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Another sign of party’s decline

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, March 7, 1995

U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s defection is more than just another seat on the Republican side of the aisle. It is another indicator of the increasing isolation and possible decomposition of the Democratic Party itself.

Campbell, the only Native American in Congress, crossed from the Democratic to the Republican side of the aisle the day after Senate Democrats voted down the Balanced Budget Amendment, which Campbell vigorously supported. Even though Campbell’s record shows strong support for President Clinton, he believes that some votes are more important than others — especially those on issues like the balanced budget and term limits, both of which he supports.

The independent and iconoclastic Coloradan is the second Democrat to switch parties since last November’s elections. But the defection of Campbell, a moderate, is much more ominous for the Democratic Party than the earlier defection of the much more conservative Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, a Southerner who had long been voting with Republicans.

If people like Ben Campbell are uncomfortable in today’s Democratic Party, America’s oldest political party may be headed for big trouble. Put another way, it is quite possible that Democrats will never again control the Congress even though they may win the presidency from time to time.

This is not a predication. It’s a scenario. But think of this. Who would have thought that when David Lloyd George became prime minister of Great Britain in 1916 he would be the last prime minister of the Liberal Party? Anyone suggesting that would have been hooted off the stage. But that’s what happened.

The Liberal Party was one of Britain’s most successful political parties, having alternated in power with the Conservatives for nearly a century. The party had many great leaders, such as William Gladstone and Lloyd George himself, and was responsible for landmark social legislation, including the extension of voting rights, establishment of free elementary schools, workmen’s compensation, old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. But the Liberals never won another national election and were eventually supplanted by the Labor Party (established in 1900) as Britain’s second major party.

The Liberals were marginalized in Britain because times changed, but the Liberal Party did not. The same thing is happening to the Democratic Party in the United States, which is increasingly viewed as disconnected from the political, economic and cultural revolution that has hit America. By their blind support of big business, big labor and big government, Democratic leaders are increasingly viewed as mainframe advocates in a PC world.

At a time when Americans are crying out for government that is smaller, cheaper and less intrusive, Democrats talk of ‘ reinventing” government to make it more efficient. Yet when they present the details of their “reinvention,” it seems more like “relabeling” government — calling increased government spending “investments,” racial quotas “goals” and more tax “contributions.”

By their dogged resistance to real reform of schools that don’t teach, welfare that destroys families, and racial quotas that undermine core principles of American democracy, Democratic leaders have made themselves advocates of both big government and the status quo. This is not a winning combination.

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