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WHAT WE THINK
Democrats are united in retreat

June 10, 2005 | Page 3

THE DEMOCRATIC Party establishment was up in arms after Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Howard Dean's appearance at the liberal "Take Back America" conference.

Why? Dean criticized the Republicans.

Dean's fairly tepid comments--criticizing the Republicans for letting corporations steal workers' pensions and commenting that "a lot of them [Republicans] have never made an honest living in their lives"--had conservative Democrats rushing to correct the "maverick" DNC chair. "Class warfare usually doesn't get us very far," chastised Mike McCurry, a former spokesperson for Bill Clinton and top strategist for John Kerry's failed campaign last November.

But if the party establishment was annoyed at Dean for going "too far left" in speaking to a progressive conference, they had little to worry about from the progressives themselves.

The annual Take Back America conference is sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future, a group that styles itself as the progressive counterpart to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. But the overarching message of this year's meeting was the importance of party unity against the Bush administration.

"In recent years, this gathering has been a chance for what Howard Dean calls the 'Democratic wing of the Democratic Party' to assert itself," wrote the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. "But this time, centrists and liberals have called a temporary truce because of their shared battle against President Bush."

Liberals like Chicago Rep. Jan Schakowsky were elated about the Democrats' newfound unity. "It's so bad here in Washington that it's actually good for us," she told conference goers.

But what does party unity mean? Dropping progressive demands like an end to the war in Iraq or opposition Corporate America's attack on workers--to show that Democrats of all stripes can stand together. Thus, the conference began with host Robert Borosage declaring, "We have to be credible on national security."

The conference's featured speaker was recently elected Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Introduced as "the future of progressive politics in America," Villaraigosa--who ran for mayor on a promise to put more cops on the streets--made sure to say that he was "known as the most bipartisan speaker in a generation" in the California State Assembly.

With the promise of absolutely no opposition to their left, conservative Democrats couldn't be happier. Marshall Wittmann, who has served as a fellow of both the Democrats' Progressive Policy Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the Post, "We're now all anti-Bushies."

As for the progressives, The Nation's John Nichols wrote afterward that the person who delivered "the message that matters" was none other than Arianna Huffington--the former right-wing multimillionaire-turned-populist multimillionaire.

Nichols approvingly quoted Huffington's message on national security: "The Democratic leaders need to make it clear that these men running our foreign policy are dangerous. There is no way Democrats can win an election unless they make it clear that these Republicans are not making this country safer."

If this is what progressive Democrats think is the future of their party, then their future is bleak.

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