Looking for a Theme, or Looking for a Clue?

Ron Fournier of the Associated Press chronicles the Democrats’ search for a winning formula in 2006 and 2008. The key word seems to be “community”:

To hear Democrats tell it, an anxious and isolated public craves a sense of national community and would galvanize behind a leader who asks people to sacrifice for the greater good.

“There is a hunger in America, a hunger for a sense of national community, a hunger for something big and important and inspirational that they all can be involved in,” [Senator John] Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee, told delegates at a weekend convention of Florida Democrats.

“Americans don’t want to believe that they are out there on an island all alone,” the former North Carolina senator said.

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean has commissioned confidential polling and analysis that suggest candidates in 2006 and 2008 should frame their policies — and attacks on Republicans — around the context of community.

It seems to be the emerging message from a party that has been bereft of one.

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is one of the many Democrats sounding the “community” theme:

“When we work together, when rely on one another, when we care about one another we remove the fear of sharing,” Vilsack said. “I believe the current administration and its polices is eroding the sense of community. This country’s two great things — the self-reliant individual supported by community — is what made the American dream … possible.”

Three things about the Democrats’ search for a theme jump out at me. First, while certain issues are mentioned–jobs, pensions, the war in Iraq–there is not a whiff of a policy initiative–or even a policy position–anywhere. Second, a closely related point: the entire focus of the discussion is on how the Democrats might take advantage of the country’s purported “malaise” to beat the Republicans. (“Malaise,” by the way, is not a word with a happy history, as far as the Democrats are concerned.) Third, “community,” as Fournier acknowledges, is hardly a new theme. He takes it back as far as the Clinton administration, but “communitarianism” was one of the dominant forms of leftism in the late 1960s, and has been ever since.

Of course, when the Democrats talk about “community,” they don’t mean service clubs, church groups, and so on. The only “community” that counts for them is the one that is financed with your tax dollars. The “new” theme documented by Ron Fournier is, in fact, the same old nostrum that has usually failed the Democrats for the last forty years.

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