The midterm moral for congressional Democrats: Nothing ventured, Ventura gains. If you don't stand for anything, you'll get rolled. And the Democrats didn't, so they did.

American politics has long been praised for its minimal ideological content, but ideas are not necessarily dogma. They are one measure of political imagination and courage. A party has run out of ideas when it cannot agree that repeal of the estate tax is a rip-off; that an extra $180 billion in agribusiness subsidies in the coming decade is another rip-off; that incentives to cut class sizes and to recruit teachers are likely to do more to improve public education than vouchers; that strategic missile defense is no answer to terrorism; that automatic weapons belong in movies, not gun stores; that raising fuel-efficiency standards lowers dependence on Middle East oil; that Iraq's standing among Arabs has something to do with illegal Israeli settlements; that to stay number one in the world, America has to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship" -- including investing in clean energy and AIDS control measures in Africa and reconciling our differences with prickly allies.

Holding the Democratic Party together around a hollow core is a futile exercise. Unless Democratic leaders give voters a clearer understanding of their party's policies and identity, the country can expect a lot of blues in the night of Nov. 2, 2004.

ALFRED FRIENDLY JR.

Washington

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I was disturbed to find eight referendums on my ballot. Although I was aware of the Northern Virginia Sales and Use Tax, I was surprised by the presence of two proposed constitutional amendments, two proposed state bond issues and three county bond issues.

Our elected officials are evading their responsibility as legislators by passing the buck to citizens on politically difficult decisions. Rather than exposing their candidates to a potentially damaging vote, the parties push their agenda while hiding behind the "will of the people."

A representative government depends on its legislators to examine the issues and decide what is best for the community, creating a voting record open to scrutiny from the people. Referendums do not provide this essential voting record, and they eliminate our ability to judge legislators by their actions. Referendums should be eliminated from ballots.

Representatives should stand up for whatever they believe in, and the community should judge them on their record.

JEFFREY M. GNIPP

Arlington

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When did we lose the right to vote in secret?

Those of us who voted at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Adams Morgan were forced to hold exposed ballots while standing in line waiting to turn them in. Two election officials stood on either side with clear views of the exposed ballots. When asked, they claimed that no "sleeves" were available.

Someone call Jimmy Carter.

MARYANNE DOLAN

Washington

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I thought of my adult children when I read Molly Ivins's Nov. 4 op-ed column, "Politics Is Personal." Despite our investment in their education, they do not, to quote Ms. Ivins, understand "the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols."

I was raised by parents who would have neglected to vote only in their nightmares. My father, now 90, sent in his absentee ballot a month ago.

As a grammar school pupil, I memorized the Pledge of Allegiance, and citizenship was a required course when I was in ninth grade. I reached the required voting age just a month before the election of John F. Kennedy. I was ecstatic to have attained that entry into responsible adulthood. Since then, I have voted in every election (despite D.C. residents' disgusting lack of representation). That is, in every election except one local one.

That year, Mayor Marion Barry's drug addiction had thrown the city into disarray. As a response, Carol Schwartz challenged him for the mayoral post. I was about to leave the country and reasoned that no white, Jewish woman could win that race in Washington, so I didn't arrange for an absentee ballot.

Upon my return I was shocked to learn that Mrs. Schwartz had won 44 percent of the vote, thanks to concerned African American voters. My vote, along with those of other white cynics, might well have brought her to victory.

I hope Molly Ivins's words will pound some civic sense into my grown-up children's heads in time for the next election.

JANET GELI

Washington

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How much money did taxpayers spend to fly the president, his staff, etc., to fundraisers all over the country?

What would it cost to charter a plane, take along 10 or 20 buddies and a special security contingent to several states in a single day? Add in a police escort in all cities and multiply by months.

Remember that big hoo-ha about Al Gore making fundraising calls from the White House? That got me steamed. And Republicans made the most out of it. But that was peanuts compared with how President Bush acted, using Air Force One as though it were his personal air yacht and dropping in on events to fatten the war chests of Republican candidates.

Next time a president wants to stump for candidates, he should fund these junkets himself.

JOHN BOYLAN

Boulder, Colo.