Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Coming Reinvention Of The Democratic Party, And What Connecticut Republicans May Learn From It

The reversal of fortunes is too dramatic not to notice.

After the 1990 elections, Democrats held a 267-seat majority in the U.S. House and a 56-seat majority in the senate. These majorities dwindled and vanished during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and today they are nearly reversed. In the post election congress, Republicans will have a 231 or 200 majority in the U.S. House and a 55 or 44 majority in the senate.

In addition, Republicans have moved into the majority in state legislature and governorships. The Democrats were unable to carry a single state in the South, Western Plains or Mountain States, the fortress of Republican electoral power.

Some Democrat Party stalwarts have suggested the trouble lies with the messenger.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman said, “We cannot afford to make the perfect the enemy of the good. We have to broaden our base and not have everyone agree with every principle of the party platform. We have to broaden our appeal without violating our principles and the values we stand for.”

Grossman, the national chairman of Howard Dean’s campaign has suggested that Dean, as chairman of the Democrat Party, “would be a passionate spokesman for the Democrats, but also would be able to continue to revitalize participatory politics that is needed to grow the party.”

This year Bush garnered 40 percent of the union vote, 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and 11 percent of the black vote. But the steady erosion of Democratic support over many years has suggested to some prominent Democrats that the problem may lie with the message.

“There’s no question,” said Democrat Party strategist Donna Brazile in a column she wrote for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, “that it’s time to rebuild America’s oldest political party brick by brick… The Democratic Party must lay a new foundation and stop spending its political capital defending old programs and initiatives.”

Even though the Bush administration has presided over a national debt that has raise the eyebrows of fiscally responsible conservatives, polls indicate that most people are unwilling to trust Democrats to manage budgets. In exit polls taken during the election, an astounding 70 percent of respondents answered “No” to the question “Should government do more to solve problems?”

The Bush administration has written off a large part of the budget deficit to a recession that began at the tail end of the previous administration, the financial ramifications of 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The operative assumption of the administration is that a rising economic tide will lift all the boats, replenish federal and state revenues and eventually, as happened during Clinton administration, assist in wiping out the debt.

Democrats in Connecticut, espying a mounting deficit and weary of waiting for a Spring Tide, have decided to tax millionaires to liquidate a growing state debt. A recent poll shows that a majority of Connecticut’s citizens would not mind it a bit if the millionaires picked up their tab.

There are numerous benefits in taxing millionaires rather than controlling spending. Millionaires are a minority. However much money they may dispose of, each millionaire has but one vote he may lob in the direction of candidates who think that tax payments should be more equitably distributed. Tax increases – even on the super rich – remain in the system long after Spring tides have watered state coffers with higher revenues. Most importantly, in a state whose motto is “What spending problem? We have a revenue problem,” no spending reductions or tax cuts are desirable, necessary or possible.

Donna Brazile and other Democrat Party reformers no doubt will have a severe problem convincing Democrats who cling to perceptions abandoned by the general populace that their party is in need of extensive renovation; so much time and energy over the years has been invested in the old comfortable structure, and museums are lovely places to visit from time to time.

Republicans in Connecticut have a different problem. With the exception of the governor’s office, they have not won elections because they have not fought the good fight. No leading Republican in the state believes that Republican programs successful elsewhere ought to be promoted here. We are, after all, living in one of the bluest of blue states, and it always is daunting to go against the grain.

To Republicans who are fearful of change, a quote from Benjamin Disraeli may serve as a spiritual elixir: “Success is the child of audacity... The secret of success is constancy to purpose.”

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