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Democrats must rediscover bright past to survive

Nov. 17, 2004

By ASHTON ELLIS, guest columnist

"Though wise men at their end know dark is right/Because their words had forked no lightning they/Do not go gentle into that good night."

For Democrats still reeling from their across-the-board electoral defeat, Dylan Thomas' words of steely despair may give form to their feelings. Unlike Thomas though, at some point Democrats at all levels must come to the conclusion that the darkness of the liberal dream has been exposed and rejected, once again, by the American public.

In order to see a brighter day tomorrow, Democrats will need to rediscover a lost message and reconsider who should be its party's spokesmen.

As I continue to reflect on how Sen. John Kerry managed to lose an election to an incumbent beset by a controversial war abroad and a socially divided home front, it occurs to me that Kerry's electoral defeat was far from a singular failure.

In fact, it was a nationally coordinated, team effort. In order to regain their winning ways, Democrats must leave behind the rhetoric of hollow hope advanced by the Kerry-Dean-Pelosi wing and remember the optimism, honesty and ingenuity that powered former President Bill Clinton to consecutive presidential terms.

As a politically-minded child growing up during the Clinton administration, I knew the future of the country was in the hands of Democrats beholden to the kind of centrist message articulated by moderate groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Armed with DLC policies President Clinton pushed through welfare reform and balanced the budget, all while appealing to Americans' preference for equality in the armed forces and personal responsibility in the job market.

"Hillarycare" not withstanding, Clinton was an effective proponent of social change and fiscal responsibility because he realized the political center had shifted to the right. Consequently, he experienced success because he recognized that issues anchored in class warfare and bigger government just didn't play with the American people. The charge for Democrats is to reconsider the issues and principles that inspire them and devise a way to spread their enthusiasm to the public at large. As we witnessed two weeks ago, there are few things more unattractive than pure, unqualified hatred.

America needs two parties that vie for the hearts and minds of its people.

Each party must continually engage in the hunt for its true self and incorporate voters into that journey. So far, the Republicans have convinced a critical mass of voters that a socially conservative agenda is better than the liberal alternative.

Although the road may appear dimly lit in the wake of Nov. 2's verdict, I am confident that a groundswell of well-reasoned Democrats will eventually come to the conclusion that hope defeats hate every time.

Otherwise, the party of former Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson and John Kennedy will become a flickering afterthought.