Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean was in Aspen Saturday, raising money for Democratic candidates and rallying the faithful. Taking a page from Newt Gingrich’s 1994 playbook, he outlined Democrats’ goals as:

* A raise in the federal minimum wage;
* “Real” stem cell research;
* A balanced federal budget;
* Ethics legislation;
* No selling of public lands “for corporate benefits.”

Dean stressed the need for Democrats to present voters with a “clear alternative” to Republicans.

To do that, Dean is working with the Democratic leadership to draft a “value statement” to articulate the party’s vision. “We haven’t seen this since the 1950s … and it has to mean something.”

That’s easier said than done. The Democrats’ problem for years has been their inability to agree on and present a “values” message. Differences on specific issues seem to get in the way.

In Colorado, the Democratic leaders’ lukewarm response to Bill Ritter is a prime example of the party’s inability to distinguish between values and specific positions on issues. They critically harped on Ritter’s personal pro-life views when they should have focused on helping him build a coherent and value-laden message to differentiate him from the Republican alternatives.

If Democrats have any hope of winning elections in 2006 and 2008, they must learn how to speak to voters in their language and tell them what Democrats stand for. Once voters know they are the party that cares about “health care, taxes, public education, energy policy and jobs,” and that they can do a better job of providing for national security and planning an an exit strategy from Iraq, maybe the rest will fall into place.