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Countdown to Election Day: Democrats Must Regain Their Voice

Today is Election Day in some parts of the country. This last round of state and local elections before the big campaign for control of the White House and Congress should come with its own warning to political pundits and prognosticators: The results will not give us an accurate forecast of things to come in 2008. [IMGCAP(1)]

Polls suggest that the American public is fed up with a status quo bogged down with a president who refuses to listen to a war-weary public’s demand for an exit strategy and a Congress that talks a lot, but accomplishes very little.

With that in mind, the winning strategy for Democrats who want to keep their majorities in Congress may be found in the public’s growing desire, in both numbers and passion, for leaders willing to put America first, to change course in Iraq and elsewhere.

Like most political observers, I recognize that Democrats in the new majority have had their work cut out for them from Day One. They have won some victories, from winning the first raise in the minimum wage in a decade to providing the largest college-aid expansion in a generation. Nevertheless, common sense and polling data tells us that voters want something different.

Voters know President Bush is still running things. They know the Republican minority is still beholden to a small but politically connected and vocal base. They even know that the Republican candidates hoping to succeed Bush will only succeed by offering more of the same.

Democrats need to heed this call for change across the body politic and offer the kind of leadership that has been missing lately in the nation’s capital.

This is a truly defining moment for the Democratic Party, an opportunity that should not be lost by the party spending all its political capital hating Bush or Vice President Cheney. Nor should Democrats spend all their time and effort trying to appease, kiss up or give lip service to every proposal from my worthy friends in the blogosphere.

This is a moment for a principled and centered leadership to transform and electrify the party and nation — a leadership that is neither angry nor polarizing. It’s a call for leaders who can ease the anxiety and pain of Americans squeezed ever more tightly by the rising price of fuel, health care and housing. It’s a call for leaders who come to the table offering a different set of priorities from the president. It’s a call for leadership that offers different ways of doing things, different values and a higher regard for the middle class and the country.

Right now, Democrats are policy-centered — Iraq, climate change and education — and anti-Bush. That is their voice. They do speak with the voice described above, but it’s time they take up the big worry about the economy — in a big sense — from health care to American jobs. Over the next 12 months, Democrats must gain their voice.

For those running things on Capitol Hill, stop worrying about whether you are appreciated by the disenchanted public. Keep pushing the envelope. Keep sending bills to the president that invest in American priorities like providing health care for our returning troops and relief from droughts, floods and fires. Act as if you’re thinking locally but still aware of the fact that we live in a dangerous world.

Sit down with the Republicans willing to break ranks and bring them in the room to discuss the priorities the public believe are important for their future.

While Democrats have made some great moves by investing more in education, health care and the environment, these are small changes compared to the bold shifting of priorities voters seek and deserve. Congressional Democrats must continue to do real things but they cannot pretend that the accomplishments thus far have changed the world. People are looking for something much more fundamental. Be the voice of that, more than the accomplishments.

Democrats must also speak in the voice of an outsider — because we are, as long as Bush is in the White House. The president has signaled in speech after speech that he will hold the line on everything — Iraq, spending, domestic priorities and even relief from natural disasters still needing his attention.

2006 was just a moment in time. Voters were sick of the Iraq War with no end in sight, a Republican-controlled government with an increasing insularity and arrogance. That moment gave Democrats an opening, an opportunity to offer the nation a new direction.

But that moment has passed with the turnover of the legislative branch of government. With one year to go, voters have since developed an even deeper desire for change. And they are like racehorses, panting at the 2008 gate, all but bursting from their desire to race to the voting booth. There, they will vote their values and priorities. There, they will vote for real and lasting change.

In this season of change, Democrats must find their voice and not confuse a desire for change with a blood cry for angry, polarized politics. Hence, don’t follow the Republicans still seeking to placate their base only at the expense of the country and America’s standing in the world.

That old way of thinking and operating temporarily benefits one party at the expense of getting things done for the country. It’s time for Democrats to begin looking for new ways of accomplishing their goals in a post-Bush environment. It’s time for working with leaders from the other side, talking through fundamental and deep-seated disagreements to achieve a consensus based on shared principles that will tackle the nation’s problems that were neglected or exacerbated by Bush.

People want accountable government, not big government. This should be the new voice of the Democratic Party.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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