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Press Release

Memo to Congressional Leaders


"After months of disarray and disquiet over how to deal with a popular wartime president, Democratic leaders are beginning a party-wide drive this week to refocus on their domestic agenda and to highlight their sharp policy differences with President Bush and the Republicans.”

- New York Times, 4/22/02

Apparently, the Democrat party just can’t shake itself of Bill Clinton’s cynical political tactics. They have conducted their polling, and are now prepared to explain what they stand for. Democrats support the popular President’s very popular war on terrorism. They oppose the unpopular parts of his domestic agenda. Wow, that’s bold leadership for America.

The truth is the Democrats and the liberal establishment have not had a big, positive idea for America since the Hillary-care debacle. Their agenda has been completely reactive to the bold, if somewhat clumsy issue agenda of conservatives.

The Left opposes tax cuts. The Left opposes Social Security reform. The Left opposes choice and competition in education. The Left opposes Medicare reform. The Left opposes tort reform. The Left opposes free trade agreements. The Left opposes, but won’t fight welfare reform. Yes, we know what the Left is opposed to. But does anybody know what the Left stands for?

The sad result is that America has been robbed of an honest political debate about the direction government should take. Conservatives have offered an agenda and Liberals have offered tactical opposition to those ideas. Admittedly, it has been phenomenally successful opposition. America has no Social Security reform, no real education reform, no tort reform, no new free trade agreements, no Medicare reform --- and government spending continues to increase at a pace not seen since the Great Society.

Conservatives and Republican elected officials seem unwilling to call Democrats on the Left’s decade-long intellectual hibernation. Instead, too often, we’ve responded to their reactionary tactics by becoming reactionary ourselves. While questionable at best as a political strategy, it has proven terrible for policy outcomes. Health care policy presents a good example. Costs are on our on the rise, both in the private sector and in the hopelessly out-dated Medicare system. Market-based Medicare reform, which has been offered by conservatives, is the only hope to control costs without resorting to Canadian-style rationing policies. But instead of pressing the case for market-based reform and hammering Democrats for not offering a solution, Republican-elected officials appear ready to accept a prescription drug benefit as a stand-alone election year giveaway. Conservatives have correctly pointed to abuses of trial lawyers as a cause of the increases in health care costs, yet most observers believe Republicans are looking for an election-year deal to give trial lawyers even greater freedom to sue.

Why squander the advantage as the party of ideas? Why retreat on policy when the other side has no agenda? In fact, the major domestic debate this fall should be how intellectually barren the Democrat party has become. With Social Security headed towards bankruptcy, one side has offered a solution; the other side has no solution, and no ideas - just a regrettable strategy to scare senior citizens. The conservative movement should want to debate Social Security this fall because we have a bold plan to save the system and the other side has a cynical plan to demagogue and stall until tax increases become inevitable.

Not only can the pro-Social Security reform forces win the political argument this fall, we can at the same time establish the mandate for legislative action next year. If Democrats choose to make Social Security reform the issue in key election battles, and lose because the pro-reform movement aggressively and confidently exposed the lies and half-truths at the heart of the Democrat argument on Social Security, then the voters will have provided a mandate for action. But many leading Republicans appear to prefer a strategy of avoiding all talk of Social Security reform - thereby disarming themselves of the leadership issue. That would be a big strategic mistake.

What does the Left stand for? That’s the question Republicans should want every voter to be asking himself or herself this fall.