Paul Wellstone and the Party Line
Jude Wanniski
October 28, 2002


Memo To: Democrats
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: ‘The Emerging Democratic Majority’

As a onetime Democrat, a liberal Democrat at that, I hope you will take me seriously when I say that Senator Wellstone was my favorite Democrat in the Senate. I do understand the need for political parties to have well-defined policy positions which they back with thoroughly mobilized forces. There must be a “Party Line.” But at times it can become ridiculous, when everyone decides to follow the lemming over the cliff.

I was not going to write about the unhappy loss of Wellstone and his family in another tragic accident on a campaign puddle-jumper. The idea began forming when I watched FoxNewsSunday, with Tony Snow offering his marvelous eulogy to Wellstone, praising him for being a politician who said what he thought. After the show I wrote Tony a note: “It is so telling that Wellstone gets the kind of tribute from you that so few politicians could get if they got hit by trucks. He was easily my favorite Democrat because he did not have to check the party line. He always had his own.” I would not have had to check to find out if he voted with President Bush to bomb Iraq asap, with the rest of the Democratic weenies. I knew Wellstone would have checked his own internal checkpoints and decided it would not be a good idea... and voted that way.

It was only later in the morning I learned that John Judis had published his new book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority," which has not yet been reviewed in the places I check regularly. John is one of my favorite journalists, even though he must check the Party Line himself to keep gainfully employed. I read several reviews of his book, which John wrote with a colleague named Teixeira, and found one by Ken Baer, who was a speechwriter for Vice President Gore in the 2000 campaign. It was a very nice review, but it concluded with this line: “Looking forward, it may not take a generation for Judis and Teixeira's Democratic majority to emerge, but the party still awaits a roadmap--and a guide.”

I’m afraid Mr. Baer is correct. Judis and Teixeira can write about how the ripe fruit is hanging from the political tree, ready to be plucked by the Democratic Party, and they would be right. But I gather from the reviews I have read of their book that they do not go beyond discussing the potential for a Democratic majority. Indeed, one sympathetic reviewer chided them for scarcely mentioning foreign policy as political terrain to be explored. I myself was a Democrat – a liberal Democrat to be sure – for most of my early adulthood. Even when I first voted for a Republican, Nixon in 1968, I still voted Democratic for the rest of the ticket. It was only in 1978 that I re-registered as a Republican, and then it was because of economics. The Democrats were not interested in classical, supply-side economics as a path to non-inflationary growth. They thought they had the right tax-and-spend formula, and while I was never opposed to government spending for public goods, it seemed clear to me that we needed a return to the kind of growth policies that died with John F. Kennedy, the last real supply-sider in the Democratic Party.

If there is to be an emerging Democratic majority, there will have to be a leader to surface in the party who is not afraid of economic growth, even if it means some people get richer than other people. The GOP majority that emerged after the Carter years was because of an ex-Democrat named Ronald Reagan, who could never have been elected to two terms by landslide margins if all he wanted to do was bomb Moscow. Reagan was not a warmonger. He was a peacemaker. Which is how we got peace. And he really left the party of his youth, as I did, because it was no longer the populist party that it had been. It had drifted toward the kind of “social democratic” parties that had sprouted in the UK and all over Europe.

Those of us early supply-siders were fortunate to have Reagan so attuned to our ideas that he did not have to check a party line. He had internalized it when it was still in the curriculum at Eureka College, Ill., when he got his bachelor’s degree in economics (1932). If it were not for Reaganomics, there would have been no revival of the American economy in the 1980's and no way the Russians would have conceded the failure of their own socialist experiment in the face of a renewed, populist, entrepreneurial capitalism.

The Republican Party is once again vulnerable because it drifted away from those populist themes in the first Bush administration when taxes were raised to balance the budget. It moved further away from the supply-side agenda when it got control of the House of Representatives in 1994. Newt Gingrich decided he too had to balance the budget instead of cutting capital gains taxes. Under President George W. Bush, economic policy was again turned over to demand-siders, who think economic expansion comes when the government “puts money into people’s pockets.” And instead of peacemaking, we have warmongering, with the White House determined to have war, with or without the help of the rest of the world.

Yes, there is plenty of populist fruit ripe for the picking, on the lowest branches of the tree. I’d even consider moving back to the political party of my youth, given the steady drift of the GOP. But there would have to be a Wellstone to surface to get my attention. If one shows up, please wake me up, otherwise I will go back to my snooze.