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Elephants Remember, Donkeys Don't Recall

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Like the pennants that adorn Yankee Stadium, Republicans celebrate and promote their past victories and legends year after year. Focusing on the Reagan Legacy Project, the Republicans have achieved 74 dedications to the late president in 25 states and five countries, with Reagan National Airport in Washington being their crowning achievement. Democrats, however, ignore their legends -- with the exception of John and Robert Kennedy -- and, instead, are more like old-time Red Sox fans who basked in their glorious defeats.

Unlike the Democrats, Republicans recognize the truth in historian Ken Burns' statement that history "isn't really about the past (but) about defining the present." That is why even today, people remember Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall during the Cold War's denouement demanding that "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" and credit him with "winning" the cold war.

Few remember, however, that there would never have been a free West Berlin for Reagan to visit had it not been for the strength and resolve of President Truman during the Cold War's decisive moments. Truman saved the city's 2 million-plus residents from an 11-month Soviet blockade with a daring airlift that at its peak had cargo planes landing every minute, while also rescuing and securing a war-ravaged Europe through the formation of NATO and the Marshall Plan's $130 billion (in current dollars) reconstruction fund.

People remember Reagan's "Morning in America," but forget that each day in America is touched by Franklin Roosevelt who established Social Security and Lyndon Johnson who gave us Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, Head Start, Food Stamps, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the landmark Civil Rights Act, Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Republicans constantly remind us of the economic growth under President Reagan but omit any discussion of deficits which presumably were immaculately conceived. Who is reminding us that the nation's longest economic expansion, largest increase in college opportunity since the GI Bill and the transformation of the nation's largest budget deficit into its largest surplus all happened under President Clinton?

The Democrats' failure to promote their legends makes it easier for Republicans to brand them how they see fit since they are working with a blank slate. It also has made it more difficult for Democrats to brand the Republicans since if the party fails to promote its achievements it cannot highlight the fact that Republicans opposed many of these successes.

It is time for a Democratic Legacy Project and it can start here in California. Just as there is Reagan National Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, the starting point for the Legacy Project should be a William Jefferson Clinton Airport in Los Angeles. While he is not a native son, President Clinton is adored by Californians partly because he responded quickly to the Northridge earthquake and visited California every six weeks on average, thereby making him the first president to simultaneously serve as de facto Lt. Governor of California.

The Democratic Legacy Project also should honor local legends such as by naming Sacramento International Airport after Governor Pat Brown since he was so instrumental in developing the infrastructure that enabled California's post-war economic success, or San Francisco International Airport after Nancy Pelosi since she may very well become the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House.

Ultimately, however, this should be a national effort with airports named after President Truman in Kansas City, President Johnson in Dallas, President Carter in Savannah and Vice President Gore in Memphis. With more than 60 airports in states won by Clinton that are not dedicated, the Democrats have the opportunity to reach nearly 235 million air travelers annually. Democrats also can reach a portion of Amtrak's 25 million passengers by renaming the many Union Stations across the country, starting in Washington with Franklin Roosevelt Station. The Legacy Project would be a huge success if it influenced only 1 percent of these travelers since this would still be substantially more than the average margin of victory in the past two presidential elections.

It is time that the Democrats learn from the Japanese proverb that "the past is the future of the present," since for years they have surrendered their future by ignoring their past. Once this lesson is learned, the Democrats will discover that their path back to the White House connects through William Jefferson Clinton Airport and they must start now to ensure an on-time departure in 2008.