This is an excerpt from a column that originally appeared in the issue of December 25, 1989.
The Frank budget has not been embraced by the Democratic leadership–and is unlikely to be so welcomed. The Democratic Party still hasn’t caught on; it remains a body at war with itself. Last month Senator Charles Robb, a leader of the Democratic Leadership Council, issued a broadside against those whom he may as well have called out-of-the- closet liberals. Speaking in readily decipherable code, he decried his party for “expanding government for the benefit of special interests” instead of “expanding opportunities for ordinary Americans.” By “special interests” he did not mean the robber barons of the savings and loan industry. When I asked his press secretary if Robb could explain the difference between “ordinary Americans” and “special interests,” she paused and then promised to get back to me. The promise wasn’t kept, but then it didn’t need to be.
Robb’s speech was vapid. “We can become the architects of a fundamental redirection of our national priorities,” he huffed. But he’s an architect without a blueprint. He bemoaned Congress’s preoccupation with such symbolic is-sues as arts funding and flag burning, but could do no more than urge his party to “build a new agenda on mainstream values.” Change D.L.C. to D.P.L., for Democratic Party Lite: great tasting themes and no filling details. Alas, for Robb, with the changes in the East, the D.P.L. crowd has lost half its brief against those liberals who once were derisively termed McGovernite. (Remember Les Aspin’s snotty remark in July when the House approved a scaled-back Pentagon budget: “We’ve got a Michael Dukakis budget.”) The best Robb can do now is show that he is not as crass as Lee Atwater in playing the race card. While attacking “speciid interests,” he neverthelessclaims his is the party to give hope to the impoverished, deal with the housing crisis, expand health and child care. But, unlike Frank and the black caucus, the architect has nothing concrete to offer.