Dems’ left wing takes flight, eclips­ing mod­er­ates

The Washington Times Weekly - - Advertisement - BY DON­ALD LAM­BRO

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.

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