Jody Powell's reflections (Editorial Pages, May 27) on the Democratic Party under its new chair, Paul Kirk, lead me to predict continuing erosion of Democratic ideals and officeholders in '86 and '88.
Kirk and other top Democrats focus solely on refashioning the party's image. Abolishing caucuses, wooing Southern conservatives and ending mid-term conferences are cosmetic measures that attempt to blunt the party's so-called "liberal" edge. Like many current plans to re-tailor the Democrats, they lack content and engaging substance. Does anyone really imagine that Republicans, lapsed Democrats, fence-sitters and non-participants will find such reforms compelling?
As a Democrat still committed to progressive party reform, I believe we are losing the issue battle with the Republicans, not the PR battle, as many think. As much as we may abhor it, laugh at it or find it dangerous, the Republican right has captured the GOP and educated and drawn its constituents toward the right. It struggles now to articulate a national ideology--based partly on militarism, big business, and high-tech--and to identify it with Republican conservatism. That's a radical program, and it is content based and issue driven. To assume it's mere PR, as the Democratic leadership does, is to miss the ideological fervor of the conservatives--they want to "change history" and reshape the country's consciousness.
Democratic reformers lack this vision. They wrongly believe that Ronald Reagan is an aberration, that the country by itself will "swing back" to left of center, and that moderation will win back recent Republican converts. But, voters will choose an authentic conservative over a warmed-over Democratic moderate. And, young people will continue to abandon our party and follow conservative leaders with ideals and vision, however misdirected.
Democrats need to be as bold and radical as Reagan. We have strong issues and positions with which to assail the right and with which we can chart a positive, fair, just, and peaceful future for our country--the Equal Rights Amendment, civil rights, human rights abroad, non-intervention policies, tax reform, small business encouragement, environmental protection, worker safety, a national health plan, and a new industrial policy are just a few.
If we do not articulate these issues and spell out their radical implications for a transformed, more egalitarian society, shaped by a government of the people who use it to define and direct their national destiny, then we will not have a chance to win the ideological war. Moderation and cosmetic change at this time are strategies for defeat.