The challenge, O’Hanlon said, lies in whether the party will raise its own awareness on these matters heading into future elections, and whether it can communicate such a political vision in a news environment now focused on Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq.
But O’Hanlon said Democrats still have time to make headway: “It’s never too late. It’s American politics. There is always a need for both parties to take every issue seriously.”
Hoyer assembled his team of Members in March after a November election that turned in part on Democrats’ inability to convince voters that they will keep the country safe. Many argued then that Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry (D-Mass.) could have won the White House had he shown more strength on those matters.
The No. 2 House Democrat, a moderate who supported U.S. involvement in Iraq, said he believes Democrats lost the “national election because of national security” and because of a “lack of confidence of the American public.” He added that many voters had doubts that Kerry and the Democrats were committed to defeating terrorism.
With that in mind, other Congressional Democratic leaders, in a separate effort, have been trying to improve their communications effort and bolster their national security portfolio. Earlier this year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) asked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Perry to lead a blue-ribbon panel of experts to advise the party on defense and national security policies.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who serves on International Relations and is part of Hoyer’s informal kitchen cabinet, said House Democratic Members are making a long-term commitment to reversing the perceptions, and hope to “generate broad support within the party” for their ideas.
“People equate national security with their own personal security,” Schiff said. “This is not an abstract idea. In order for the American people to support one party over the other, they need to feel that their basic need to the protect the country will be met.”
“Democrats have much stronger ideas about how to protect the country, and how to better protect the country,” he added. “We just have to do a better job of getting the message out.”
In addition to Schiff, other prominent Democrats make up Hoyer’s cabinet, including Harman and Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.), ranking member on Armed Services, John Spratt (S.C.), ranking member on the Budget Committee and senior member on Armed Services, and Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), also an Armed Services member.
Also in the group are Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards (Texas), Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Norm Dicks (Wash.), Howard Berman (Calif.), Solomon Ortiz (Texas), Silvestre Reyes (Texas) and Robert Andrews (N.J.).