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Updating the Democrats

In recent years this editorial has usually been written about the Republicans -- the party out of power gathering its resources to try again. Now it's the Democrats' turn. They are out of the White House, outnumbered in the Senate, and reduced in their House majority to the point where some are showing signs of me-tooism, a survival technique previously attributed to their brethren across the aisle.

But it was when the GOP stopped offering a preshrunk version of Democratic policies --and dared to be boldly itself -- that things began going its way again. And the Democratic PArty now faces the dilemma of whether revival lies in following along like a donkey in elephant's clothing or finding some alternatives in a genuine Democratic vein.

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The latter course might be more risky in partisan terms, but it would also be more responsible in terms of serving the nation and its two-party system. And it is good to hear that such an enlightened party stalwart as Terry Sanford is to head a new think tank, the Center for Democratic Policy, to find and foster approaches in keeping with the times.

Less known outside the party is its new national chairman, Los Angeles lawyer Charles T. Manatt. But he has started out with that note of humility -- or simply realism? --which is the beginning of wisdom:

"We have been out-conceptualized, out-organized, out-televised, out-coordinated, out-financed, and out-worked."

With loyalty to party per se on the decline in the United States, it appears that both parties will continually have to renew themselves to bring voters to their respective candidates.Architects or would-be architects of tomorrow's Democratic Party are emerging: Paul Tsongas with his campaign to plant classic liberal goals in practical modern ground. Gary Hart with his proposals to strengthen America through efficient rather than excessive military hardware -- not bigger-is-better or smaller-is-better but better-is-better. Jerry Brown with his efforts to be a cost-effective futurist. Bill Clinton with his determination to bring alienated voters back to the polls and redefine the relationship between government, business, and labor. Jay Rockefeller, yes, a Democratic Rockefeller, with his espousal of managerial techniques to achieve reformist aims. Walter Mondale and Edward Kennedy, now representing a senior but not elderly generation, with their search to adapt long-ingrained Democratic outlooks to today's political realities.

Much will depend, of course, on how well the Republican policies for which Americans voted turn out in practice. But the Democrats can't afford to drag their feet in anticipation of GOP setbacks. They will gain more points, or at least be worthy of them, through contributing to the nation's store of good ideas rather than obstruct ing good ideas simply because they sport a Republican label

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