Myths of the Democratic Party; Mobilization, Demography and Prescription Drugs

Article excerpt

Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, two of the keenest observers of American politics and the fortunes of their Democratic Party in it, were co-authors of a 1989 analysis and strategy paper that in certain respects paved the way for Bill Clinton's triumph in 1992 as a "New Democrat," a candidate set apart from the left-liberalism that had come to dominate the party and to which Mr. Galston and Miss Kamarck rose in opposition. The two have just released a new study and strategy paper, "The Politics of Polarization," that hopes to galvanize Democrats' fortunes once again by directing the party back toward the electoral center.

You will not find a more astute political analysis. Unfortunately for Democrats, knowledge is not virtue, and a clear-eyed view of the political problem at hand, while a prerequisite for a solution, only begins the hard working of crafting a workable approach to the party's national problem of powerlessness.

Let's start with the basics: There are more voters in the United States today who call themselves "conservative" than call themselves "liberal," 34 to 21 percent, according to 2004 exit polls, figures that have held remarkably constant over time. To the extent that each party, in what the authors call "the great sorting-out" that has taken place over the past couple decades, have essentially become the sole home to one or the other of these two proclivities, the Republicans start out with an advantage: It is a shorter distance for them from the baseline outlook of the party to a winning percentage at the polls.

That leads us to "the myth of mobilization," the idea that by devoting their time and resources to catering to and turning out the party base, Democrats can fight their way back to victory. Such an approach will fail in the absence of an effective appeal to the center (an appeal the authors rightly understand the Bush-Cheney campaign made in 2004).

That's only one of the "dominant myths ... preventing Democrats from asking tough questions and making hard choices." Mr. Galston and Miss Kamarck point as well to the "myth of demography," according to which population shifts will inevitably return Democrats to power. The authors think this is not likely in the absence of more substantive change, and in any case will happen no time soon.

They also cite the "myth of language," according to which Democrats need merely to find better ways to talk about what they believe in - to envelop their policy preferences in a more compelling narrative. As the two see it, the problem is the substantive package Democrats present and unfavorable associations voters have made with Democratic candidates. …