Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Texas Gov. Mark White (D) revived the old Boston-Austin axis yesterday, leading a parade of speakers who promised the Democratic National Committee victory through unity in 1984.
Stirring memories of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, the original Boston-Austin ticket of 1960, the two pledged that their states, which voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980, will return to the Democratic column in 1984 and help oust Republicans from control of the Senate.
Kennedy, who took himself out of the race for the presidential nomination last November, brought the committee members at the Sheraton Washington to their feet with a promise to "contribute every effort of mind and heart" to a Democratic victory.
His rousing speech and invitation to the entire national committee membership to drop in at his McLean home last night stirred nervousness among aides to active presidential contenders that Kennedy might be fueling a draft. But Kennedy insisted that his only purpose was to "do my part for our common victory."
White, who upset incumbent governor Bill Clements (R) last November in a huge turnout of straight-ticket Democratic voting that gave the party a top-to-bottom sweep, said Democrats could do the same thing nationally if they work together and "get back to the center of the political spectrum."
In phrases almost interchangable, the Massachusetts liberal and the Texas moderate said that Reagan's economic record had scared away thousands of voters and set the stage for a Democratic comeback.
Committee members, who had little work beyond approving the formal call to the national convention, sat back and inhaled the cheering rhetoric.
White, who said Reagan "has done more to put the old Democratic coalition back together than anyone since Herbert Hoover," said Texas voters had learned the hard way that "watching 'Death Valley Days' on television is one thing . . . but living through them is another."
He said those who elected him and his ticket-mates "delivered a very strong message that 'we've stayed the course long enough,' " adding that the answer to the question of where you go "when you're out of work in Texas is, you go back to the Democratic Party."
Kennedy drew the days' biggest cheer when he observed that "Mr. Reagan says that unemployment can be solved if only every business hires one extra worker. In 1984, we will reply that unemployment can be solved only if this nation fires one incumbent president."
And he got the best laugh when he recalled that "last week in Boston, Mr. Reagan sipped a beer in an Irish pub--and then he expressed his deep compassion about the terrible unfairness of making all those poor corporations pay their corporate income tax. I wonder what in the world Mr. Reagan would have said if he had another beer."
Variations on the same upbeat theme came from Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), honored by the national committee for his 1982 campaign work on the Social Security issue, from Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), House Democratic Caucus Chairman Gillis W. Long (D-La.) and its policy task force chairman, Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.).
Long and Wirth were leading 140 of their Democratic House colleagues in the same hotel through an unusual two-day effort to "redefine the party's message" and develop "a sensible answer to Reaganomics."
But the issues conference did not produce specific recommendations or legislation. That was not its purpose, Long and Wirth said. Instead, it was designed to give liberals and conservatives a chance to thrash out differences away from the press and pressures of Capitol Hill and stake out broad areas of agreement on three issues--Social Security, "revitalization of the economy" and national defense.
"The perception is that we Democrats have had no constructive alternatives," said Rep. Charles W. Stenholm (D-Tex.), a leader of House "Boll Weevils." "This is the beginning of an effort to change that," he said.
A consensus was found in support of recommendations of the National Commission on Social Security Reforms, much to the surprise and disappointment of liberals such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who said he expected to find much more disagreement with the commission's suggestion to delay cost-of-living benefit increases for six months.
There also was widespread agreement on making deep cuts in the defense budget. But the conference found itself deeply divided on trade issues, which dominated discussions on the economy.
Wirth said Democrats were split on protectionism arguments, made by some union leaders, a desire by many party members for a more aggressive trade policy and a feeling "that we don't want to be suckers."
In the day's only real work, the DNC rejected a bid from state legislative leaders for a priority position, along with governors and mayors, in the race for about 550 uncommitted delegate seats at the 1984 convention, and it turned down the latest of several pleas from Wisconsin authorities for approval of the state's traditional "open" primary. Party rules require that only Democrats participate in the election of Democratic delegates.
The committee approved a preliminary call to the 1984 national nominating convention, providing for 3,923 delegate votes. Under the plan, the District of Columbia has 19 delegates and six alternates; Maryland, 74 delegates and 25 alternates, and Virginia, 78 delegates and 26 alternates.