Although the public divide in the Democratic party seems deep, it's not. There is really only one or two issues that we have to gather people together on, and the rest fall into place, and even then, we run the risk of becoming a Stepford party like the Republicans if we tamp down too hard on dissent.
The really big issue that's on the table is, of course, Iraq. The war is wrong or at least being fought wrongly, and I think that's something the wings of the party (Wellstone's famous "Democratic wing of the Democratic party," and the more centrist DLC wing) can agree on. The division shown in public over the past few months has given rise to a raft of commentators talking about the Dems as if the party is a bunch of Keystone Kops, scrambling but ultimately getting in each other's way more than making progress.
As I mentioned yesterday, it seems as though an adult stepped in and starting telling people to ratchet down the rhetoric. I think the recent Lieberman attacks had something to do with this, as they defined who was on what side of the divide. Since then, the tone has been more measured (except in Blogtopia (© Skippy), which has had a field day razzing Joe).
So here's how I think we can handle this divide going forward and help repair the image of a party that is poised to win big in November, but can still "rubberhose" their way out of the picture:
1) A responsible elder statesman/woman needs to be the face of this rift, and go on the record with a major effort to heal it. This statesman (because my first choice is male) shouldn't have a dog in the hunt, nothing at stake in November, and he would garner an awful lot of goodwill for and in the party with his actions. Bill Clinton might be the obvious choice, but Hillary still has a political future, and so while he could heal the rift, there would still be a sense of partisanship. Ted Kennedy would be ideal, except that the public perception of him is one that would tend to distract from the message.
So my first choice is Joe Lieberman. Naturally, this means he'd have to give up his re-election campaign. In truth, he's running on fumes as a Senator in Connecticut, and a concerted effort to replace him with Ned Lamont may not succeed but will cripple the Democratic ticket in Connecticut in November, whether he wins or Lamont wins. As a lame duck who voluntarily sacrifices one more term (because, Joe, in truth, that's really all you could possibly eke out here), he will position himself as a man in 2008 who has chips left to play. Further, as the public face of this dust-up, his word with the general public will carry great weight, because they're paying about as much attention to the activist effort to unseat him as they did to the World Cup or Tour De France.
The general perception is that the Lieberman is taking one for the team on an issue that has divided his party, thus taking responsibility for that division. It would go a long way to making the general electorate realize that we're in this to win, and that our chief players have their game faces on.
2) How would Joe heal this rift? By pointing out that differing opinions can exist in the Democratic party without rancor or ill-will and in fact, there's a middle ground to be found that both wings of the party could agree on: only by electing a Democratic Congress and then in 2008, a Democratic President, can that way be had, and reminding the nation that, when the chips have been down, it's been the Democrats who ride to the rescue of this great nation: World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, even as far back as the American Revolution and Thomas Jefferson, it has been Democrats that for the most part have moved this country forward, culminating most recently in the Clintonian era of peace and prosperity for all (Greatest President Ever. We ought to be reminding people of that day in and day out, especially with the Shrub about to go on yet ANOTHER five week vacation). The Democrats, who would have no fealty to the decision to go to war, it wouldn't be an albatross around their neck, would be able to find a way out of it that doesn't sacrifice our troops, or Iraqi civilians, while bringing a lasting peace to Iraq.
Better minds than mine have that solution, so I leave it to the reader to find one, and by the way, we don't need this solution right away in order for this process to work, just a simple ackowledgement that reasonable people can disagree reasonably on a reasonably disagreeable issue and why they do.
Once the Iraq war issue is taken off the debate agenda, the rest of the issues are peanuts, really: who voted with Bush more often, who stands where on abortion, or gay marriage or the deficit, all these fold neatly under the umbrella of unification. So long as we publicly respectfully disagree with each other, not stepping on any toes, we can work out our differences and come to a connection with the public at a level the public can readily grasp and readily accept as an agenda for the 21st Century. An overarching theme, if you will, that Democrats will work hard to make life better for everyone, and not for only one percent.
A thought experiment: Recently, some Republicans were outspoken in their criticism of Bush, particularly over the NSA spying issue. We all cheered them on, gleefully wondering if this was when America woke up.
The criticism within his own party hurt Bush, but polls seem to indicate that it hurt the Republican party as well, and suddenly Democrats were looked upon more favorably to pursue an agenda for the country. Does that mean the Dems suddenly had a message?
No. But it does mean that America was suddenly willing to listen to one from us. We ought to grab the spotlight and hipcheck any Republican that tries to take it back.
Note something else, though: until Hagel, Hoekstra, et al started speaking out, the Republicans were viewed as unified and on message, and even though most people felt the country was moving in the wrong direction, at least it was moving and they could support that. This means that "wrong but strong" will win people's votes over "weak but right."