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McGovernites With Modems

By Marshall Wittmann

What is it about peace and prosperity and a two term Democratic Presidency that Democrats don't like?

According to one of the leading liberal bloggers, Markos Moulitsas (or as he is known in the blogosphere - Kos), it is nothing that terribly significant. The head of the netroots high command suggests in Sunday's Washington Post,

"Despite all his successes -- and eight years of peace and prosperity is nothing to sneeze at -- he never broke the 50-percent mark in his two elections. Regardless of the president's personal popularity, Democrats held fewer congressional seats at the end of his presidency than before it. The Democratic Party atrophied during his two terms, partly because of his fealty to his "third way" of politics, which neglected key parts of the progressive movement and reserved its outreach efforts for corporate and moneyed interests."

Shock and horror - Clinton did not exceed the 50 percent mark in his two Presidential victories. Odds are that Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry could have lived with that!

Well, first of all, the reason that the Democrats lost so many seats back in '94 was that the Clinton Administration betrayed its New Democrat roots in the first two years and veered to the left. And of course, the left (despite his protestations) is exactly where Mr. Kos would take the donkey. By the way, how did that work for Mr. Moulitsas' candidate of choice, President (sic) Dean? Those netroots were crazy about Dean, but the real, live voters were not.

In 1996 and 1998 when President Clinton returned to his New Democratic roots, Democrats prospered reversing the "six-year itch" setback that incumbent parties generally suffer. And of course, a Democrat was re-elected President for only the third time in the century.

Not only did Clinton offer a new vision of opportunity, responsibility, and community, he also put flesh on the bones, with concrete proposals of welfare reform, national service, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. He offered an optimistic, pro-growth, free-trade approach to the economy. He ran against type as a hard-headed progressive and eventually became the only Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term.

And yet, Mr. Moulitsas suggests, "Clinton's third way failed miserably." If that is failure, what would you consider success?

As a former conservative activist, I can attest that back in '96-'97, before impeachment, the conservatives thought that Bill Clinton had their number. I distinctly recalls attending countless meetings on the right in 1996 and 1997, where Republicans fretted that Clinton had gotten their number and their ascendancy was being threatened. Clinton had successfully co-opted Republican wedge issues and advanced a political agenda that was at once fiscally responsible and progressive.

The right wingers had no strategy to combat the Third Way. That is why they pursued impeachment with wild abandon. The transformation of the party unfortunately was aborted by impeachment. And the right was thrilled when Al Gore jettisoned the Third Way back in 2000 for a left wing "People vs. the Powerful" (sounds very netroots-like and populist denouncing those horrible corporate and moneyed interests).

Now, Mr. Moulitsas is complaining about Hillary Clinton's centrism and that she isn't leading with big ideas. Well, here's a big idea that Hillary is taking the lead on that deeply rankles Mr. Moulitsas and his blogosphere buddies - she's tough on national security. That is the same reason that they are trying to run Joe Lieberman out of the party. Hillary has demonstrated courage in the face of the left wing fever swamp by refusing to reverse her position on Iraq and standing firm against Iran obtaining nukes.

And Hillary also understands better than most Democrats that the party must connect with tradtionalist voters. She has advanced innovative ideas on reducing abortions and on other social issues. In the next few months, she will be releasing the "American Dream Initiative" with concrete proposals on issues such as health care and education.

Hillary is by no means an inevitable nominee. But it is a smear against her and her husband to suggest that they don't have ideas which have translated into political success for Democrats.

Presidential elections are won in the center by hawks and not by left wing populists with dovish inclinations. It is folly to reject a proven formula for success.

The right understands that historical memory is invaluable to a party or a movement. I am not making an argument for enshrining nostalgia for Clinton as a strategy for the future. Is there room for modernization in any movement? Absolutely. But that does not mean that you disparage the birthright that brought you to power after years in the wilderness.

These netroots types think they are something cutting edge when they are merely McGovernites with modems. One only wonders why the much maligned "Main Stream Media", much less elected officials, pay so much attention to them.

Marshall Wittmann is a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council. He blogs at The Bull Moose.

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