Touching off a battle for the hearts of rank-and-file Democrats and the mind of President Clinton, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy warned Wednesday that for his party to recover from its midterm election defeat, it must offer the country more than “warmed-over” Republican doctrines.
Aides said the senator, the most prominent liberal to survive last fall’s upheaval at the polls, was seeking to define the party in terms of its past traditions, notably its commitment to activist government and “to rally the troops around the country.” He also was said to be striving to respond to pressure from conservative Democrats to push President Clinton toward the so-called political center.
“What is going on,” said one longtime Kennedy strategist, “is a struggle for the president’s mind.”
Nearly all factions within the party agree that the Democrats in general and Clinton in particular need to finds ways to recover the middle-class voters lost to the GOP. But Kennedy and other liberals worry that if Clinton merely replicates the anti-government rhetoric and policies of the GOP, the Democrats will lose a bidding war for middle-class voters, and also lose their appeal to their own constituencies among low-income groups and minorities.
He called on Democrats to address the “anger and frustration” of middle-class voters. But contended, “the answer is not to create larger problems by dismantling the safety net, leaving the poor to fend for themselves.” He also rejects giving “more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, in the hope that something will trickle down to the middle class.”