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What now, Democrats?

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The Democratic Party has been trying to pull itself together after being humbled by united Republicans and gnawed from within by its own "boll weevil" defectors. In partisan combat terms, its best hope might lie in a spreading of the economic clouds that scudded across Mr. Reagan's vacation and brought no-confidence votes from Wall Street. There have been those opponents who took some comfort in the President's getting the economic package he wanted so that what they saw as its deficiencies could be highlighted. By the same token, a fulfillment of the administration's promises of eventual sunshine would leave the Democrats farther out in the cold. It would be preferable all around to look beyond the partisan skirmishes to ways the Democrats can serve the two-party system by sharpening the issues and providing constructive alternatives where these are called for.

Such was not the course, unfortunately, of those Democrats in Congress who deplored the Reagan tax-cutting and then tried to outdo the Republicans in tax-break trinkets to swing wavering votes. One irony is that most of the 48 Democrats finally defecting to the Reagan side had previous voting records that already made them "functional Republicans." Most of them, too, were quite safe politically at home.

Whether the "Republicans" among the Democrats will revitalize it in a new and distinct image is open to question. It could be the "revisionist" but thoroughly Democratic younger generation including Senator Tsongas of Massachusetts and Senator Hart of Colorado as they interact with party leaders like Mondale and Kennedy. Gov. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, with his business management approach toward Democratic goals, exemplifies party resources at the state level. And there is promise of fresh thought beyond mere partisanship in the new think tank called the Center for Democratic Policy, headed by Terry Sanford. Some see the Democratic defeat last November as opening the party to thoughts and proposals ignored when it was entrenched.


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