The calls have been loud, the admonitions forceful. The Democratic Party needs a platform. The public doesn't know what the Democratic Party stands for.
All of these outcries are absolutely correct. Well...basically correct. Yes, the party needs to have a platform.
The party everyone should be referring to is the Republicans.
This is one of those family-huddle "Okay, let's be honest" moments. In truth, now - what does the Republican Party stand for today? What in the world is their agenda?
If you're in mid-scoff and think the answer is easy, obvious, unnecessary, hold that thought a moment, because you're not even close.
Despite implied-perceptions to the contrary, people actually do know what issues Democrats support: stem cell research, Medicare, stopping global warming, Social Security reform without privatization, universal health care, and not blindly "Staying the Course" in Iraq, for starters.
Certainly it all needs to be expressed more cohesively. But as a starting point, the public knows those are Democratic Party issues. The only people without any idea what the Democratic Party stands for are radical conservatives so far to the right they risk falling off the edge.
On the other hand, as a result of pandering to its base, the National Republican Party is in such a muddle today that it's impossible to discover where they are, even using a moral compass.
And so they're left without anything to run on. Republicans like to point at Democrats about this, but that's just to divert attention. Honestly, if you're a Republican candidate this November, what issues would you run on?
You're certainly not going to run on the President. Run away is more like it. George Bush has a 33% approval rating in the most recent Fox (!!) poll. Candidates are racing away so fast from appearing with their own party leader that hamstring injuries are up in Republican districts by 80%.
Admittedly, if Republicans can run on anything, it's small government and fiscal responsibility. These are the two core issues of the Republican Party, after all.
The problem is that you have Republican officials themselves, like Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), looking at their party history and lamenting that "Clearly, President Bush has had a different vision, and that vision has resulted in education and welfare policies that have increased the size and scope of government."
Conservative journalist Fred Barnes in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal, calls George Bush a "Big government conservative."
A simple truth: if your party is creating Big Government, you can't run on Small. Even Houdini couldn't escape from that reality.
Republicans don't have their second core issue to fall back on either.
David Boaz, Executive VP of the right-wing Cato Institute writes, "Federal spending has increased by 23.7 percent since Bush took office...Leave aside defense spending and even entitlements spending: In Bush's first three years, nondefense discretionary spending - which fell by 13.5 percent under Ronald Reagan - has soared by 20.8 percent." The title of Boaz's article? "The Bush Betrayal."
(In 2004, George Bush spent half-a-trillion dollars more and had a budget deficit five times larger than the evil Bill Clinton in his final year of the evil Clinton Administration.)
When your own supporters dismiss your core issues, that's never a good sign.
National security? It's been a well-trod plank for the party. But even the "We can keep you safe" trumpet won't play now:
After all, other than Donald Rumsfeld, how many Republicans do you envision campaigning on "Stay the Course" in Iraq? It's the policy that helped the President get his 33% approval rating. The Administration couldn't keep New Orleans safe from getting wiped off the map, even with warnings from Al Roker. The Dubai Ports fiasco created such an uproar over national security the President actually had to reverse (or is that "flip-flop"?) his vow to keep the deal.
And those are the really big Republican Party issues. And they're all off the table. So, what else can Republicans possibly campaign on?
Energy? With the National Energy Policy set in secret with Big Oil officials, like Enron's indicted Ken Lay; chaired by Dick "Halliburton" Cheney and his 18% approval rating, and with gas prices soaring above $3 a gallon, don't expect to get a flyer from Republicans touting their achievements. Unless you're on the Board of Directors of Exxon.
The environment, then. Well, let's put it this way: you know you're in trouble when a gun-based magazine like Field and Stream, long a Republican stronghold, writes, "With deep ties to the oil and gas industry, Bush and Cheney have unleashed a national energy plan that has begun to destroy hunting and fishing on millions of federal acres throughout the West, setting back effective wildlife management for decades to come."
Not only is that seriously bad in a Greek-tragedy epic way, but it also brings up that whole energy thing again.
How about Science?? Unfortunately, the faith-based President is on record against stem cell research, dismisses the looming global warming disaster, and got 8,000 scientists to sign a statement complaining of the Administration "censoring and suppressing reports by the government's own scientists." Other than that, though, science remains a really big losing point for Republican stump speeches. Especially with the Bird Flu Pandemic flying overhead.
Keeping government out of peoples' private lives has always been a cause for Republicans. The one problem is, that evokes awkward memories of the Republican Senate empowering Bill Frist to diagnose Terri Schiavo by remote control. And contentious memories of the President authorizing wiretaps of American citizens without court approval. Okay, so it's two problems.
Social Security privatization? Just the thought of that gets Republicans twitching.
Health care has never been good for Republicans, so forget it. And that doesn't even take into account their national "Befuddle the Seniors" prescription drug program.
Republicans can't campaign on education, with No Child Left Behind having become Every Child Un-Funded. Indeed, the issue of education has grown to a national crisis on this watch.
In 2000, the Republicans ran on bringing integrity to government. But as visions of sugar plums, Tom DeLay, Lewis Libby, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, David Safavian, Michael Scanlan, and James Tobin danced through their heads... Yes, integrity will be an issue - just not for Republicans.
So, what does that leave? Immigration? Even that is problematic because Republicans can't decide their own party position. The President and his business supporters want a Guest Worker program, other Republicans want 10 million people tarred-and-feathered.
The point here is - what do Republicans stand for? What is the Republican agenda?
No gay marriage? No flag-burning? Building "The Berlin Wall 2" around the entire country? Nuking Iran? That's what the Republican Party has come to?
Yes, Democrats need to focus their own issues. But those issues are established. But if you are a Republican candidate - what national platform can you truly campaign on? At least without your nose growing longer.
Smaller government? The budget deficit? Stay the Course? Rebuilding New Orleans? Stem cell research? Halliburton Oil? Integrity? The 33% President himself?
What could you possibly say that you support as the national platform of your party that hasn't been discredited by the public?
The question is not what do Democrats stand for. The question is what does the Republican Party - the party that controls the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and appoints the Supreme Court - the party that controls America - what do they stand for?
The Emperor has no clothes.
In truth, the Republican Party doesn't need a platform, it needs a life preserver.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg