UNIFIED BY NEWT
AUGUST 26, 1996
Are the Democrats held together by a fear of Newt Gingrich? Three senior Democrats, representing different strains of the party, deny that they are defined by their nemesis. They attempt to lay out a vision of their party that is active, rather than merely reactive.
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MARGARET WARNER: Those perspectives come from three long-time Democratic activists who reflect the different strains within the party. Al From is the president of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate and conservative Democrats founded in 1985, and at one time chaired by then Governor Bill Clinton; Robert Borosage is a founder and co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, an organization of liberal and progressive Democrats. Ann Lewis is deputy manager of the Clinton-Gore Campaign. Previously, she served as political director of the Democratic National Committee and worked on Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign. Welcome, all of you. Al From, we just heard Secretary Cisneros define the Democratic Party. Do you agree with him? Who do you think the Democrats are today?
AL FROM, Democratic Leadership Council: I think the Democrats today are ordinary hard working citizens who go to work every day, play by the rules, who want a chance to get ahead, people who believe in a new social compact that guarantees opportunity for every American, says that every American is responsible for his or her own life as well, that sees us all in this together to foster a new sense of community in the country.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel that you and people like yourself and the DLC have been able to re-shape the party then?
AL FROM: I think we had some influence on the party, but President Clinton has re-shaped the party. President Clinton has redefined the social compact to be a compact, as Sec. Cisneros said, of opportunity, responsibility, and community.
MARGARET WARNER: Bob Borosage, how do you see it?
ROBERT BOROSAGE, Campaign for America's Future: Well, I think to think about the Democratic Party look at the delegates on the floor. It's the party of inclusion, as opposed to the Republican Party, which was 98 percent white. It's the party of working people. One fifth of these delegates are union representatives. One fifth of the Republican Party were millionaires. It's the party of people who are representative of the great bulk of working poor and middle class Americans across the country.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think--I mean, if you look at polling numbers about these delegates versus Democratic voters in this country, in fact, this group is much more liberal than Democrats as a whole and much more liberal than--they don't like a lot of the policies that Bill Clinton has been promoting in welfare and other things.
ROBERT BOROSAGE: I think the party generally is more liberal. Also, the votes across the country are more liberal. For instance, in the South, we used to have a segregationist party that was a wing of the Democratic Party. Those conservatives really have lost or retired, and the Democratic Party in the South is now a party of, of inclusion and the populist party. And so I think the party in general has been slowly moving in a more progressive fashion.
MARGARET WARNER: I mean, do you think this is becoming more centrist, or more liberal? We just heard Sec. Cisneros say, in fact, it had moved away from the liberalism that--
ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, he was talking about the--I mean, everyone likes to define themselves into the center in the middle of a political year. And the Democratic Party wants to be the center of this political debate, and in many ways represents the center against a very extreme ring wing assault by the Gingrich-Dole Congress. And so this election this fall will, in fact, be defined by a choice between a right wing alternative which really went after government, after Medicare, after education, after the environment, and a party that represents both liberals and centrists unified in rejecting that alternative.
MARGARET WARNER: It sounds like you've brought the liberals and progressives over to your view.
ANN LEWIS, Clinton-Gore Campaign: I think the fact is you've just heard there is so much that we agree on. Al began by talking about responsibility, opportunity, community. Democrats agree on expanding opportunity. That's why for us economic policy includes education because education is the path to high wage jobs and a better future. We talk about rewarding responsibility. That's where we fought so hard to raise the minimum wage. People who work hard every day ought to be able to raise their family in dignity. And we have the party of community, inclusion, diversity, understanding that our strength as a nation is in valuing and respecting our differences. And the last piece I'd say that Democrats agree on is that for us I think government is the sum of the obligations we owe to one another. Government is not the enemy. Government can enable us to give us the tools by which we meet responsibilities in our own lives.
MARGARET WARNER: I don't want to rain on this show of unity, but Bob Borosage, I have to ask you, you didn't like the President signing the welfare reform bill, did you?
ROBERT BOROSAGE: Oh, no. I think the capitulation to the Gingrich welfare bill is a shameful act and a truly wrongheaded one. But, look, most Democrats, what Newt Gingrich did to this party is what no Democrat could do. He unified it and mobilized it. And our differences, while significant on many different things, are much less than our differences with the threat, the quite clear and present danger posed by Gingrich and Dole. And that's the choice this fall. That's why you see this sort of eerie unity in this convention because people understand the stakes this fall are very high. And I think what you're going to have is an election this fall that rejects an alternative which is against government. It rejects an alternative which is against activist government, and so it is, in fact, not a reassertion of a new conservative Democratic Party. It is rather a defense of activist government and a government that stands for the people.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Do you agree, if Bill Clinton were to win, that that is still a vote for activist government?
