AT A DEMOCRATIC National Committee meeting in Los Angeles lastweekend, presidential candidates tried out the messages they will be delivering on the campaign trail.
Sen. Paul Tsongas said, "if we turn our back [on women, blacks and the economically destitute] and become Republican wannabes, we don't deserve to be elected."
Absolutely right! The Republicans don't deserve to be elected. That's why they are so successful in presidential politics! Deserving has nothing to do with it, to paraphrase Mae West. Republicans know this. They boast that they don't believe in fairness and compassion (kindness and gentleness are not the same thing), nor in taking a little from the haves to help the have-nots. They know a lot more haves vote than have-nots.
Whenever I hear Democrats make pitches like Senator Tsongas', I think of Adlai Stevenson. He was a brilliant writer and orator who was twice the Democratic presidential nominee in the 1950s. Unsuccessful both times.
Why unsuccessful? Once he delivered a speech to a woman's group. He carried them away with his eloquence and brilliance. A member of the audience jumped up and enthused, "Governor, every thinking person will vote for you!" And Stevenson replied, "Madam, that's not enough! We need a majority!"
Democrats need a majority to win the White House, and a majority of voters have turned their backs on taxes, welfare and designated rights for women and blacks. Sad but true.
At least two Democrats who want to be president know this. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton proposed a program that, in the words of The Sun's Paul West, "caters to the economic interests of middle class America." Oklahoma Rep. Dave McCurdy was more explicit. He criticized his party because it favors government that "spends so much time on the few that it has forgotten the many."
Jesse Jackson was at the L.A. meeting. He "scolded Democrats for not fighting harder on behalf of minorities," a reporter wrote. Is he a presidential candidate? He "sounded more like a politician suffering withdrawal pains from past presidential forays," this reporter put it.
Many Democrats wish Jackson will withdraw. They believe a Jackson campaign would, under new delegate-selection rules he dictated, almost surely see the delegate vote splintered and the nomination decision delayed beyond the primary season to the national convention. That is a prescription for disaster, given the angry divisions in the party. The sooner a party unites behind a nominee, the better he does.
But maybe a Jackson campaign would be good for the party in 1992. Maybe it would be his last hurrah. He has never run against a Democrat as liberal as Sen. Tom Harkin or a popular black like Gov. Douglas Wilder. He may lose lots of votes to both and be exposed as yesterday's mashed potatoes -- never to be a divisive, negative factor in Democratic presidential politics again.