THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION
Late last month, a record-high 30 Colorado state and local elected officials joined more than 300 of their colleagues, along with 550 business leaders and citizen activists, from across the country for the DLC's biggest-ever "National Conversation" in Philadelphia. Highlights of the two-day conference included a critique of President George W. Bush, a battle plan to beat him in 2004, and a governing agenda that will get America back on track.
Almost three years ago, Philadelphia was the site of the Republican National Convention where Bush promised to be a different kind of Republican, to set a new tone in Washington, and to forge a "responsibility era." Since then, he has buckled to the right wing time after time, giving tax cuts we cannot afford to the wealthy who do not need them, shifting the tax burden onto the middle class and shortchanging the working poor, and undermining national service when we need it more than ever.
Instead of keeping his promise to "usher in an era of responsibility," he has presided over an era of fiscal irresponsibility that will produce the largest deficits in history, unilateral diplomacy that threatens to isolate America just when it needs to lead the world, and the worst jobs record since Hoover.
The Conversation highlighted some new "New Democrat" governors, along with other state and local elected leaders, who are offering real solutions to the problems of the very middle-class families whom Bush and the Republican Party have betrayed. Those same households are also critical to our own party's national efforts.
Host Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania moderated a roundtable discussion among New Democrat governors. The active problem-solving agendas of all six featured governors - a sharp and sad contrast to our own "do-nothing" Owens administration - is especially impressive when one considers how little help and even hindrance each is getting from Washington.
The governors of two neighboring states - Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano are tackling two very key issues. Sebilius talked about her "front line" homeland security initiatives that protect the food supply. Napolitano focused on her aggressive economic development agenda.
In addition, Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan discussed her initiatives to "reinvent government" with digital technologies and other innovations. New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey reviewed his efforts to improve educational quality while Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia talked about his and other states' fiscal crises, and what innovative governors are doing to reduce costs without reducing key services.
Another activist neighbor, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, delivered a keynote address including both an opportunity and a challenge. Richardson, the newly-named chair of next year's National Democratic Convention, provided evidence for his optimism about future Democratic prospects but also warned that our party must cross "two key thresholds" of credibility on national security and economic growth.
Pollster Mark Penn echoed those same points with a new poll that shows Bush as increasingly vulnerable. His "re-elect" number - those who want to support him for re-election without considering other candidates - is at 48 percent and sinking. The "right track" number - the percentage of Americans who think the country is headed in the right direction, always a key statistic for incumbents - is down to 45 percent. Voters are also very concerned about his failures on health care, education and the deficit.
Our party's challenge is to overcome voters' perception that we are weak on national security, too liberal, about big-government solutions, out-of-touch with their values and beholden to special interest groups. Those views are especially hurting us among white men - only 22 percent identify themselves as Democratic voters.
Penn's poll demonstrates that a New Democrat agenda can keep loyal Democratic supporters (labor households, African-Americans, single women and blue-collar workers) in the fold, while making significant inroads among voters who will decide the election - those married with children, suburbanites, professionals and white-collar workers. Interestingly, even Democratic primary voters show a higher level of confidence in mainstream Democratic candidates than those on the left.
DLC Chairman US Senator Evan Bayh discouraged campaigning on a reflexive anger toward the president that most voters do not share. "Do we want to vent, or do we want to govern?" asked Bayh. "The administration is being run by the far right. The Democratic Party is in danger of being taken over by the far left." When asked by a reporter if the Democratic Party problems were self-inflicted or the result of Republican attacks, Bayh simply replied, "Assisted suicide."
National DLC Chief Executive Officer and Founder Al From was quoted in the New York Times, "There are some in our party who would take us back to our pre-Clinton days, who refuse to learn the lessons of President Clinton's success. The DLC has saved the Democratic Party once, and we're bound to do it again."
In his presentation, he added "The future of our party, and more important, the future of our country is at stake. There has been some talk in the corridors about why we're having this fight in the Democratic Party right now. I'll tell you why we are having this fight ... it's because we need to have it, because the nominating process is the time you have fights in a political party, because the stakes are so high. What's at stake is what kind of party we're going to be ... and as the theme of this National Conversation says, " 'It's a party worth fighting for.' "
"BRING HIM ON"
A special edition of Blueprint, the DLC's flagship journal, has in-depth analyses of how Bush has failed and a detailed plan to beat him. Just as important, it includes a policy agenda that boosts national security, offers economic opportunity, demands responsibility, rewards work, promotes family and pushes reform.
As Al From and national DLC President Bruce Reed explain, the Democratic candidate must reassure voters that he'll keep what they like about George Bush, inform them of some things they don't know about George Bush and wouldn't like if they did, and tell them what he'll give them that a second Bush administration will not. This formula means matching Bush's strength on national security, while making him run on his dreadful record on nearly everything else, and offering a progressive agenda to meet the challenges of economic growth and social progress that this administration has ignored.
Also unveiled is The New Democrats' Declaration, a clear statement of where we stand and what we're fighting for - a new agenda for America. It spells out what New Democrats believe - America's security is the central mission of our time; our economy cannot prosper if we don't live within our means; our job is to expand the middle-class, not the middle-class tax burden; and the true legacy of our party is not making big promises, but giving our people the tools to meet big challenges. The Declaration also outlines an agenda for restoring our nation's strength and prosperity, and returning responsibility to our government and political system.