush likes to say, congressional Democrats have failed to press the questions that many Americans, including some Republicans, are asking about what exactly it is that Bush wants to get done.
Some of his ideas are downright reckless. The White House appears to have discarded the Powell Doctrine in regard to assessing what the end game of an Iraq war might be. Bush's economic plans call for tax cuts for the upper income brackets at a time of skyrocketing government expenses, including Social Security and a war or two.
It is not enough for Democrats to criticize the "things" that Bush wants to "get done." They have to figure out what they want to get done, too.
Of course, Democrats should oppose Bush's tax cut, but with a better tax cut, one whose benefits help working people make ends meet, help the working poor stay off welfare and help stimulate the growth that creates jobs, not hollow Wall Street bubbles.
The Democrats should be lending a hand to people who are still punching time-clocks and keyboards and working their butts off in the hope that someday they, too, might be rich enough to vote Republican.
Instead, a lot of people are voting for policies that they really cannot afford, because the party that should be providing them with a better alternative isn't.
Compromise can be healthy, but a me-too party will collapse into mush. Democrats don't need to be obstructionists. They need to be effective thinkers, dreamers and fighters.
First, they've got to have heart.
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