When Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) founded the Coalition for Democratic Values (CDV) last fall, he said, "If the Democratic Party is to succeed in the 1990s, it must not become merely a mirror image of the Republican Party."
To further his goal of moving his party away from "a more conservative and less confrontational path," Metzenbaum is bringing together an all-star gathering of the left wing of the Democratic Party Saturday, including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Paul Wellstone (Minn.), and Jesse L. Jackson, the District's "shadow" senator.
CDV director Heather Booth said the conference, a day after the Republican National Committee concludes its winter meeting, is planned to provide a sharp contrast to Republican policies.
But internal Democratic politics also is at play here. While neither Booth nor Metzenbaum specifically cited the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), formed in the mid-1980s as political vehicle for Democratic conservatives and moderates, Booth said, "For too long, too many congressional Democrats have gone along with a conservative agenda that's robbed the country of a real alternative and vital political voice." The coalition and the conference, she said, will "reflect the reemergence of revitalized people-oriented leadership in the party."
House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), a founding member of the DLC, is to address the conference about key issues facing the 102nd Congress. Does Gephardt see conflict between the agendas of the two organizations, each claiming to be best able to offer the party a path to electoral success?
"I am sure there are differences, even disagreements, in the approaches of the two, but there is also common ground," Gephardt said in an interview yesterday. "They both offer something important: They are grounded and founded in the development of ideas and policies that will strengthen the party."
Gephardt said his interest now is "to get Democrats involved in thinking about what we should be doing as a party."