The retirements of Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota are the latest evidence that the Democrats understand what they have done to their party by following Obama's radical agenda.That they both lack the courage to face the music for their own roles in this debacle says more about their character than their ideology.
But the broader problem the party faces is that it no longer has a right or a center — only a left wing.
The very public way in which the existence of a center-right in the Democratic Party proved to be a mirage has done more to undermine the party's chances for victory in 2010 than any other aspect of the healthcare debate.
When liberal Republicans failed to rally to Bill Clinton's 1993-1994 agenda, including his failed healthcare proposal, they established the basis for their total demise in subsequent years. Sens. James Jeffords, John Chaffee, Alfonse D'Amato, Robert Packwood, Mark Hatfield, and Arlen Specter (as a Republican) are gone. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are all that remain of the once-dominant Rockefeller wing of the GOP. Real Democrats have replaced them.
Now that Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, and Byron Dorgan in the Senate and the likes of Marion Berry, Tom Perriello, and John Spratt in the House have shown how easily they fold under pressure and how thin their conservatism really is, their states and districts no longer will be deceived into reelecting them. Real Republicans will replace them.
The Democratic game of electing moderates in conservative districts who then vote to keep liberals in power is over. It overreached. By collapsing so completely and so publicly, it has become self-evident to even the most gullible of voters that there is no such thing as a moderate Democrat. You are either an Obama, Pelosi or Reid clone or you are a Republican. That's the new two-party system.
In Bill Clinton's day, there were such things as moderate Democrats. Voters were not deceived when they cast their ballots for center-right Democrats.
For example, when welfare reform passed in 1996, it got the support of 99 House Democrats, while 99 voted against it. But those days are long gone. Only their memory remains. And voters have only just come to grasp this essential fact.
All of which leaves the Democrats with a problem: America is not as liberal as they are. Voters no longer will return moderate Democrats to Congress any more than they select liberal Republicans.
Democrats have had a tortuous history as a party.
After Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, they were consigned to permanent minority status. Nixon's excesses earned them a second chance from a wary electorate, but Jimmy Carter blew it and they were back in the minority for 12 more years. The likes of Carter, Walter Mondale, and Mike Dukakis kept the party in the minority. Voters simply would not trust their liberal ways with the country.
Bill Clinton ended the exile by persuading voters that there was a center-right in the party after all, and the Democrats were freed but on probation.
And they screwed it up by passing tax hikes and pushing healthcare reform, leading to the GOP sweep of 1994.
Then Clinton's moderation in 1995 and 1996 assuaged voter skepticism again and put the Democrats back in the game. By 2008, voters actually were willing to elect a liberal Democrat. Now that Obama's administration is exploding because of its own extremism, the Democrats again face consignment to minority status. And the first to go will be those who try to make their political living on the conservative edge of a liberal party.
The mandate is clear for them this year: Switch parties or lose the election.
© Dick Morris & Eileen McGann