The Battlefield Ahead

The liberals took a beating in the 2002 elections. Al Gore said it, Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, James Carville – the entire establishment of the Left itself admits 2002 went very badly for them. Yet what remains unspoken is the realization that liberalism did not die on November 5th. The organized left intends to make a comeback. Therefore, those of us who believe in less government, lower taxes and more freedom need to think through the liberals’ next moves.

Initially, things look pretty good. In addition to our momentum coming out of November 5th, we also have the reemergence of Al Gore. Thus far, Gore reminds most Americans of how lucky we were that Florida turned out as it did in 2000. Gore looks bitter, deeply wounded and frankly, a bit strange. More importantly, Gore himself has determined that if he wants a rematch with President Bush, he faces a brutal fight for the Democratic nomination. He knows he cannot claim outright leadership of the Democratic Party. Al Gore, the former Vice President with 100 percent name ID, thinks his only hope of winning the nomination is to get to the Left of all of his potential rivals. That’s why he dropped what the Washington Post described as a “bombshell” last week and endorsed a single-payer healthcare system.

Al Gore has moved to the left of Hillary Rodham-Clinton on healthcare! Remember, Mrs. Clinton rejected the single-payer system because she thought it was too radical. And with good reason. Under a single-payer system, all private health insurance in America is abolished. The federal government decides how much health care each American is entitled to – and how much you will be required to pay for it. In short, Gore has endorsed a disasterous idea.

After we get past the initial round of Gore-bashing, however, we should look to the future of liberalism with some caution. First, congressional Democrats can now evolve into an opposition party. They have no responsibilities other than to develop a politically effective critique of the Bush administration. They have never really had the chance to play that role since Republicans first took control of Congress back in 1994. Remember, for the first six years, the congressional democrats had to defend the Bill Clinton – not an easy job at times, to say the least. And, for most of the first two years of the Bush Administration, they shared governing responsibility because they controlled the Senate.

Now, congressional Democrats can just sit back and complain. We should anticipate that the Left can play this role effectively.

Next, the other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination can see Al Gore’s weakness. Someone will gamble that they can beat Gore without moving Left. If that happens, instead of facing a weakened Al Gore, the candidate of the left could easily be portrayed as a centrist giant-killer who upset Al Gore.

It matters little that none of the potential candidates actually have centrist credentials. They only have to convince the liberal media that they’re centrists by not moving as far left as the new version of Al Gore. For example, Senator John Kerrey of Massachusetts – a virtually announced candidate – could start by saying he doesn’t support a single-payer health care system. That is not a “centrist” position – Hillary Clinton doesn’t support one either and she’s no centrist. But it’s a more moderate position than Al Gore. Dick Gephardt supports President Bush’s foreign policy, so he will claim to the role of the moderate. He also spent millions of dollars on negative paid media bashing Republicans for wanting to reform Social Security before it goes bankrupt. Gephardt’s no moderate, but at the moment he looks more centrist than Al Gore. If one of these guys, or somebody else runs and beats Gore for the nomination, the media will pronounce them as the moderate in the general election.

Economic conservatives need to prepare for an uphill battle to define what it means to be a centrist and how far outside the mainstream the leaders of the Democratic Party are from what could reasonably be described as “moderate.”

The most effective way to do that is for economic conservatives to continue to push for a bold agenda of less government, lower taxes and more freedom. We need to use the new majority to have a winning debate that leads to the elimination of the Death Tax. There is nothing at all moderate about a politician who wants to tax people simply because they died. We need to push and defend fundamental tax reform. The current tax code is a 44,000-word giveaway to special interests. There’s nothing moderate at all about politician that defends the current tax code and the IRS.

Social Security is headed towards bankruptcy. On its way, the government gives back each generation a smaller and smaller return on their lifetime’s worth of payroll taxes. President Bush’s plan to allow young workers to establish personal retirement accounts will help stabilize Social Security’s finances and give younger workers an opportunity to earn higher returns. Almost two-thirds of the American people support the idea. There is nothing moderate at all about a politician who opposes personal retirement accounts. But unless we continue to push for PRAs and educate the American people, we cannot take advantage of this winning issue.

The political problem with liberalism today is that it is intellectually bankrupt. They have few, if any new ideas that resonate with the majority of Americans. The political problem for conservatives, however, is that liberals love power, and they don’t plan to let a little thing like lack of an agenda get in their way. They will find a way to make one up. Conservatives should beat them to the punch with a real agenda that stresses less government, lower taxes and more freedom.

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