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Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2000 / 21 Teves 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Left-Center Rift Re-emerges For Democratic Leaders -- THE IDEOLOGICAL RIFT within the Democratic Party that Bill Clinton papered over is ripping open again, possibly damaging the party's chances of achieving majority status over the next four years.

Moderates are arguing that the 2000 election was a mandate for bipartisan cooperation with Republicans. Liberals say it justifies polarization and refusal to "defect" to the GOP side on key votes.

The centrist Democratic Leadership Council is urging party members to "get over" Vice President Al Gore's disputed loss in Florida. However, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other liberals want to keep the issue alive and have George W. Bush's presidency deemed illegitimate.

Looking to the future, the DLC urges the party to seek majority status by appealing to educated, upper-middle-class voters. The liberal Campaign for America's Future wants to see a stronger populist appeal made to the working class, particularly white males.

In Congress, DLC-affiliated centrists and conservative "Blue Dogs" likely will continue to favor Medicare, education and Social Security reforms and free trade - all of which are hotly opposed by labor unions and other groups in the liberal coalition.

Party leaders in Congress lean heavily toward the liberal side on most of the crucial issues. Thus the question arises, will the leadership push "New Democrats" to toe the party line?

As CAF spokesman Roger Hickey put it in an interview, "Do Democrats want to win back the majority in Congress? If they do, doesn't that mean observing party discipline rather than defecting to Bush?"

In recent years, House and Senate Democratic leaders have allowed moderates to vote their districts and consciences on many divisive issues, knowing that Republican initiatives that passed could be vetoed by Clinton.

That stopgap is gone now, and Bush is making an open play for Democratic supporters, starting with Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), a longtime DLC leader.

CAF is collecting "pledges" from Democratic Senators to oppose Breauz's Medicare reform proposal. One signatory is a New Democrat, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

Of course, the old liberal-centrist split in the party isn't the only one dogging it. There's continuing trouble from Ralph Nader, who cost Gore the election but plans to continue building up his Green Party at the expense of Democrats. Green candidates also cost Democrats up to four House seats.

The ideological wars in the Democratic Party are re-emerging at a time when many analysts, liberal and conservative, think Democrats are on the edge of being the nation's majority party once again.

After all, Gore beat Bush by more than 500,000 votes nationwide, and the left-wing Nader garnered an additional 2.8 million votes, most of which would have gone to Gore had Nader not run.

In The New Republic, liberal John Judis wrote that by adding "the two pillars of the McGovern coalition, minorities and highly educated social liberals" and labor, "you have an enduring political majority."

That analysis is taken seriously by writers at the conservative Weekly Standard, including David Brooks, who noted that "the information age elites are trending Democratic," giving the party an advantage in spreading its influence.

The Democrats' regaining majority status - taking control of Congress in 2002 and winning back the presidency in 2004 - would seem to require a unified party, however.

Right now the only thing that liberals and moderates seem to agree upon is that Gore blew the 2000 election - principally by failing to capitalize on the economic and social progress the country made during the Clinton years.

Beyond that there's disagreement over whether Gore's populist appeal helped or hurt his chances. As the CAF's Robert Borosage said after the election, "It was not Gore's populism that cost him his popularity," but the Clinton scandals and Bush's success in blurring ideological differences.

A post-election poll by Gore adviser Stan Greenberg, commissioned by CAF, showed Gore also lost because of doubts among non-college-educated whites about the Democratic Party's values and Bush's emphasis on Gore's "exaggerations" - a character flaw emphasized by the media.

On major issues such as Social Security, taxes, Medicare, patients' rights, prescription drugs and the environment, Greenberg showed, voters supported Gore by double-digit margins. That suggests to liberals that Democrats should stick to their guns, rather than compromise with Bush, and emphasize populist themes.

On the other side, the DLC commissioned a survey by Clinton's former pollster, Mark Penn, who concluded that "Gore used an old-style populism that limited his appeal rather than expanding it," allowing Bush to paint him as a "big government liberal."

As a result, according to DLC officials, Gore failed to carry voters earning more than $50,000 a year and even failed to win over the groups at whom his populism was aimed. For instance, Gore lost non-college-educated white voters by 17 points.

The differences among Democrats are great enough that they may need a mediator. Perhaps it's a retirement role for Bill Clinton, as long as he doesn't make himself too much of an issue in the process.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


01/12/01: Clinton doing Bush no favors in Mideast
01/09/01: Bush and Democrats can deal
12/14/00: Will Daschle make it his business to get along with President Bush?
12/08/00: GOP is in danger of ruining record on medical research
11/27/00: Some fascinating stories about how and why people voted
11/22/00: GOP Survived health bullets, but one is left
11/20/00: Can next president and Hill deal?
11/15/00: With nation split, leaders must reach across party divide
11/07/00: The Envelope, Please:Bush Beats Gore, GOP Holds Hill
11/03/00: Parties appeal to two 'gospels'
11/01/00: Lurking in the shadows
10/26/00: What's Gore's Social Security plan?
10/18/00: While Bush, Gore debate surplus, Congress spends it
10/16/00: Two debates leave lots of questions
10/03/00: What questions should be debated?
09/28/00: Gore and Bush should prepare to lead
09/19/00: Bush let values issue slip away
08/25/00: Gore hands center to Bush
08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low
08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center
08/01/00: GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy
07/27/00: Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket
07/25/00: Foreign, Defense Policy Deserves Full 2000 Debate
07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
07/18/00: Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'
07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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