Libs see opportunity in Bush’s slide

The struggles of President George W. Bush and Republicans have eroded the influence of conservative political ideas and given liberals a new chance to shape the debate ahead of November’s elections, left-wing activists said on Monday.

The conservative agenda that dominated U.S. politics for decades has taken a beating under Bush, dragged down by the perception that corporate interests rule Washington and the country is on the wrong track, the sponsors of a conference of 2,000 liberal activists said.

“The failure of the conservatives in power is beginning to erode the dominance of their ideas in the political debate,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, the conference sponsors.

“The right has not failed because it’s corrupt or incompetent, it has failed because it is wrong,” he said.

But Borosage and other activists said Democrats had not shown they can take advantage of the depressed approval ratings for Bush and the Republican-led Congress, despite public pessimism about the Iraq war, the economy, gas prices and health care.

A survey presented by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg showed majorities identify more with Democratic policies on a range of issues, including health care, tax cuts and government regulation.

But he said Democrats still need to clearly define their positions and offer better policy alternatives because even with all the Republican troubles “there is no evidence yet that Democrats have begun to gain or move up.”

“This is an immense opportunity for us,” Greenberg said, pointing out that three-quarters of independent and moderate voters believed the country was on the wrong track.

“The energy, the passion, the anger is with people who say they want change,” he said.

Democrats must pick up 15 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate to regain control of those chambers in November.

The Bush administration’s strategy for the American people was “distort, distract and divide,” Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid told the conference.

“We cannot continue to be bogged down in Iraq,” he said.

The three-day conference at a downtown Washington hotel continues on Tuesday and Wednesday with appearances by several potential 2008 presidential contenders, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Kerry of Massachusetts.