THE DECISION by Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., not to seek re-election next year is another stunning blow to the Democratic Party and additional proof that if the party leadership doesn't abandon its liberal political and social agenda it may soon be relegated to permanent minority status. While many have spoken of the "likelihood" of Sam Nunn's re-election, polls show him favored by just 36 percent of registered voters.
The figures testifying to the growing weakness of Democrats and their party are astounding. According to the Republican National Committee, 39 congressional Democrats have either resigned or retired since the election of President Clinton. Another five, including two U.S. senators, have become Republicans.
That this is not an inside-the-Beltway phenomenon is indicated by the number of state legislative bodies -- 52 -- now controlled by Republicans. Democrats have lost 20 of these legislative bodies since Bill Clinton became president.
Every congressional Southern Democrat up for re-election has chosen to retire. Nationally, eight of 15 Democratic senators whose terms are expiring have said they won't run again. That's the largest number of senators from a single party in this century who have chosen to throw in the towel.
What should concern Democrats is the reasons given by many of the retirees -- and some of the hidden ones behind the stated reasons.
When Maine State Rep. June Meres announced her decision at BTC the end of last month to quit the Democratic Party and become a Republican (making Maine the 21st state legislative body to change from Democrat to Republican since Mr. Clinton's election), she said, "Opinions contrary to those of party leaders are not well-received at the Democratic caucuses. While technically I was free to express ideas of importance to me and my constituents, it was like talking to the wind. Nobody listened. I need a forum that allows frank discussions of issues important to my district."
Ms. Meres said that the values held by Republicans are more closely aligned with her own and those of her family. "I have not been very comfortable with the agenda that is being pursued by the Democrats," she said. "I don't believe the average citizens outside Augusta would be."
When he switched from Democrat to Republican last May, Alabama State Rep. Steve Flowers said, "I do not believe there is any room, or any future, for a conservative in the Democratic Party."
In Georgia, the revolution has reached the Public Service Commission, whose chairman, Bob Durden, announced his switch to the GOP, also in May. "I want to stress that I have not changed," said Mr. Durden. "It is the Democratic Party that has changed. Big government is not the solution to our problems. In fact, big government is the problem." Sounds like another great party-switcher, Ronald Reagan, who observed that he hadn't so much left the Democratic Party as the party had left him.
Meanwhile, national Democratic leaders remain where many have been since the 1960s: favoring higher taxes and more spending, promoting narrow interests instead of the general welfare and treating any attempt to put big government on a diet by cutting outmoded programs or wasteful spending as a direct assault on the poor, the elderly and the disabled. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and company continue to chant the tired mantra that Republicans want to reduce taxes and cut spending to give breaks to "the rich" and penalize "working people," and that the Republican Party is dominated, in Vice President Al Gore's words, by "extremists."
No wonder President Clinton's handlers are repositioning him as a centrist, even a conservative. This strategy might work, were it not for sufficient videotape of the president promoting a leftist agenda: abortion on demand, gays in the military, tax increases and more.
If the Democratic Party is to be revived, it must get rid of the Pat Schroeders, Barney Franks, Dick Gephardts, David Boniors and the Clintons. Otherwise, it will be indelibly identified with the far left, which can only benefit Republicans as more and more disenchanted Democrats leave the party.
L Will the last Democrat to depart please turn out the lights?
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.