Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National
Committee Chairman, puts the "P" in partisan. As attack
dogs go, he's the pit bull that Democrats believe they need to
lead their party. When he rails against President George W. Bush,
corporate corruption and the economy, if you're like me, you stand
back a few feet from the television so you don't get hit by the
foam and lather he's spewing. But it seems that his tofu for
you and steak for me routine is wearing thin - and that's just
what his own supporters are saying.
Notwithstanding his in your face approach
of partisan politics, it turns out that McAuliffe may be the worst
thing to happen to the Democratic Party since Jimmy Carter met
Ronald Reagan in 1980. The lessons of that election, in which
the mild-mannered Southerner accused his opponent of political
extremism and ended up in an electoral blowout and a loss of 12
Senate seats for the Democrats, might well have to be learned
When Democrats win elections, they do
so by forming a coalition of labor unions, minority voters, economic
populists, environmental activists, civil libertarians and disaffected
independents to drive up turnout and build an electoral groundswell
at the grassroots level. Since 1968 this coalition at the presidential
level has averaged about 44 percent of the voting electorate.
More important, since 1964 this coalition has never exceeded
50 percent of the voting public at the presidential level. Contrast
that with the Republican coalition made up of small business owners,
married couples with children, economic libertarians, property
owners, social conservatives and anti-tax advocates. Since 1968,
this voter base has averaged 49 percent at the presidential level
and, more important, has been as high as 61 percent.
Herein lies McAuliffe's problem. To win,
Democrats need leaders such as Bill Clinton, who, despite personal
failings, unite the party behind a left-of center-agenda and mobilize
wide public support for "change" while hoping for a
spoiler to divide Republicans. It's worked three times since
1968. But it's not likely to work in the next cycle if McAuliffe
is still prominent. McAuliffe's problem is that he embodies everything
(except perhaps hypocrisy) that his party's are opposed to.
Ask Al Sharpton what he believes about
"Barbershop's" treatment of Martin Luther King and you'll
have a sense of what Democrats think about Terry McAuliffe. With
practically every action he takes, he gives them reason to remember
that he's not part of their team and, more important, that he
doesn't take them seriously.
McAuliffe doesn't discriminate. He's
either said or done something that makes a mockery of practically
every part of the Democratic Party's activist base. Consider:
environmentalists have a fun time explaining the sprawling real
estate development project he spearheaded in the heart of Florida.
Or there is the fun that the seniors in the party have justifying
his role in squandering $5 million in the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers' pension program. That chicanery ultimately
resulted in a Department of Labor investigation and six-figure
fine assessed against two directors of the pension fund.
But wait, there's more. The union supporters
must be really excited about the "communication challenge"
involving McAuliffe's role on the board of a telecommunications
firm that fired everyone when it went belly up.
Terry McAuliffe: investor, landlord, corporate
negotiator. So much destruction in so little time. You have
to wonder if it's dawning on Democratic activists what this middle-aged
white guy with more corporate connections than Kenneth Lay has
in common with environmentalists, social liberals and union workers.
Analysts who study voter patterns attribute
the steady decline in voter participation to a sense among voters
that they don't really have a choice. Well, it should come as
no surprise that Terry McAuliffe's record repels his own party's
activists. But when your voter bloc over the last 35 years has
averaged less than 45 percent you just can't afford to have them
Congressional investigations into Global
Crossing - an investment that reportedly made McAuliffe $18 million
- will only further this alienation. When McAuliffe is called
before Congress to explain his role in Global Crossing (as he
likely will be), Democrats had better take the lead in demanding
he come clean. Otherwise, the public and party activists will
see that the party leader doesn't believe in their platform.
If he doesn't believe in it, why should they? Next they may find
out that he's not even a vegetarian.
Horace Cooper is a senior fellow
of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington,
D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].