The Democrats Vision Problem

OpinionJournal has an interesting piece on the Democrat’s failures in economic policy.

Mr. Rove must be wondering what he did to deserve this. In pursuit of Mr. Dean, every Democratic Presidential candidate is now proposing some kind of tax increase, from the humongous (in Mr. Dean’s case, $2 trillion over 10 years) to merely the huge. Not being masochists, they must believe this will help them retake the White House. But we’d suggest they all study Mark Penn’s latest analysis on the Democrats’ shrinking political appeal.

Mr. Penn is the pollster most famous for fashioning Bill Clinton’s New Democratic political themes. This week he released a survey, sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council, that has ominous news for his party going into an election year. Though he found that Mr. Bush is vulnerable, "the Democratic Party is currently in its weakest position since the dawn of the New Deal." The share of voters who identify themselves as Democrats is down to 33%, lower even than in the GOP landslide year of 1994 and down from 45% as recently as 1968.

The Democrats are in the weakest position because they are a party that has gone to extremes. The predominant rhetoric of the Democratic Party is that life sucks, and it’s all the Republicans fault. Not once has such a message ever resonated with voters. Each time such a strategy of negativity has been tried it has been a complete disaster. The demographic slide the Democrats face is shown clearly in the reaction of the middle class:

Among white men age 25 to 49, only 41.5% even have a favorable view of Democrats. More than 70% of that group view the GOP favorably. As for income groups, the nearby table shows how the heart of the tax-paying middle class is abandoning the Democrats.

Mr. Penn attributes this mass defection to "current perceptions that Democrats stand for big government, want to raise taxes too high, are too liberal, and are beholden to special interest groups." They also suffer from what he calls a "security gap," or the "wide chasm" between the parties on keeping America safe after 9/11. "Today, Democrats must be strong on security to be heard on the economy," the strategist writes.

Alas, these days Mr. Penn is a prophet without followers. Democratic candidates are all chasing Mr. Dean’s poll numbers in the opposite direction, competing to see who can attack Mr. Bush most aggressively on the war and for his tax cuts.

The Democrats are taking all their weaknesses and compounding them. The strategy the Democrats are taking for the 2004 election is simply idiotic. Any first-year political science student can tell you that elections are not won by candidates in a race to appeal to the narrow extremes. Dean mania may be spreading like wildfire among Democratic partisans, but Dean is not the kind of candidate who can succeed in a general election. Of course, the Democrats are continuing to learn the wrong lessons:

The tax issue is only one of the many signs that the Democratic Party is veering back to the left. Mr. Dean’s rise is another, but the trend also shows up in the relentless partisan opposition to the Bush agenda in Congress. Democrats seem to have concluded from their 2002 defeat that their mistake was that they weren’t obstructionist enough.

2004 will be a slaughter for the Democrats. On paper the Democrats should have several electoral advantages on the Republicans in key battleground states. However, in two national elections (2000 and 2002) the Democrats managed to turn those advantages into major electoral defeats. The 2002 election was especially prescient as the Democrats lost big in states like Minnesota that have long been Democratic strongholds. The Democrats that did win, such as Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm, ran on a decidedly centrist agenda. The Democrats will not likely see a defeat quite as large as they did in 1972 or 1984, but unless they can completely turn around before the general election it could very well be close.

Liberals do not win elections in America, even if their liberalism is given the moniker of "progressivism&quot. Running on a platform of tax increases, more government spending, and a weak national security plan is not the path to electoral success. Then again, the Democrats don’t seem to care – they’re far too fixated on their hatred for the President that they can’t notice their own increasing irrelevance.

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