Dreaming the Impossible Dream

September 19, 1991

If any Democrats are entitled to dream the impossible dream about beating the unbeatable foe, it would be Gov. Douglas Wilder and Sen. Tom Harkin. Governor Wilder, who announced his presidential candidacy last week, is the only black ever elected governor of Virginia (or any other state). Senator Harkin, who announced his presidential candidacy last Sunday (and who laid a brick, literally not figuratively, at the new stadium here yesterday), is the only Democrat ever re-elected to the U.S. Senate from Iowa.

Either is, on paper and by all political logic, a much stronger candidate than former (one-term) Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. That the Democrats need a strong candidate is obvious. President Bush is popular and must be considered at this stage likely to maintain the tradition of his predecessor Republican Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan, who ran

stronger as incumbents than in winning the office.

In a sense, Governor Wilder and Senator Harkin personify the Democratic Party's identity crisis. Is it the liberal, populist, spending and taxing party of New Deal dreams and rhetoric that Senator Harkin seems to want it to be? Or is it the tough neo-liberal or moderate party of Governor Wilder, who believes, probably correctly, that his strongest campaign card is that since he was able to cut the Virginia budget by $2 billion, he can credibly promise to cut the federal budget by $50 to $75 billion?

There is a point of convergence for these opposites. Both take a sort of America First approach to international problems. Both want to emphasize domestic issues far more than foreign policy issues. Both advocate spending at home money now being spent overseas. Probably all Democratic candidates will adopt this stance to one degree or another. Those who can read polls will, certainly.

Many political experts who observe the polls believe President Bush is unbeatable. He is. In 1991. In 1992, if the recovery from the recession is still anemic, or if the recession has taken the dreaded and oft-predicted double-dip, who knows how the electorate will behave? A determined, disciplined and united Democratic Party could offer a formidable challenge. For the party to succeed, it needs to settle the philosophical differences Governor Wilder and Senator Harkin have with each other, preferably, in our view, closer to the Wilder than to the Harkin philosophy.

This conflict may not be resolved in favor of either of these two presidential hopefuls. Other candidates are about to enter the Democratic race. The sooner the better. The sooner the fighting for the nomination is over, the sooner the party's divisions (and hurt feelings) can be dealt with, and thus the sooner the campaign against the Republicans can begin.

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