WASHINGTON – In a revealing new book on politics, Sen. Charles Schumer comes out with guns blazing — not at President Bush, but at his own Democratic Party.
Schumer, one of the most powerful figures in Washington, rips his party for being in the clutches of special-interest groups for too long and for losing touch with the middle class.
"Group identities around the country were less important, but those claiming to represent group interests in Washington were stronger than ever," Schumer wrote. "Democrats had lost touch with their base — the middle class."
He charges that clueless Democrats had their heads in the sand and didn't even realize they'd lost the confidence of the key voting group.
"We talked about them, but we didn't listen to them. Even worse, we were under the illusion that they liked what we had to say," he wrote.
"In the 2004 election, the middle class was the runaway bride and Democrats were left standing at the altar," Schumer wrote of an election that saw Democrats lose seats in the House and Senate, and John Kerry get thumped by Bush.
In the face of rapidly changing times, Schumer slammed his party for being unable to craft a bold agenda because it was paralyzed by the need to build a consensus during policy meetings.
"Big ideas were made small; tough choices were made weak; bold plans were made timid. A lot of our best stuff was drowned in a sea of consensus," he wrote.
He said he fears that Democrats pronouncing the rebirth of the party in the wake of their sweep back into power on Capitol Hill are "forgetting a critical truth about the election."
"The overwhelming reason for our victory was that Bush had screwed up," he added.
"Unless we build on our values to generate better ideas, sharper policies and a clearer vision, we will be in trouble" in 2008.
"Now that we control Congress and because a presidential election with no incumbent is approaching, the onus is on us."
Schumer's 274-page book is a manifesto to help Democrats expand control in Washington — and it revolves around the middle class.
A copy of the book was obtained yesterday by The Post.
After orchestrating the Democratic takeover of the Senate in the last elections, Schumer is now in a position to put some of his middle-of-the-road ideas into practice.
He is the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and serves as Majority Leader Harry Reid's top political adviser, in addition to heading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee through the 2008 cycle.
In his book, he suggests that Hillary Rodham Clinton first got a twinkle in her eye about running for Senate in New York in 1998, when she came up four times to campaign for him during his contest against Al D'Amato. That puts the beginnings of her interest in a Senate run earlier than many people thought.
"I like to think she remembered the tremendous reception she'd received that fall. She helped me win, and I hope her visits were a factor in her decision to run in 2000," he said.
But he admitted occasional strains with Clinton, writing, "Hillary and I are both ambitious, hardworking politicians who occasionally step on each other's toes."
The tome reveals Schumer did some of his best thinking at a restaurant called Hunan Dynasty— "my late-night office and dinner spot when I'm in Washington."
Szechuan shrimp and string beans in black bean sauce is a daily staple in Schumer's D.C. life - and he loves the free almond cookie the owner gives him after each meal.
He treated Clinton to Hunan Dynasty when she first came to the Senate, and she immediately caused a scene. Fellow diners gawked at the former first lady and "the entire kitchen and wait staff filed over with cameras."
"For me, given a choice between straitjacket stardom and that free almond cookie — I'll take the almond cookie every time."
And it was at the restaurant where he saw the "sobering" data that the Democrats still lost middle-class whites by 6 percentage points in the 2006 congressional elections.
Schumer is so obsessed with winning back the middle class, he devotes pages to the fictitious Joe and Eileen Bailey of Massapequa, L.I. — the people Democrats should be targeting and talking to.
In Schumer's mind, the Baileys are both 45 — he's in insurance and she's an administrative assistant - with three kids in public school and getting by on $75,000 a year.
Joe likes the Islanders and golf. Eileen splurges now and then at the mall.
Neither follows politics particularly closely, but they skim the newspaper and watch the nightly news — and they always vote.
"Too often, the Democratic Party ignored them. I make it my mission not to," Schumer wrote.
His manifesto puts forth 11 meat-and-potatoes issues that he insists Democrats must press. He says the secret recipe to winning over the Baileys and other middle-class voters is a "50 percent solution."
That means Democrats should aim to boost math and reading scores by 50 percent, and increase anti-terror funding by 50 percent.
Furthermore, they should try to cut child obesity, children's access to Internet porn, cancer mortality and abortions all by 50 percent.
Schumer said Democrats need to hang their hat in 2008 on the 50 percent solution because they lack the high-impact buzzwords that the GOP rode to victory in 2004: "War in Iraq. Cut taxes. No gay marriage."
"In the absence of eight words, the 50 percent solution is a concrete and realistic promise that gives middle-class voters something to grasp," he said.
But if anyone can come up with eight words to sum up an agenda, Schumer wrote, "Let me know if you come up with something."