Oh, how things have changed in just three short years.
Before Bush took office - in fact, before his counterparts in the "new GOP" (that neo-fascist ultrarightwing brigade led first by Newt Gingrich and now the sociopathical Tom Delay)- took Congress, the terms "moderate," "liberal," and "conservative" had entirely different meanings.
Before 1996, being liberal meant you believed the needs of the common man and woman were more important than those of big business, that individual freedoms were more to be cherished than the right of the mob, whether that mob was composed of racial bigots circling a jail where a black man was held, corporate executives circling the EPA or FDA, or religious fanatics circling schools where evolution is taught or clinics where abortions are performed. Being a liberal meant that you valued peace far more than war, and that you would not under any circumstances support an unprovoked invasion of another nation. Being liberal meant you believed in spending money to make the world a better place for everyone - not just a handful of greedy corporazis. It meant you believed that channeling money into humanitarian and social programs was a better investment than channeling money into the pockets of multibillionaires, then waiting for it to "trickle down," like a short drizzle in a dust bowl.
Being conservative meant that you supported a scaled down government in which money stayed largely in local communities, while the rest of the nation's tax dollars went to practical purposes such as supporting a limited military and basic national programs such as transportation and social security. It meant that you tended to favor big business over social and humanitarian programs and that you were likely to drag your feet on any social change, from civil rights to welfare, but were open at the end of the day to compromise. It meant you often favored war over peace because of war's potential advantages to business, but that you would never consider invading another nation unprovoked, if for no other reason than the cost.
Bein g a moderate Democrat did NOT mean that you had "Democrat" on the door, but a Republican ideology behind it. It meant that you believed in the same progressive social vision as your more liberal peers, but felt change should progress more slowly and methodically. It most likely meant that you diverged on the more emotional issues, such as abortion or gun control, NOT on broader issues such as civil rights, the rights of the working man and woman, or social programs.
Being a moderate Republican meant that you leaned more favorably toward social issues than your big-business-oriented peers, that you were more likely to push for progressive changes like civil rights on occasion, and that you were more open to compromise with Democrats on many issues. You were, however, still fundamentally defined by fiscal conservatism.
Want a litmus test for who the real Democrats and Republicans are? No real Democrat would have voted for the "Medicare Reform" (what a deceitful title that was!). To separate the real Democrats from the Republican posers, check out that vote.
As to Republicans, no real Republican would have voted in a huge tax rebate during a period of huge outlays of federal cash, especially not a SECOND tax rebate. So check the vote to see how many real Republicans versus NeoCon fascists there are on Capitol Hill these days.
To boil it down: the American government has lost its center and been dragged so far to the right that it is about to topple over. In so doing, it has polarized the American people to a point where the bitter feelings and anger will take a long, long time to heal. The only antidote is to bring the nation back into balance - a balance that will never happen as long as G. W. Bush is in office and the Democratic Party has abdicated their end of the seesaw.
Democrats. mistakenly believe that the public has turned on them in recent years because they are not enough like Republicans. The truth is, the public has turned on them because they have become TOO much like Republicans. It is in human nature to reject hypocrisy, phoniness and mixed messages. In fact, a child psychiatrist I took a course from in college said that in his 40 or so years of experience, he had come to see that that children are psychologically less screwed up by consistently harsh parents than they are by parents who are unpredictable and inconsistent. The child can develop protective strategies for dealing with predictable abuse. They cannot protect themselves against the unpredictable except by totally rejecting the unpredictable person - the good along with the bad. Thus Americans, ironically have felt more "trusting" of Bush simply because he can be relied on to do the wrong thing! At least it gives activisits a solid platform to "push off of"!
Democrats, by contrast, have acted with outrageous inconsistency since 9/11, especially, aping the right wing on many critical issues, while making huge shows of righteous liberal indignation on far lesser issues. It is little wonder that the party has been, consciously or unconsciously, rejected by many Americans. Afterall, how can people "get behind" the Democratic cause, when the "cause" on Monday may have changed by Friday? And, alas, though the GOP has become a party of drones, with an almost insane allegiance to the Queen bees, the Democrats are now seen as a party of sellouts (what other message could, for ex., Dick Gephardts' closed door collusion with Bush on the eve of the Iraq() war be called?) and our prima donnas (the infantile attacks on the front-running candidate Dean by the candidates losing ground says to the public that ego, not dedication to the greater good is the main preoccupation of Democrats). That same child psychiatrist I mentioned before will tell you that constantly bickering parents who are basically good people will have angrier, more frustrated children than nastier people who preserve a united, outwardly nondissonat front.
To summarize: In Campaign 2004, the greatest challenge to the Democratic Party will be to restore and reaffirm just what it means to be a Democrat and a liberal and in so doing, to form a united front pursuing unshifting objectives. If this can be achieved - even if it means encouraging voters to dump not just Bush but phony Democrats like Georgia's Zell Miller and Connecticut's Joseph Lieberman at the Congressional primaries in 2004 - then the road to the White House and the restoration of America may be swept clear.