Democrats face image loss in new millenium

America loves diversity but detests extremism. In a recent article from, John F. Hale, assistant professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, emphasized that the reason the Democrats are doing so well is because of their decidedly centrist strategy. This strategy, since its kickoff in 1992, has left the Republicans glaringly stranded at the extremist end of the political spectrum. For the Republicans, conservatism mutated into extremism. It’s as though they are all wearing the same obnoxious Hawaiian shirt, the kind virgin American tourists wear on vacation in a foreign country.
In 1992, phrases like “New Democrat” and “a different kind of Democrat” were used extensively by President Bill Clinton and his campaign strategists, clearly indicating the Democratic Party was in serious need of an identity change. The Democratic Leadership Council set the agenda for the centrist position, and Clinton followed it to the letter. It wasn’t until after he was elected that the country saw a more liberal president than what was expected.
Clinton smoked pot and was for gays in the military. Now he’s an alleged philanderer. Plus, he never served in the military. These kinds of activities and views are not good for a centrist image. But despite this seemingly shoddy image, most Americans do not want him removed from office and have grown quite tired of the impeachment circus. Centrist or liberal, Clinton put the American economy on track. We — the people — think he’s doing a good job.
The Democrats suffered a major defeat in 1980. The Republicans took control of the Senate and the Democrats, at that time, were the ones left stranded on the extremist end, branded as liberals. The Republicans were the party of ideas, offering a new conservative agenda fully embraced by the Reagan and Bush administrations. But in 1992, the Democratic Leadership Council with Bill Clinton at the helm changed all that.
One of Clinton’s goals was to rescue liberalism from its negative reputation. The government is a good thing and something that should intervene actively in economic and social matters. If such a non-conservative policy is what resulted in our current economy, then Clinton’s goals were firmly reached. It’s possible that given the state of the economy in 1992, any Democrat could have won the election. But it was Clinton that balanced the budget, not just anyone. Liberal bashing tactics just don’t fly anymore. Clinton has tremendous support from his party, and if they can support someone with so many personal problems, they will certainly provide very strong support for the next presidential nominee.
Obviously, the jury is still out on the impeachment, but chances are the president will not be removed, and Republicans are closing in for the election kill in 2000. The more they attack, the worse they look. But Democrats are not riding any high horse. Don’t let the current underdog image obscure the fact the Democrats face many of the same challenges as the Republicans in the coming election. It might sound like a gross generalization, but most Americans seem to have grown tired of Washington, D.C. altogether — like the American political system just isn’t working. In Minnesota, Gov. Jesse Ventura’s election is a dramatic reflection that “not working” just might be true.
Campaign finance almost became an issue while the Republicans were building their list of attacks against the president. Wisely, they let it go. But Senate investigations into campaign financing, initiated before the trial and certainly to follow after, will reveal some very ugly skeletons in the closets of both parties.
The Democrats will need to answer the same questions about campaign financing as the Republicans. Laundering campaign funds through Political Action Committees and spending millions on “issue” ads will come under serious scrutiny in the months ahead. A non-partisan effort towards investigating campaign finance abuses will leave both parties scurrying for cover. Above all, everyone has to answer to the Federal Election Commission.
The Democrats benefited from “issue” campaigns by such groups as the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and Citizen Action. The GOP aligned itself with the Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association and Philip Morris. But guess what? Despite their “centrist” and “conservative” respective images, both parties got money from Philip Morris, and the NRA and many others not found on the Top 40 list.
And these industry groups, special interest groups, companies and independent donors are finding all kinds of ways to creatively channel funds to their favorite candidate without detection from the FEC. Clinton somehow manages to voraciously attend fund-raising events while his presidency is in crisis, which clearly shows how important money is and how influential having it can be. It’s time for America to focus on the money trail, and really find the truth about who’s doing what, where and how.
The mix of anonymous donors, party spending, laundering cash through non-profits and issue ads will be a collective major issue and might further politicize the country along party lines. Or, we might be looking at a political future where the country is run by interest groups, if it isn’t already.
Jerry Flattum’s column appears every Friday. Send comments to [email protected]