Will Democrats Split In 2000?
The next presidential race could see a division between old and new Democrats
By Bill Schneider/CNN
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 10) -- A political miracle happened last year. For the first time in 60 years, the Democratic Party was united.
But will it last? There are serious divisions among Democrats just beneath the surface, waiting to erupt as soon as things go bad for the Clinton Administration. Well, things may be beginning to go bad.
And the contest for the next Democratic nomination is beginning to look like it might get interesting.
How divided could Democrats get? Look at last year's vote on welfare reform. In the House, 98 Democrats voted for welfare reform and 98 voted against it. A few weeks later, 23 Democratic senators voted for welfare reform and 23 voted against it.
The division on welfare reform symbolizes the split between Old and New Democrats. It is an article of faith for New Democrats that the era of big government is over. Their hero? It's Bill Clinton, who said last year, "We have clearly created a new center."
Their candidate for 2000? It's Clinton's designated successor, Vice President Al Gore. "We are eliminating needless regulations and improving the ones needed by the American people," said Gore. Last month, Gore looked inevitable. This month, he looks vulnerable.
Are there other New Democrats out there? Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) proclaims his independence, not just from the Democratic Party, but from the Clinton Administration too. "I do not take my instructions from the president," Kerrey said recently.
Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley went one step further and proclaimed his independence from Congress, but not without taking a swipe at his party. When he resigned, Bradley said: "Democrats distrust the market, preach government is the answer to our problems and prefer the bureaucrat they know to the consumer they can't control."
What do Old Democrats believe in? They believe in the safety net. They stuck with Clinton because he promised to protect Medicare, Social Security, the minimum wage and jobs. Their hero is Ted Kennedy, who said last summer, "If we care about helping the working poor, then we must support an increase in the minimum wage."
But they split with the Clinton Administration on two big issues. One is welfare reform. New Democrats are for it. As Clinton said in last month's State of the Union speech, "We passed welfare reform. All of you know I believe we were right to do it."
Old Democrats are against it. During the debate, Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) said, "The Republican proposal isn't welfare reform at all and is in fact a dangerous step in the wrong direction."
The party also split over NAFTA. New Democrats are for it, while Old Democrats are against it. Gore called it an historic opportunity, while Gephardt blasted the trade agreement as deficient and flawed.
Old Democrats are pinning their hopes on Gephardt, the favorite son of labor liberals. Gephardt doesn't talk about the wonders of globalization and the information highway. He talks about jobs and the safety net. If there's a recession between now and 2000, a lot of Democrats will want to hear about jobs and the safety net.
If Clinton is as popular three years from now as he is today, count on Gore to win the nomination without much fuss. If the economy slips, look for the left to revive and say, "We told you this would happen if the Democrats abandoned their faith."
But what if the economy's still good but the administration is battered by scandal? That's when you look for another New Democrat to emerge. It could be an outsider, untainted by the mess in Washington. Maybe Kerrey or Bradley. Or maybe someone so outside we don't even know who it is yet.
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