WASHINGTON – Democrats should have talked more directly about fundamental values and ideals in last year's presidential campaign, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (search) said Wednesday, outlining a progressive agenda aimed at moving the party and the nation forward.
Democrats must do a better job speaking about the principles they believe in and that have guided the party, said Kennedy, D-Mass., in a speech to the National Press Club.
"We cannot move our party or our nation forward under pale colors and timid voices," said Kennedy, who has served 42 years in the Senate. "We cannot become Republican clones. If we do, we will lose again, and deserve to lose."
But at the same time, Kennedy said fellow Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's (search) narrow election loss also showed that the party must "speak more directly to the issues of deep conscience in policy positions we take." Referring to abortion, he said Democrats should not yield on a woman's right to choose, but should also acknowledge that "we are a better society when abortions are rare."
To punctuate his progressive push, Kennedy said Medicare (search) should be gradually expanded to cover all citizens, and the cost would be funded through payroll taxes and general revenues and offset by savings through technology advances.
He also called for greater federal support for college costs, saying that every student who is admitted to college should be guaranteed the cost of earning a degree.
Kennedy's speech came as Democrats - divided and battered by the second bitter presidential defeat in a row - continue to wrangle over their party's direction.
Ever since Kerry's loss - and GOP's gains in both the House and Senate - Democrats have been chewing over their inability to connect with enough voters to wrest the Oval Office from a president weakened by a faltering economy and increasingly unpopular war in Iraq (search).
And they have debated how to compete with Republicans for the support of social conservatives whose votes may have been swayed by hot button family values issues like abortion, religion and gay marriage.
Some pundits have called for the party to get back to its liberal roots and take back the moral high ground, where the GOP has successfully gained traction. But others have recalled Bill Clinton's success in taking a centrist approach to the White House.
On Wednesday, Kennedy laid down markers for the coming congressional session, vowing to defeat President Bush's efforts to revamp Social Security (search), and reject policies that send jobs overseas. And he ratcheted up his assault against the administration's handling of the war and its aftermath in Iraq.
Raising the specter of Iraq as Bush's Vietnam, Kennedy said the administration has bogged America down "in an endless quagmire."