Today in Focus: the Democratic Party ties to win back middle America. Democrats emerged from the elections of 2004 weakened and confused. Once a party representing a majority of workers, they saw them steadily defecting to the Republicans. Are Democrats out of touch with the views and values of average Americans? V-O-A's Jaroslaw Anders looks at the debate among party leaders and grass roots supporters.
Along with national security, many Americans gave "moral values" or "traditional values" as the reason they voted for Republican president George W. Bush. But what values were they really talking about?
I don't think that anyone actually knows what is meant by traditional moral values. It is a catch-all phrase that seems to encompass a great many things.
Professor Elaine Kamarck of the John. F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University believes that the "values" issue is a code to voice middle America's dissatisfaction with the apparent lack of strong, clear convictions among the Democratic Party elite.
So the first thing I would say is: stand for something. I think standing for something for the Democrats at this point is frankly more important than what they stand for because I think the Democrats really lost their voice.
But professor Kamarck admits that in the next election Democrats should nominate someone closer to middle America than senator John Kerry, an East Coast liberal and a Washington insider.
The Democrats need to, in their choice of the next nominee, project somebody who is very much a part of the mainstream religious and moral values of the United States. Kerry could not do that.
Analysts point out that the Democratic party has a special problem appealing to people of faith. Senator Kerry, a Roman Catholic, stressed the role of religion in his life. But Will Marshall, president and co-founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, says many Americans believe the party is dominated by people hostile to religion.
Frankly, too many religious Americans, and that constitutes a majority probably of the electorate, believe that the Democrats are the party that protects secular interests, whereas the Republicans are the party that protects people of faith.
Mr. Marshall says Democrats should not embrace Christian conservatism. Rather, they should show that one can be both deeply moral, and religious and yet pursue progressive policies.
And at the same time the Democrats ought to challenge religious folks to day: Aren't you defining the moral agenda very narrowly? After all it is not just a matter of gay marriage or prayer in the schools. It is also a matter of poverty, of child poverty, and social need, and the matter of stewardship of the environment. There is plenty of Biblical authority to support a more progressive agenda for public action. And in fact in American history we have had what we call the "social Gospel" tradition that was a very important part of the progressive reforms of the early 20th century.
Analysts say that on highly controversial issues such as abortion, gay marriage or religion in public life, Democrats should appeal to what Mr. Marshall calls a "reasonable center." These are people who do not take rigid "us versus them" positions, and who in his view make up the majority of American swing voters.
There are reasonable people in the middle who may lean to one side or the other but are uncomfortable being forced to either/or choices.
Another Democratic researcher, John Halpin of the Center for American Progress, adds that the party should heed people of more conservative views, such as the new Senate minority leader, Harry Reid from the state of Nevada.
We shouldn't be perceived to be that close-minded that we cannot at least talk to a pro-life Democrat. It is good now that the Senate minority leader is a pro-life Mormon. We have different voices in our party, and we have to allow those voices to come forward. The Democratic Party should not, nor will it, shift its core social stands but I thing we ought to be willing to go out and at least defend them.
Democratic analysts agree their party probably needs to choose its new leadership from among young local politicians from the states that gave their presidential vote to George W. Bush. They say the party can recover a majority among the voters only if it shows it understands middle America, and is understood by it in return.