D.C. NOTEBOOK

Much has been written about the decline of the Democratic Party, given the almost daily departure of lawmakers on that side of the aisle and the meteoric gains by Republicans in the 1994 mid-term election.

It’s true, the Democratic Party is in trouble and in search of itself. This fact hit home particularly hard a few days before Thanksgiving when I came across an AP wire story reporting a visit by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and family members to Arlington National Cemetery on the 32nd anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Earlier that week, Sen. Kennedy visited the grave of another brother, Robert. That Monday, Nov. 20, would have been his 70th birthday had he escaped a killer’s bullet in 1968.

Has it been that long a time? It has, and it seems the Kennedy legacy and vision inherited by the Democratic Party from the two slain brothers are not enough to carry the party anymore nor shape its politics in the 21st century.

Sure, the Kennedy presence in American politics is not about to vanish anytime soon. Ted’s still hanging in there. Then there’s Patrick Kennedy, of Rhode Island, and Joe Kennedy, of Massachusetts, in the House.

And then there’s Bill Clinton, of the White House, who was inspired to public service by Jack Kennedy as a teenager. But the seemingly unconscious buoyancy of the Kennedys that has helped keep the Democratic Party afloat over the past 30 years appears to have run its course. They’ve done their fair share, good and not so good.

The Democratic Party needs to be reborn.

Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., just last week announced she too was leaving after serving 12 terms in the House. In all, 14 House Democrats will retire, though some are running for the Senate. On the Republican side, only four have announced exits from the House.

But as bad a shape as Democrats are in, it may be that Republicans, who marched the first 100 days of the 104th Congress to great fanfare, are heading south as well. The GOP-led Congress and the Clinton administration are locked in a fierce battle over the budget, a fight that is as much about fundamental public policy as it is about dollars and cents.

Republicans may come to see their revolution fizzle. The seven-year balanced budget plan, the centerpiece of the GOP’S political agenda, is more ambitious than anything Clinton offered. But the progressive policies of the Republican Party are likely to get lost because they lack a sense of balance. Democrats are having success painting them as cold-hearted and friends of big business.

The gridlock Republicans use to accuse majority Democrats of is now as bad as ever. There’s been one government shutdown already; another is at hand. The Federal Communications Commission still doesn’t have its funding for fiscal 1996, though it appears the agency will get nearly $176 million-a 5 percent cut.

Telecommunications reform legislation, meanwhile, is stuck in the mud. That’s bad news for the wireless telecommunications industry, which could use some direction from Congress on antenna siting as new personal communications service systems begin to light up the airwaves.

Next year’s presidential and congressional elections may surprise and disappoint a lot of people. Maybe the dream will live on a little longer.

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