Democrats can do it

March 26, 2001|By Albert Wynn

WASHINGTON - Recently Republicans, and some Democrats, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, have proclaimed the death of the Democratic Party.

Although the last election was certainly disappointing, the Democratic Party is definitely not dead, merely wounded. In fact, we are quietly plotting a comeback.

Keep in mind that Democrats actually won the battle in the popular election for president. Unfortunately, we lost the war for electoral votes (or blew it) in states like Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas.

We are only five seats away from taking back the House. And we actually pulled off an upset to create a deadlock in the Senate. Thus, by any objective standard, we are in a very competitive position. Moreover, I believe several factors bode well for Democrats in the future.

In a strange case of role reversal, Democrats are positioned to assume the politically popular mantle of fiscal responsibility, but not by spouting the Republicans' old-time religion - attacking big government.

Rather, Democrats are redefining the concept, focusing on maximum debt reduction to lower interest rates for all Americans, as well as protecting Social Security and Medicare over the long term. These issues are particularly appealing to baby boomers concerned about their own future and facing the prospect of taking care of their elderly parents.

As Democrats advocate long-term and fiscally responsible solutions, we also expose the Republicans' so-called fiscal conservatism as a thin veil for their historical opposition to federal programs that help poor and working-class Americans. Democrats will hammer home the point that, while lining the pockets of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans by "giving them a refund" - equal to 43 percent of the Bush tax cut - the single mom waitress with two kids, and working people like her, get little or nothing under Republican tax schemes.

However, this traditional attack on tax relief for the rich now shares the stage with new thinking within Democratic ranks. Reasonable reform of estate taxes for family farms and small businesses, a cut in capital gains taxes for middle-class homeowners and a modest cut in marginal tax rates in the context of a serious budget are all being pursued by Democrats.

This "balanced" attack will be in sharp contrast to the Republicans' gluttonous overreaching on tax breaks for the wealthy. At the same time the public will be appalled to learn how education, law enforcement, transportation, health care and other priorities are shortchanged in the Republican budget. If Democrats do not fight for the working and middle class, who will?

New census data show Hispanics equaling or surpassing African-Americans as the country's largest minority group. Despite the media's predictions of increased enmity between these two groups, African-Americans and Hispanics, along with other minorities, who make up one-third of the "new multicultural face of America," will provide receptive audiences for the Democratic message.

Republican opposition to immigration and affirmative action, along with the tax cut gluttony of the country club set, will provide fertile opportunities to expand and mobilize the Democratic base.

Democrats will make a comeback because, ultimately, issues do matter. Calls for investing a portion of the surplus in domestic programs like prescription drugs, hiring teachers, neighborhood policing, health care, drug treatment, alternative energy and preserving Social Security and Medicare, consistently beat tax cuts in opinion surveys.

In the post-Clinton era, growing minority participation, angry unions, progressives and environmental activists, combined with the gender gap, which favors Democrats, give us what pollsters call "huge potential for growth."

But Democrats must widen the circle. This potential party growth will not materialize or energize if the same Democratic Party know-it-alls, who cost us the last election, continue preaching inclusiveness but fail to practice it.

However, even with this caveat it remains clear that the permanent, rightward, political realignment Republicans so eagerly anticipate will not materialize.

The Democrats may be down, but we are certainly not out. The resurgence of the Democrats is not dependent on the Clintons, the Democratic Leadership Council or any of the old order. It will percolate from the grassroots, merging our core principles of fairness with sound long-term fiscal policy, new faces and smarter tactics.

Albert Wynn, a Democrat, represents the 4th Congressional District of Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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