Fixing the Democratic Party
Jude Wanniski
December 12, 2004


Memo: To Democratic National Committee
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your New Chairman

You won’t pick a new chairman to replace Terry McAuliffe until February, but it’s clear there’s already quite a bunch of hopefuls lined up. The New York Times counts eight with their hats in the ring, Howard Dean of Vermont easily the best known of the bunch. You may wonder why I’m sticking my nose into this contest. I have never before taken an interest in who the party chairman might be, in either party, not being much of a party man. In 1978 I switched from the Democratic Party of my youth to the Republican Party. I am still registered Republican, although I did vote for Senator Kerry on November 2 while voting G.O.P. on the rest of the ballot. My point being, I really would like the Democratic Party of my youth to fix itself and get back into serious competition, even to the point where I might vote the straight ticket as I did in 1960, when I voted for John F. Kennedy.

With no clear “party leader” at the moment, the chairman of the national committee would play an unusually important role in helping the party find its way to a majority path. Terry McAuliffe was an extremely successful chairman in raising money, which is a big reason why there is so much interest in getting the job. There’s money in the bank instead of the usual big debt that has to be paid down after a losing election. But McAuliffe was not cut out for the task of reshaping the party, which is what I am interested in. I watched Jim Carville a few weeks back on Meet the Press make the point that the party does not have a coherent theme anymore, just a laundry list of “issues” that it has collected going back to the New Deal years of Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, I note that one of the Gang of Eight mentioned by the Times today is Harold Ickes, the son of FDR’s Interior Secretary. (Ickes is a sharp political operative with close ties to the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, but I doubt he is the man to reshape the party.)

Neither is Howard Dean. All you have to do is read the Meet the Press transcript of Tim Russert’s interview of Dr. Dean today and you will realize that he is the same man who lost the Democratic primary last spring, complete with his losing political agenda. In other words, Dean is still in denial, thinking his ideas on domestic and foreign policy were superior to Kerry’s and he lost for reasons having nothing to do with issues. Put him in the chairmanship and he will only do everything he can to shove his agenda down your throat at the DNC. He really needs to take a year or two off to regroup before he comes back into the political realm, but the DNC job is not for him.

If I were you, DNC committee members, I would seriously consider a man who has suddenly become available and whom I think would be picture perfect for the job. He is Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, who decided not to seek re-election this year and is now without a job. If he had run, Breaux would have won easily, and I think if he had run for almost any contested Senate seat in Dixie he would have won easily. Let me assure you that except for a casual meeting several years ago where we shook hands, I’ve never had contact with Breaux. But I did know his Louisiana mentor, the late Senator Russell Long, who was the Senator I most admired in all the years I covered the Senate for the National Observer and all those I have watched from a distance ever since.

What Long taught Breaux is exactly what you folks need in your DNC chairman, the idea that the Party’s goal should not be “beating the Republicans,” as if this was a football game, but working with the Republicans in order to produce the best possible outcome for the people of the United States in terms of peace and prosperity. In a family, it is not the goal of Mommy to beat Daddy in the affections of the children and the wider family, or vice versa. In our national government, the same concept applies, and there really is nobody available to the DNC who understands this better than John Breaux. If you check the transcript of FoxNewsSunday , you will find Breaux talking about all that he has learned as a United States Senator.

The die-hard New Deal liberals among you will rebel at the idea because Breaux, when you come right down to it, is a Reagan Democrat. He said as much on FoxNews. But remember he would not bring “a policy agenda” to the DNC the way others who are lined up would try to do. He would use all his negotiating skills to bring the Party together to find common ground with the proper political objective. If he could have some running room to accomplish this, you could count on winning back some “red” states in 2006 and 2008, including some in Dixie.