The newspapers of late have been full of the Democratic Party’s woeful introspections. Congressional Democrats traveled recently to a hotel retreat in Virginia to find their compass. Who are we? where do we go? what do we do?, they asked one another. At one retreat Lee Iacocca was invited, presumably to counsel the defeated ones about turnarounds.
During the agonizing process of choosing the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the party faithful threw public caveats at each other. Paul Kirk, the man who finally won the chairmanship said: “We must not be captive of any caucus or any constituency.” Virginia Governor, Chuck Robb, said that elected Democrats must take the Party away from being beholden to any special interest group. These professional Democrats have accepted the teachings of Chairman Ron that special interests no longer mean the oil and gas lobby, the banking lobby, or the munitions lobby; special interests mean Women, Blacks, the Disabled, the Poor, the Elderly.
The professional Democrats talk as if they hold a minority position in American politics — which is untrue. They have a majority of elected, local state and Congressional offices. If they keep talking like losers, because they have won only two of the past six Presidential elections, they will surely try to imitate the present winner – Ronald Reagan – in style and substance. The more they act like Reagan, the more they will lose to the real actor’ in the White House.
Absent any modest competition from the other Party, Reagan won two elections based on the strategy of two prominent television beer commercials. The first was the Michelob ad — “you can have it all.”
Why, don’t you remember his telling you that the United States can double its military budget, reduce taxes for the affluent and still balance the budget. That’s worth more than a couple of gulps, even you believed it.
The second was the Miller beer ad — displaying different pictures of people feeling good. Reagan’s rhetoric exuded huge dollops of Miller Time. He took credit for things he had nothing to do with — such as declining energy prices due to a world oil glut. As his polls, after the nation’s worst recession in 1981-82 since the Depression, went up and held steady through election day, the professional Democrats became transfixed wi h the myth that no points would be scored criticizing Reagan directly.
Consequently, with the Democrats taking a long time-out, Reagan found the time to build his no-fault Presidency and draped it over his no-fault Administration. Thus, no matter what happens — corruption and massive waste in his government, breaches of the public trusts toward small farmers and the public lands, wholesale abdication of enforcing the health and safety laws, ignoring the legitimate rights of workers and minorities in many fields — Reagan wrapped himself with the flag, hugged the symbols of America and basked in the glow of Olympic gold.
Well, what should the professional Democrats do? First is to grow some guts or quit. The::/ have a Reagan government to be held accountable that doesn’t deliver anything that Big Business doesn’t want. They can show how Ronald Reagan is weak on business fraud and crime, weak on environmental health, weak on making the rich and powerful bear their fair share, weak on reducing the government secrecy that keeps citizens in the dark, weak on helping the helpless, and very weak on opening government to participation by all the peoples.
Of course, if the Democrats do not stress these Reaganite failures — and there are many more — the Republicans are not going to do it for them. Have you, the reader, every seen or heard any of the leading Democrats talk about hazards in the workplace — from asbestos to chemical fumes — Or the many problems you confront in the marketplace buying cars, drugs, insurance or telephone service? The national polls told the Democrats that telephone rate increases were a hot issue. So ten Democrats in the Senate joined the Republicans and blocked the telephone relief legislation wh i h would have handed Reagan a hot potato before the election.
It was Reagan, few people recall, who drafted the kind of divestiture agreement, together with his Federal Communications Commission’s surrender to AT&T, that will triple your residential telephone rates well before he completes his second term.
The papers are full of factual reports about the failure of the Reagan government. Yet the Democrats fail to make Ronald Reagan and the Republicans synonymous for the failures they have created or tolerated. In fact, Reagan himself, with his Teflon coating, holds up reports of huge government waste as if his four Years on top of that government has no relevance. The Democrats have succeeded in letting Reagan run against his own government by daily words, while he perpetuates his deplorable governance by daily deeds.
Democrats don’t need retreats in Virginia; they need just to say it like it is.