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The party of ‘normal America’




One of Newt Gingrich’s favorite verbal firebombs was calling Democrats “the enemies of normal Americans.” We will ignore the nasty code contained in the former GOP House speaker’s remark. But suffice it to say, Democrats used to spend much time catering to narrow interest groups at the expense of the middle-class masses.

That was then, and then is clearly not now.

Democrats have emerged as champions of horse sense and competent governance. And they’re on the offensive, accusing Republicans of downright weirdness in their fiscal recklessness and seeming obsession with the interests of the richest few.

Nowhere was this turning of tables more evident than at a recent AARP forum on health care and economic security held in this scenic city on the Mississippi River. Smack in the middle of Middle America, five Democratic presidential hopefuls ridiculed the Republican leadership and promised to put ordinary Americans back on Washington’s agenda.

They made no specifically racial appeals or references to sexual matters. Iraq was only briefly discussed – mostly in terms of what the money spent on that unnecessary war could have bought at home. And the Democrats’ audience went well beyond Iowa caucus voters. Iowa is a battleground state. A third of the electorate here identifies as independents, and they’ve been strongly trending Democratic.

The candidates jumped on the outrages against working folk that were allowed to flourish in the Bush era. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden suggested a way for government to protect private pensions. Citing American Airlines’ decision to “wipe out” its workers’ pensions while giving top executives $100 million in bonuses, Biden proposed: “I’d change the bankruptcy code to say, hey, look, you go ahead and take away a pension, you lose all those benefits, you, the CEOs, are going to have. … You’ll change their minds quickly.”

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton on Social Security: “When my husband left office with a balanced budget and a surplus, the projection was that Social Security was solvent until 2055. … Now after seven years of President Bush and an irresponsible Republican Congress, the life of the Social Security Trust fund has been cut to 2041. We’ve lost 14 years in seven years because of their fiscal irresponsibility.”

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards talked of setting a 36 percent interest cap on the notorious payday loans. “They charge 300, 400, 500 percent!” he said. “They’re preying on our most vulnerable families.”

On the subject of predatory lending, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson addressed the mortgage crisis. “I’m blaming the president,” he said. “I’m blaming a situation where mortgage lenders, because they’re not regulated, they’ve become loan sharks.”

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd joined the others in blasting Republicans for not letting Medicare negotiate drug prices. “That would have saved $330 billion,” he said. “Just that one provision alone would have done a lot to shore up the cost of Medicare.

Iowa Democrats are echoing this righteous anger over what they see as the Bush con job. “All my life, I’ve heard of tax-andspend Democrats, tax-and-spend Democrats,” Mike Liebbe, a party activist, told me. “Why don’t I hear that now?”

While Bush was the target, he made his own contribution to the discussion from Washington. After nearly seven years of spending like there’s no tomorrow, he finally decided to draw the line: He vowed to veto the expansion of government health coverage for children of the working poor.

Well, like the French Revolution before it, Gingrich’s socalled conservative revolution was eventually taken over by bizarre ideology. That leaves Democrats fired up and unapologetic. And they are happily selling themselves as the best friends normal Americans ever had.

©2007 The Providence Journal Co.

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