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(Steve Sack, Minnesota Star-Tribune.)

Oh dear, the Democrats have fallen into the fetal position again!

That's because they're 1. Too inarticulate to effectively defend their policies to voters 2. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that Republicans will attack them NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO and 3. are too afraid of being accused of being on the side of the VICTIMS in class warfare.

Which leads me back to the same question, again and again: What, exactly, do Democrats stand for? Besides their own re-relection, I mean:

On one side: teachers, doctors and their patients, the jobless, disaster victims, the troops.

On the other: private equity firms, hedge funds, venture capitalists, real estate partnerships and bond holders.

It would be hard to fashion from scratch a more politically potent standoff, yet the Republican Party is barely being forced to fight -- as Democratic lawmakers balk at deficit spending and hesitate to close a tax loophole on a wealthy class of investors with close social and political ties to powerful Democrats.

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At issue are two bills to preserve several soon-to-expire provisions. One of them, the American Jobs and Closing Loopholes Act, colloquially known as the "tax extenders" bill, contains several tax breaks for corporations and families, along with $47 billion to preserve enhanced unemployment benefits for the rest of the year and subsidized COBRA health insurance, $24 billion to help states with Medicaid costs in 2011 and $64.6 billion to preserve elevated Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors for the next five years.

The second cobbles together money for the war as well as aid for teachers and Haiti and Gulf state disaster relief. Though it's moving through Congress as a separate vehicle from the extenders package, it's all part of the same fight. And Democrats can expect little help from the GOP. After years of passing emergency supplemental war bills with no attempt that they be paid for -- and, in fact, while cutting taxes at the same time -- Republicans have decided that troop spending bills are now items that can be opposed without one's patriotism being called into question.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the extenders bill will lard the federal budget deficit with $123 billion, a horrifying sum to Democrats already under attack for spending borrowed money. But the deficit isn't what has some Dems antsy -- rather, they're concerned about a revenue-raiser in the bill that would close a tax loophole through which rich investment fund managers would otherwise funnel $18 billion to themselves over the next ten years.

The bill, pitting the jobless against the cream of Wall Street, should not present a difficult choice for Democrats. But its passage is so far from assured that Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana who is routinely at odds with the party base, chastised his caucus during a Tuesday lunch meeting. "This is why we came here," an unusually fired-up Baucus urged.

Now, think about that. Max freakin' Baucus is telling them to vote for it, and they're still too scared. It never seems to occur to them that they won't need huge Wall Street donations to win if they have the people on their side.

Perhaps we should medicate our highly anxious and flaccid Democratic political class: Xanax - and Viagra.

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