Until recently, I'd been fairly skeptical about this meme that the Democratic Party had lost its center. Today's Wall Street Journal, however, makes a pretty compelling case.
[T]he party of FDR and JFK no longer seems to have a moderate wing; they have become doughnut Democrats with no middle. This point is best exemplified by the utter collapse of Democrats in the South. In 1980 there were 20 mostly conservative Democrats in the Senate; now there are four, and even they are endangered.
- With the notable exception of Joe Lieberman, there are virtually no Scoop Jackson defense hawks remaining in a party that has made Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo its main policy touchstones for the war on terror.
- The party that voted en masse for income and capital gains tax cuts under JFK now has but one message on taxes: Raise them.
- On trade, the Democrats who delivered 102 House votes for Nafta and Bill Clinton in 1994 will, at last count, provide all of five House votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
- The Clinton Democrats helped enact the most momentous social policy legislation of the past generation: welfare reform. Now Democrats conspire every day to gut work-for-welfare requirements and prevent the renewal of welfare reform by Congress.
- Above all, there's the know-nothing-ism on Social Security. The Democrats in unison proclaim that Mr. Bush is advancing a risky right-wing scheme to destroy Social Security by creating private investment accounts for workers.
But wait. How dangerous can this idea really be? After all, only a few years ago there was a long and esteemed list of elected Democratic leaders who endorsed personal accounts. John Breaux. Chuck Robb. Bob Kerrey. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Charles Stenholm. Tim Penny. Today in the entire United States Congress there is exactly one Democrat, Allen Boyd of Florida, who has endorsed personal accounts, and he has been shunned for his apostasy.
In 2000 Senator Moynihan declared that a personal thrift savings plan for Social Security would allow hourly wage earners to "retire not just with a pension but with wealth. And the doorman will have a half million dollars, not just the people in the duplexes." Share the wealth. What could be a more traditional Rooseveltian idea than that?
Mr. Bush has spent the past six months reaching out on Social Security to centrist Democrats, only to discover that there aren't any. At his own political peril, he proposed a means-testing plan that would trim future benefits for wealthier seniors in order to improve the solvency of the program. But again he found no takers.
And to what obstructionist end? Even if Democrats succeed in stopping Mr. Bush's plan, FDR's legacy that they say they are trying to protect is every day getting closer to $10 trillion of unpayable debts. As for political strategy, Democrats seem to believe that just saying no will help them gain House and Senate seats in 2006. Perhaps. But Tom Daschle's early retirement testifies that it is also a high-risk strategy that cost them seats in both 2002 and 2004. Mr. Bush retains the bully pulpit to frame issues as Election Day approaches.
Now I'm aware that many will claim the Republicans have also been taken over by crazed, right-wing radicals, but for me it's not that simple. No doubt, the GOP has more than its share of problems. But is it merely that they're too "conservative?" On social issues, yes, but there's much more to it than that. To my mind, they're not nearly conservative enough when it comes to fiscal policy, regulatory policy, judicial restraint and immigration.