The Democratic liberal establishment, supposedly awash in a national drift to the right, has launched a counterattack with an emotional appeal to liberals: don't fold your tents and run.
That was the formal and informal rallying cry as the Americans for Democratic Action met here in annual convention. It comes at a time when liberals are increasingly disillusioned with the Carter administration and confused over the California taxpayer's revolt.
Its chief spokesman is Sen. George MCGovern, (S.D.), the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee and outgoing ADA president, who yesterday attacked politicians who are "seeking a mandate to govern by running against government."
His speech was designed to rekindle the fires of the liberal establishment, which the ADA has embodied for the last 31 years. But it amounted to a scathing denunciation of the Carter administration and one of the president's key Democratic rivals. California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.
In a convention keynote address, McGovern scored Carter for timid leadership, deserting the ideals of past Democratic presidents, bringing the country to the brink of a new Cold War and misreading the recent California vote in favour of Proposition 13, which he said had undercurrents of racism.
"Timid officials are repeating and reinforcing a despair of democracy," he said. "Last January the president hemself announced that the state of the union was one of powerlessness - that government cannot solve our problems ... define our vision ... eliminate poverty ... or reduce inflation."
"A president reaps disapproval not because he is set back in a cause that is right, but when he is lukewarm in a course that is confused." McGovern said later, "We elected leaders to set goals and solve problems, not to plead that they are insoluble."
He accused the administration of asking Armazeddon in Africa and inviting the nation "to the brink of a new Cold War."
He singled out the president's national security affairs adviser. Zbigniew Brzezinski, for special criticism. "No national security adviser wants to appear faint-hearted in the face of genuine crisis. But to avoid being chicken, one need not become Chicken Little." he said. "We cannot conduct foreign policy as though every stirring in Africa, Asia or the Indian Ocean is another Cuban missile crisis." "Foreign policy must be selective in centering upon the few fundamental interests of the nation - not the minor destractions." he added later.
on the domestic front, McGovern accuse Carter and other officeholders of "compounding the deeper causes and the worst inequities of the tax revolt." "The president resurrected his promise of a balanced budget by 1981 while simultaneouly calling for a tax cut and even bigger Pentagon budget." McGovern said. "That combination will bring economic trouble if he really means it, and disillusion if he does not."
"Mc Govern was cns it, and disillusion if he does not."
"Mc Govern was circumspect in criticizing Carter directly in the speech, at one point calling him a "dedicated, conscientious man who longs to be good president."
But in a luncheon with reporters Thursday where he discussed the speech he made it clear that the president and his aides were his main targets.
"Obviously, there is dissatisfaction" with Carter among liberals, especially over foreign policy and "the apparent lessening of concern about unemployment." he said. "I don't see how any Democratic president can rest easily when unemployment is at 6 or 7 percent."
Carter, he warned, may face opposition within the party if he seeks re-election in 1980. Other ADA leaders echoed McGovern's sentiments.
Joseph Raub, ADA vice president, said there was a "tremendous amount of disillusionment" with Carter and called him "the most conservative Democratic president since Grover Cleveland." He said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D. Mass,) is "the only alternative" for liberals.
Yesterday was the second time McGovern has used the ADA as a forum for attacks on Carter. A year ago, he offered what was then described as the sharpest public attack on Carter's leadership to date from a liberal Democrat.
This year's convention comes at a time when there is a general malaise among liberal Democrats, who lack a single cause or candidate to rally around. This has been heightened by the increasing visability of the New Right and the much-publicized "tax revolt" in California.
"Seldom has the attack against liberal positions and principles been as organized and concerted; seldom have our friends and allies felt as isolated," Cushing Bobeare,who heads the group's executive committee, wrote in a letter welcoming delegates.
McGovern, in his speech. said the blame for heavy taxes rests not on liberal social programs, but on the cost of the Vietnam war, the arms race and an unjust tax system.
"While the tax revolt expressed profound and legitimate anger, it also has undertones of racism." he said. "Crime was, and is, a legitimate issue. But in the last decade, law and order became a code word. So it could be with tax relief."
McGovern said 60 percent of the employes who might be laid off in Los Angeles following a vote earlier this month to roll back property taxes are minorities.
"It is unfashionable now to worry about the poor and minorities and to defend the idea that they, too, deserve an opportunity," he said.