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Wed, Sept. 18

Liberals back in charge, lusting after nomination<BR>

WASHINGTON – The Democratic Leadership Council, founded in the mid-1980s to drive the loony left from the party, is worried that the liberal activists may be taking over again.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean – campaigning on an ultra-liberal anti-war platform that has re-energized the party's left wing – is running neck-and-neck in New Hampshire with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a politician with a voting record nearly identical to Ted Kennedy's.

Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri is running on a big-government-style, universal health care plan that would cost trillions in higher taxes and that the centrist-leaning DLC officials say won't work.

Among the second-tier candidates, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich's speeches are getting ovations from rank-and-file labor union members with his calls to take the profit out of the health care industry and turn it over to the government, lock, stock and barrel.

At a candidate forum Saturday sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Des Moines, Iowa, a focus group of AFSCME members gave Kucinich – who doesn't register a blip in the national polls – their highest approval score.

Fearing that the party's large, left-wing activist base is in its ascendancy in the post-Clinton era, the DLC sent out a blistering memo last week that not only attacked liberals such as Dean, Gephardt and Kucinich, but also the party's liberal special interest groups.

"What activists like Dean" stand for was the old "McGovern-Mondale wing [of the party], defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home," the memo charged.

"That's the wing that lost 49 states in two elections (1972 and 1984), and transformed Democrats from a strong national party into a much weaker regional one," DLC founder Al From and President Bruce Reed reminded Democratic leaders.

Dean may be flying high in New Hampshire (where he has made more than 80 campaign visits) but he is in the single digits in most national polls. He is not going to be the nominee. Still, his anti-Iraq-war message and a call for a more robust social welfare policy have stimulated his party's appetite for a true left-wing agenda – this, after years of liberal acceptance to Bill Clinton's triangulation.

Alarmed by the left's ascendancy, the DLC memo – entitled "The Real Soul of the Democratic Party" – launched a frontal attack on the party's activist faction, charging that it does not represent what Democrats really stand for.

"The real tradition of the Democratic Party is grounded in expanding opportunity and economic growth, increasing trade, standing up for a strong national defense and for America's interests in the world, and strengthening community at home," From and Reed wrote.

"Not only is the activist wing out of line with Democratic tradition, but it is badly out of touch with the Democratic rank-and-file," they maintain.

Liberal activist groups – made up of unions, feminists, environmentalists and anti-war protesters – are going to dominate the Democratic caucuses and primaries in 2004.

With Bill Clinton out of the political picture, the liberals are clearly back in charge and hungrier than ever to nominate one of their own.

Copyright 2003, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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