Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Unifying Focus Marks Gop's Return, Success Democratic Party Scrambling to Define, Clarify Its Goals

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Unifying Focus Marks Gop's Return, Success Democratic Party Scrambling to Define, Clarify Its Goals

Article excerpt

IT HAS BEEN another week in "paradise" for the Democratic Party.

In Texas, a group of 23 lifelong Democrats - led by Rep. Greg Laughlin - jumped to the GOP, claiming that the party had drifted too far to the left.

In Washington, Jesse Jackson escalated his threats of beginning an independent campaign for the presidency next year, claiming that President Bill Clinton is steering the party too far to the right.

Meanwhile, every congressional Republican - except one - voted for the GOP's sweeping plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit in seven years. "The discipline is remarkable," said one Democratic strategist.

Republicans may not enjoy such complete agreement on the details of implementing their plan. Already, Senate Republicans are bitterly divided over reforming the welfare system.

But every successful political coalition in American history has been divided on some issues. The real question is not whether a political coalition can achieve unanimity but whether it can submerge its differences beneath a unifying idea. At the moment, Republicans have such a unifying idea, and Democrats do not.

The organizing principle for the new Republican coalition is limiting the scope and size of the federal government.

Rural gun enthusiasts, small-business owners, Christian conservatives, white-collar suburbanites and Fortune 500 chief executives might not want to spend a weekend at the beach together. But in their eagerness to constrain the federal government - they happily converge.

Democrats have no comparable common ground. For decades, the party united - despite its differences - around the New Deal vision of the government as a source of opportunity and a safety net against economic reversal. Now that the New Deal vision seems to have faded, Democrats are divided on where to go next.

The force that has split the Democrats is the collapse of public confidence in government. …

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