John Bolton's confirmation hearing for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations drags on. The upcoming Supreme Court nomination, the future of Social Security and Iraq prompt knee-jerk hysteria from the Democrats in lieu of a concrete counter-agenda about running the country.

Then, of course, there's the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, who can't stop ranting. Recently, he averred that a lot of Republicans "have never made an honest living in their lives," and that the GOP is "pretty much a white Christian party."

We've seen such infantile negativism before, and it leads nowhere. The Republicans of 1964 were a red-hot bunch - out of power, hard-right and on the wrong side of civil rights. During the 12 years of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, Democrats were no better, resorting to demonizing Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. More recently, many Republicans descended into a mindless, obsessive hatred of Bill Clinton.

But the current Democratic furor and obstructionism are unprecedented and obviously self-defeating. How can we make sense of the Democrats' behavior?

First, the last two presidential elections have been extremely close. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and only narrowly won the election in 2004. Polls continue to reveal a 50-50 divide over most of his policies.

Yet under our two-party system of majority rule, that close split is not reflected in the sharing of real political power. So the majority of state governorships and legislatures remain Republican-controlled. The Senate, the House and the presidency are all in the hands of conservatives, and the Supreme Court will soon be as well.

In response, an understandably frustrated opposition seeks some sort of counter-move. But instead of the hard, necessary work of winning the public over to a systematic alternative vision, the Democratic leadership seems to be hoping that a quickie scandal, a noisy filibuster or a slip overseas will tip a few million voters and thus return the Democrats to power.

Second, while the Democrats bellow, the Republicans have been systematically trespassing onto Democratic territory. A black secretary of state was succeeded by a black woman, previously our first female national security adviser. The first Hispanic attorney general is now also one of the candidates being considered for the vacancy on the Supreme Court. The national chairman of the Republican Party is Jewish.

Republicans learned long ago that they have to reach out beyond the blueblood and moneyed classes of the East and West coasts. And they're getting added help given that so many Democratic figureheads - such as Kerry, Dean, George Soros and Ted Kennedy - come across as privileged and out of touch. Moveon.org and People for the American Way were always Berkeley- and Malibu-bred, not grass-roots expressions of Des Moines and El Paso.

Third, fresh Democratic voices, like the sensible New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the moderate-sounding Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and even the newly repackaged New York Sen. Hillary Clinton are often drowned out by geriatric Democratic retreads.

Can't the Democrats find spokesmen other than a calcified John Kerry, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy or Al Gore - who all crashed in past general presidential elections or primaries and now drip bitterness? How do you politely tell your leadership that it, not just George W. Bush, is the problem?

Even those well-known Democratic luminaries who haven't failed at running for the presidency - like Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi - hardly represent a diverse electorate, unless residence within 100 miles of San Francisco reflects Middle America.

Fourth, the foreign policy of the Bush administration has put the Democrats in another exasperating dilemma. Usually Republicans are caricatured as selfish isolationists or dour realists, not the muscular idealists of the Truman or JFK stripe that many are today.

Michael Moore's and others' cries of "no blood-for-oil" might have found resonance with the public in 1991, when we freed Kuwait only to abandon the Kurds and Shiites and deliver Kuwait City back to the Sabah monarchy. But yanking troops out of Saudi Arabia and staying on to try to implant democracy in Iraq (while watching the price of gas skyrocket) represent something quite different from protecting unelected despots who pump oil.

The Democrats should be focusing on new issues and faces and promoting national optimism and an overdue return to a more inclusive broader-based populism. Instead, the leading members of the party - who have become the new reactionaries in American political life - choose to fixate on John Bolton and try to ankle-bite a wartime president working to bring democracy to the Middle East.

Apparently, the liberal opposition thinks sarcasm and negativism can reverse the larger political tide of the last three decades. Good luck.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Visit his Web site at www.victorhanson.com .