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The Democrats Have a Smart Roadmap, But They’re Ignoring It

The first week of October was notable for more than just the historic opening session of the “Roberts Court” or even the controversial nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers.

Although it flew under the radar screen for most of the public, the two ideological wings of the Democratic Party — the leftists, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the centrists, led by Democratic Leadership Council types — lofted a pair of trial balloons about strategy as the maneuvering for ideological dominance of the Democratic Party continued. [IMGCAP(1)]

Most interesting was the latest analysis by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, whose 1989 strategic assessment of the Democratic Party and its future helped former President Bill Clinton shape his policy views and capture the White House. In their newest study, Galston and Kamarck astutely warn their party of what they call the “four myths” that “cloud” Democrats’ minds today:

The “myth of mobilization” says that energizing the base and getting them to the polls will translate into Democratic victories. The “myth of demography” suggests that the increasing number of Hispanics, coupled with a growing number of professional women, will give Democrats an electoral edge in the future.

The “myth of language” argues that it is a failure to communicate, not failed policies, that have been the cause of recent Democratic losses at the polls. Finally, the “myth of prescription drugs” is code for the notion that Democrats can win by focusing on social issues while ignoring hot-button cultural and national-security issues.

It is because Democrats have labored under these erroneous assumptions for the past three elections, the two strategists argue, that the party has lost ground among key voter groups, especially married women with children and Catholics.

Galston and Kamarck’s assessment is a realistic analysis of the political environment facing both Democrats and Republicans. What Galston and Kamarck understand, and what much of the Democratic leadership apparently doesn’t, is that if the party crafts its policy agenda on inaccurate strategic assumptions, the agenda won’t succeed.

Fortunately for Republicans, the ideas floated over the past two weeks by such Democrats as Pelosi and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) suggest that the insightful commentary of Galston and Kamarck has fallen on deaf ears.

Instead, party leaders seem to have cooked up little more than a very expensive brew of antiquated policy ideas. In Roll Call last week was a preview of what Emanuel calls the Democrats’ “campaign for change” and what Pelosi calls her party’s “big ideas.” Years in the making, this was designed to be the Democrats’ breakthrough policy agenda. Drum roll, please.

Big idea No. 1: more money. Sound familiar?

More money for universal health insurance. More money for a free college education for every child. More money to “save Social Security from privatization.” More money for No Child Left Behind. More money for Hurricane Katrina victims, and throw in more money for the U.S. military, too. (If you buy that one, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.)

Big idea No. 2: energy independence in 10 years. Yes, the party that has been the major obstacle to domestic drilling or the building of refineries for 30 years now promises a quick fix for the energy problem.

But here’s the kicker. This federal goodie basket of freebies will all be provided while also including “budget restrictions to end deficit spending.”

Yes, you read it right. As they propose a veritable orgy of public spending the likes of which this country has never seen, Democrats are also claiming, with straight faces, that they will lead us back to the promised land of balanced budgets. That, of course, will require big idea No. 3: the largest tax increase in the nation’s history.

In contrast to their Democratic colleagues, Galston and Kamarck argue in the conclusion of their study for the Democratic Party to find an effective formula “for bringing its post-McGovern surge of educated professionals together with the average families who continue to hope for some relief from the burdens and uncertainties of the modern economy.”

If the Pelosi agenda prevails, and if the wise counsel offered by Galston and Kamarck is ignored, Democrats are likely to suffer the same fate as they have in the past three elections.

Emanuel, bragging to Tim Russert recently on “Meet the Press” about his party’s new ideas, said, “One, we make college education as universal for the 21st century as a high school education was in the 20th.”

Russert, hardly a conservative, interrupted the former Clinton staffer, asking before he could make any other claims, “And who pays for that?” Good question.

Without giving a moment’s thought to those “average families hoping for some relief,” Emanuel breezily said, “The American people.” Thanks to Emanuel’s slip, we know the reality behind the rhetoric of this so-called campaign for change. “Budget restrictions” don’t mean cutting spending. It means higher taxes, much higher taxes.

Somehow, the campaign for change sounds like an idea whose time has come and gone.

David Winston is president of The Winston Group, a Republican polling firm.

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