The other morning I had no sooner finished my radio show than the phone rang. The voice at the other end was a senior Democrat with the Democratic National Committee. “Ellen, did I hear you compliment Marc Racicot on air this morning?” Racicot is the head of the Republican National Committee.

“Yes,” I replied, unsure of where the conversation was going. In fact, I have met Mr. Racicot several times, and have always found him a charming, decent guy. I said as much to my friend from the DNC.

“Well, don’t be so nice,” I was told.

I was shocked. Shocked that a senior member of the Democratic Party would actually waste their time in placing such a call. Shocked that matters had become so ridiculously personal. I mean at the end of the day, it’s only politics. People are people. Just as there are decent Republicans there are stinko Democrats.

Then a light bulb went on.

I have been thinking for some time about the reasons why, since 9-11, the Democratic Party, my party, has seemed to be flailing about, a loyal opposition with few principles that inspire much loyalty.

For example, since January, I have heard Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle blame Bush’s tax cut for a recession that began before the president even took office. Daschle ran away from the speech when somebody reminded him that without the votes of fellow Democrats in the Senate, the tax cut never would have seen the light of day.

Then Sen. Daschle tried to make Republicans the Party of Enron – until somebody pointed out that as many Democrats as Republicans were feeding at Ken Lay’s trough.

Then Daschle went after Bush’s direction of the War Against Terrorism – the same week our boys began taking casualties in Operation Anaconda. That same week, Daschle, Byrd and Biden complained about how the president had failed to inform them about the so-called shadow government. Daschle couldn’t run away fast enough when the White House produced records showing that Congress had in fact been consulted.

The reason why Daschle and others are out trying to sting Republicans at any cost is because they have stopped listening to America. But Bush’s leading political guru Karl Rove is listening, which is one reason why the president is pushing 80 percent approval ratings while the Democratic Party, my party, looks mean, headless and opportunistic. And this in a year where historically, the out-of-power party ought to be licking its chops over the seats it will pick up next November. After all, the Dems need to consolidate their hold on the Senate and are only within a few seats of re-taking the House.

Especially since 9-11, here’s what I think the American people want from their government:

Harmony – Partisanship is out. Lying about bi-partisanship is out. One way to read the 2000 presidential election – the way Karl Rove read it, I believe – is that voters were telling the Party of Clinton and the Party of Ken Starr, a pox on both of your houses.

Every time Daschle looks for “an opening” to play “gotcha” with the Republicans, George Bush responds with more honey for Democratic constituencies. Bush has compromised on such traditional liberal issues like education and campaign reform and is even prepared to grant limited amnesty to some undocumented workers. Meanwhile, the Democrats have somehow managed to inherit the mantle of “mean spiritedness” – just where Newt Gingrich left it.

Make love, not war – on members of the other party and on fellow Americans generally.

Make war, not love – on terrorists and states harboring terrorists.

Deliver the goods – Did anyone see the recent FAA tests on airports? Seventy percent of guns, knives and simulated explosives are still getting through security. Guess what? Heaven help the political party that gets tagged with the responsibility for the next breach of security that kills a bunch of people.

Hard as it may be for the Democrats to swallow, they just might have to get used to being the loyal opposition for a while – racking up political credits for their loyalty in winning the war on terrorism, and making government work in the areas that Americans really care about these days.

If Daschle wants to enhance his party’s standing, he ought to consider holding some hearings on whether we’re stocked up on smallpox vaccine, Cipro and plans to defend ourselves against bio-terrorism. Also, hold some hearings on airport security, on military preparedness, on the state of our intelligence services. If you’re going to be the party of government in a post 9-11 world, start focusing attention on the things about government that the public wants to see improved.

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