Which Way Will the Democratic Party Go?

by | Dec 2, 2002

Given the unequivocal rout in the Nov. 5 election, there’s been no shortage of friendly advice on how the Democratic Party can resuscitate itself. From Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat, looking at the prospect that Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco will become the new public face of the Democratic Party in the House […]

Given the unequivocal rout in the Nov. 5 election, there’s been no shortage of friendly advice on how the Democratic Party can resuscitate itself.

From Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat, looking at the prospect that Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco will become the new public face of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives: “We’ve got the left turn signal on, and we’re headed down another rabbit hole to political oblivion.”

From Harold Ford Jr., a Democratic representative from Tennessee, arguing his case on why he should be Minority Leader in the House: “Last Tuesday, for the fifth election in a row, Democrats failed to win a majority in Congress.” Ford made clear how he would lead the Democratic Party out of the wilderness. To stimulate the economy, he’d speed up the Bush tax cuts: “We would shift the tax cuts that do not take effect for several years into immediate tax relief for all Americans and businesses.” On Osama and Iraq: “We now live in a post-9/11 world. If we want the American people to trust us to govern, we cannot take a dismissive or defeatist attitude toward issues of national security.”

And from Joe Klein, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton: “The Democrats have to stop being so goddamned negative and pessimistic. No piece about the party should omit Dick Gephardt’s famous retort to Ronald Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ ads: ‘It’s getting closer and closer to midnight.’ (For that reason alone, Gephardt should be barred from further national political activity.) Why are Democrats always so downbeat and mopey about the most dynamic economy in the history of the world?”

As so, the big question: “On the mat looking up,” as Peggy Noonan put it in The Wall Street Journal, which way does the Democratic Party go? More centrist? More mainstream? Stop acting like Bush is more dangerous than Saddam, recognize that bigger government and higher taxes aren’t the ticket to a better tomorrow, acknowledge that Al Gore is a loser? Or does the party, in a country that’s trending Right, go more Left? Does it go, as Sen. Zell Miller warns, “down another rabbit hole to political oblivion”?

Entering stage far-left, super-liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader in the House looks like the perfect choice to take the party down the rabbit hole at record speeds.

On the question of how much the government should grab out of our wallets, Pelosi voted against the Bush tax cut, voted in favor of the Clinton tax hikes, opposes any reduction in the marriage penalty, opposes the idea of allowing workers to invest all or part of their payroll taxes in stocks or bonds through personal retirement accounts, and opposes the repeal of the death tax.

On Iraq, Pelosi voted against the 1991 Gulf War and voted against authorizing the use of force against Iraq this year. In contrast, she’s pushing for more gun control laws. Our Smith & Wesson pistols, it seems, cause Ms. Pelosi more nightmares than Saddam’s super-sized vats of anthrax and aflatoxin.

When it comes to individual liberty versus dependency, Pelosi is opposed to school choice of any kind, even for poor kids in failing urban schools, against free trade, and against any expansion in medical savings accounts, IRA-like savings accounts that individuals can use to pay for medical care.

With welfare, Pelosi voted against the welfare-reform bill that Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. Four years later, the number of people on welfare had decreased by more than 50 percent.

Last year, Pelosi’s votes in Congress earned her a rating of 100 percent from Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), not exactly the type of outfit with positions that are likely to help the Democrats undo their downhill slide.

In foreign affairs, for instance, ADA says we should “end the trade embargo on Cuba,” cancel the debts owed by “heavily indebted poor countries,” and lay off Iraq: “An attack is certain to cause increased alienation of Arab and Muslim states to the United States.”

On the domestic front, ADA is against drilling for oil in ANWAR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), against the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, and against getting too tough with welfare recipients: “All coercion to establish a heterosexual marriage should be eliminated.”

Plus there’s this complaint from ADA about welfare reform: “Before welfare changes were enacted, beneficiaries — mostly women — were 13 percent more likely to attend college than poor women in general.”

In addition, says ADA, the clock should be stopped on the five-year lifetime limit for receiving benefits if a welfare recipient has a problem with drug dependency. Do crack, in short, and get free money for more years.

And just to keep elections on the up-and-up, ADA “strongly supports federal legislation abolishing felony disenfranchisement laws nationwide.” All told, reports ADA, “4.2 million felons and ex-felons are stripped of the vote today in the United States, constituting a full 2.1 percent of the American voting-age population.” In a close election, that’s a lot of Democrats.

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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