Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Centrist Democrats are starting to panic

Howard Dean, the nightmare candidate of the Democratic Leadership Council, made the covers of both Time and Newsweek this week – a rare publicity coup of Bruce Springsteen-type proportion. On Monday, Connecticut Senator and darling of the DLC Joe Lieberman, made a forceful plea for sanity among Democrats:

In a campaign speech Monday in Washington and at last night's labor forum in Chicago, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) came out boldly in favor of, uh, strategy -- that is, what he thinks the Democrats must avoid doing if they want to defeat George W. Bush next year.

That's not to say that Lieberman's speech - large swaths of which could have been delivered verbatim by Clinton pollster and passionate centrist Mark Penn -- was off base. When it comes to general elections, the country usually goes for someone who can appeal to the vast middle, which is one of the reasons why George W. Bush (who ran as a moderate, but has governed as a conservative) is president and not Gary Bauer.

"We're not going to win by being opposed to all tax cuts, which would raise taxes on middle-class Americans," Lieberman said Tuesday at the AFL-CIO event. "We're not going to earn the trust of the American people by being weak or ambivalent on defense."

Speaking of Mark Penn, he made a presentation to the DLC on the perceptions and prospects of the Democratic Party for the 2004 election. There’s some striking stuff here, but what I thought was most disturbing for the Dems is the “Party ID Trends since ‘50s” slide. It indicates that since 1952, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats has plunged from 47% to 33% (Republicans have slipped from 28% to 26% by comparison). Much of Penn’s PowerPoint show is a call for more centrist policies such as bridging the “security gap” or, in other words, the Republican’s overwhelming advantage on issues of terrorism and homeland security. Unfortunately for centrist Democrats, Howard Dean – arguably the most dovish of all the Democratic candidates – has the “big mo” right now.

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