AL FROM: I think it's a vote for public activism, but it's a different kind of public activism. It's an activism, not big government programs. Bill said rightly that the era of big government is over. It is a vote for--is a for a new kind of public activism that puts people to solve their own problems in their own communities. It's very different than some of the old bureaucratic programs that got this party in trouble. And this party is a centrist party. Rank and file Democrats are centrist. The--and one of the reasons rank and file Democrats are centrist is because we've brought a lot of them back into the party who left the party when the party took a leftward turn.
ROBERT BOROSAGE: I think it's important, though, to distinguish between the sort of frosting or the positioning and the cake, the reality of the policy. I mean, we have a Republican candidate who faced with the electorate has just taken 2/3 to 70 percent of the federal budget and said he's for that. And he wants to increase some parts of it. So all of this talk about the era of big government is over, in fact, we're going through a political period where the largest government programs, Social Security, Medicare, education, environment, are being reaffirmed by both parties because the American people demand them.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree? Do you think that the legacy both of the New Deal and a lot of the social legislation of the 60's then does endure?
ANN LEWIS: Oh, I think it does. And let me give you two examples of policies you will hear a lot about this week because these are the kinds of forward-looking initiatives that excite and energize and unite Democrats. Family Medical Leave Act--we're not saying again that government can help us--can meet our responsibilities, but government can enable us to meet our responsibilities at work and at home. Bill Clinton is for the Family Medical Leave Act. Bob Dole opposed it. That's a real difference. Today when the President announced he would extend the Brady Bill to people convicted of domestic violence, that is for many people today a very exciting day. This President stood up to the National Rifle Association in passing the Brady Bill. Now he's saying if you've been convicted of domestic violence, it's another reason, but that's an example of an approach to crime and public safety, reducing crime, keeping people safe, but I think is a common sense, mainstream approach.
AL FROM: We are honoring the true legacy of the Democratic Party. It's economic growth and opportunity. That's what Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy did for this country. It's civic responsibility, like AmeriCorps. It's John Kennedy, who asked people to give something back to the country. It's limited, innovative government. It was Franklin Roosevelt who called for bold, persistent innovation, and the program should be reviewed every 10 years. What we are doing is getting back to our roots, and those were the roots that planted a Democratic Party that a majority of Americans consistently turned on--turned to for national leadership. That's our challenge again, and that's why the Democratic Party that Henry Cisneros talked about, as it is evolving in the 1990's under Bill Clinton's leadership, is again the party the American people are going to turn to for national leadership.
MARGARET WARNER: But wasn't part of the roots of the Democratic Party also fighting against economic injustice, and what's happened to that? Is that alive?
ROBERT BOROSAGE: And will continue. I think you will see after November, after the greater threat to economic justice is defeated, which is the task before us and the options before us, after November, you will see a significant debate in both parties because the reality is this economy doesn't work very well for working and poor people, and this welfare reform bill goes the wrong way, and so I think you'll see in both parties a quite extraordinary debate about a much more activist government, a much more aggressive policy. For example, the welfare bill will generate a demand across this country for a jobs program the likes of which you haven't seen since the 30's.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
AL FROM: Bob Borosage and I will agree that one of the big challenges is to increase incomes for hard working people. We probably have different points of view of how we get there. But the difference is, unlike the Republicans, we want to get there. The welfare bill I happen to agree with. I think this system is a terrible system. I think it undermines public support for government. I think it really almost enslaves people who are caught in it. And we had to end that system, but we also probably will agree that the next challenge is to do step 2 of welfare reform, which is to create a true opportunity system, a work first system to put people in jobs and really create new avenues to opportunity and to bring people in the economic and social mainstream.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Ann Lewis, it sounds as if Bill Clinton wins, that he's going to still have two or more wings of the party who expect something different from him.
ANN LEWIS: No. He is going to be the head of a large, inclusive party. And we're going to disagree on some issues, but, no, let me be clear about what you just heard. We have the same goal. The goal is to expand opportunity. The goal is to reward work. If we disagree along the way on which strategies we use to get there, as long as we're still going in the same direction, there's room for disagreement on the strategies. What's most important is we agree on our values, we agree on our goals, we agree on the directions we're going to travel.
AL FROM: And don't forget that during most of the 20th century where the Democratic Party led this country to most of its economic and social progress, the great debates on economic growth and opportunity always took place inside the Democratic Party. Republicans weren't even part of the debate.
MARGARET WARNER: And so what about the delegates out here that polls show actually don't agree with the welfare reform bill, don't like a balanced budget amendment? I mean, are they just anachronisms?
ROBERT BOROSAGE: No. I think they're the future of the party. They are the expression and future of the party, and you will see their opinions reflected in Democratic arguments and policies over the next period of time. Look, I think what's going to happen is the American people are demanding in election after election after election somebody who will stand up and help them in an economy that doesn't work for them. And this party will either figure out real answers to that problem, or it will be rejected again two years or four years from now. And so the debate that takes place after November, after the greater threat is, is beaten back, I think will be a quite significant one.
MARGARET WARNER: Our debate ends right now, but thank you all very much.