Dems’ left wing takes flight, eclipsing moderates
DENVER | There is no doubt that the liberals are now in full control of the Democratic Party and that Sen. Barack Obama is commander in chief of their bid to “take back America.”
The Democratic Leadership Council’s centrist-leaning agenda of free trade, a strong defense and welfare-to-work reform that helped propel Bill Clinton’s rise to power in 1992 is hardly visible here.
Instead, it is the far-left grassroots organizations who were out in full force and fury at the Democratic National Convention, raising questions about whether the Obama campaign, by embracing them, risks alienating the moderate swing voters who made Mr. Clinton the first twoterm Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Democrats, who have come to favor the term “progressive” to the pejorative “liberal,” took to the floor Aug. 25 to give full-throated voice to what they consider the Bush administration’s assault on society.
“Under Barack Obama’s leadership, we will renew the frayed connection between opportunity for all, and responsibility from all, for our American community,” said Judith McHale, co-chairman of the party platform committee. “We will make it possible for all Americans to serve. We will turn our values into action, standing up for families, supporting our seniors, defending our civil rights and strongly denouncing sexism, which sadly continues to be so prevalent throughout our society.”
Liberals took full credit Aug. 25 for their party’s comeback, with the group Take Back America, which seeks to unite progressive leaders, bloggers and activists, issuing a statement saying Mr. Obama’s “success [was] propelled by the progressive base of the party” and that “thousands of progressive leaders and activists will celebrate their victories and chart their course to ‘take back America’ at the Democratic National Convention.”
As if to underscore the shift, the evening’s tributes and speakers included old-guard figures Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, former President Jimmy Carter and leaders from pro-choice groups and teachers unions.
Mr. Kennedy, the liberal lion who is battling brain cancer, made a surprise appearance to once again embrace Mr. Obama’s candidacy and make another impassioned plea for his longtime dream of universal health care for all Americans.
He was followed by veteran Senate liberal Tom Harkin of Iowa, who has backed Mr. Kennedy’s legislative efforts. But the closest Congress ever came to considering a national health care system was in the early 1990s, when President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed legislation to provide universal health care for all uninsured Americans. Democrats held majorities in both houses of Congress, but their plan was never brought up for a vote.
The lineup of union-friendly speakers was a big draw for Anne Boley, a Wisconsin delegate. Ms. Boley has been a union member for 44 years — 30 as a teacher and 14 working for the National Education Association.
“Union heritage is a family heritage,” she said. “It is important for the people. Unions help strong working families. It is important so we have an educated electorate, and that union members are not just voting for a name. They are learning all they can about the candidate.”
But for a party trying to embrace change, the lineup could have its perils, particularly in moving away from the coalition that helped elect Mr. Clinton, who made inroads in the solid Republican South and won pivotal Midwest states like Michigan and Ohio.
Most head-to-head polls now show Mr. Obama struggling in Ohio and Michigan (an industrial state Democrats have carried four times since the 1980s), where he is in a dead heat with Republican rival Sen. John McCain. He is not leading in any Southern state at this point.
Heading into last week’s convention, independent pollster John Zogby reported that “Obama’s margins among what had been his strongest demographic groups dropped by as much as 12 points.”
But many party strategists disagreed with the notion that the increasing role being played by these liberal activist forces would hurt the party’s ability to reach out to swing voters.
“I don’t think there is anything the party needs to fear from these groups. In fact, they add strength and energy to the message of our party,” said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, who has been a key outreach adviser to the party in past campaigns.
“I don’t believe that they will alienate swing voters or independents. They are a result of politics becoming much more inclusive of diverse voices, which is completely within the best tradition of the Democratic Party,” she said.
Among the left-leaning forces with a presence in Denver are the Campaign for America’s Future; MoveOn.org; Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos Web site (www.dailykos.com), the core of the party’s Internet blogging base; Progress Now; the Alliance Center; and feminist groups such as the National Organization for Women. A panoply of labor unions are also represented, after Mr. Obama promised during the campaign that they would not have to compete with NAFTA-like trade agreements if he’s elected.
These are powerful political forces that have only grown stronger since the 2004 elections. The Daily Kos alone draws millions of hits a month from angry activists who say they’re “mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.” The success of his site has spawned an army of likeminded liberal bloggers and Web sites.
Mr. Obama has tapped into this anger, which has helped him swell his 2 million-member donor base, financing the most expensive Democratic presidential offensive in American history.
Showing off their newfound influence, Mr. Moulitsas, Progress Now, and the Alliance Center, an environmental activist group, held forth last week in what they called “the Big Tent,” an 8,000-square-foot, two-story structure that housed the work space for bloggers and other assorted foot soldiers in their crusade to move the country deeply into left field.
Their power was evident earlier this summer when the freshman Illinois senator announced he was dropping his opposition to President Bush’s terrorist-surveillance bill — hated by liberals because of what they said was its impact on civil lib- erties — which he had previously said would never see the light of day.
Liberals howled at Mr. Obama’s abandonment of their efforts to kill the measure in a Senate filibuster — so much so that he was driven to write an explanation of his shift on his campaign Web site.
But the nominee-in-waiting has staked out enough liberal positions with his party’s left wing to keep it enthused for his campaign.
Mr. Obama vows to bring home all combat forces from Iraq in the first 16 months of his presidency; favors shifting defense funds into new social programs; has called for changes in the NAFTA, the free-trade deal with Mexico and Canada that Mr. Clinton championed; wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and on businesses that send jobs abroad; and tax “excess oil profits.”
He has proposed a vast number of programs to expand health care coverage, raise teachers’ salaries, build savings for low- and middle-class families, and help troubled subprime mortgage borrowers keep their homes.
He has attempted to soften his past positions favoring gun control, an issue Mr. Clinton steered away from in his campaigns.
ALLISON SHELLEY/THE WASHINGTON TIMES His kind of party: The Rev. Al Sharpton talks to the press by the Pepsi Center on Aug. 25 before the start of activities at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Leftist grass-roots groups are out in force at the party gathering, embraced by the Obama campaign.