Will Rogers rides again. The Dust Bowl era humorist, who once famously said, "I don't belong to any organized party. I'm a Democrat," would feel right at home in his party today.
President Bush and the GOP hold all the cards in Washington, and what a mess they've made of it. It's a situation ripe for big Democratic gains in the fall elections, and early polls show the public leaning heavily the Dems' way in generic matchups.
At least that was the case before yesterday's Washington Post reported the disarray among party leaders about how to seize the opportunity. Some of the details look like outtakes from a Rogers' comedy routine.
After saying the leaders keep pushing back the release date for their legislative proposals, from last November to "a matter of weeks" from now, Post reporters found the reasons: Democrats can't agree on what they stand for! The mucky-mucks can't decide whether to run nationalized campaigns or stress local issues. And they can't decide the right balance between attacking Bush and pushing their own ideas.
The latter, of course, is hard to do if you don't know what those ideas are.
Not to worry, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told the paper: "By the time the election rolls around, people are going to know where Democrats stand."
That's a relief. Mark your calendars, ladies and gentlemen. Only seven months to go until we learn what the party believes in.
That belief system is still clearly a work in progress. As reporters Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington recounted, Reid and Nancy Pelosi, his House counterpart, met with Dem governors who appealed for help in crafting a message that emphasized "just two or three core ideas." Sources told the paper Reid offered six ideas, and so did Pelosi - though they weren't the same six. Uh-oh.
Wait, it gets better. "Even the party's five-word 2006 motto has preoccupied congressional Democrats for months," according to the article, which quotes Reid as saying: "We had meetings where senators offered suggestions. We had focus groups. We worked hard on that. ...It's a long, slow, arduous process."
So far, the best and brightest have produced this motto: "Together, America Can Do Better." It does come with a little baggage, however - John Kerry used it in 2004, and you know how that worked out.
Not everybody likes the motto, and The Post says: "There is an effort afoot to drop the word 'together.' It tests well in focus groups and audiences, Democratic sources said, but it makes the syntax incorrect."
Yet even a blue-state copy editor might not be able to save the slogan, for The Post adds dryly, "Governors privately scoff at the slogan."
The disarray is a sign of the chickens coming home to roost. For years, Democrats have been more of a collection of disparate interest groups than people united around a political philosophy.
Attempts to identify core beliefs inevitably end up either offending some of the interest groups or being so wacky that swing voters run in the other direction. This inability of Dems to broaden their base explains why Republicans have won seven of the last 10 presidential elections.
Will Rogers saw the problem coming 70 years ago. He's still right, and we're all still laughing.