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7/29/2004

Obnoxious DLC

The Democrats go to Boston and announce their love for each other. We act for the first time in a long time like a party, the democratic wing, the liberal wing, and the center-right wing all coming together to present a unified rejection of the conservative misgovernance of the Bush administration. Politicians old and new put fourth their visions for the party, how to move forward from our national nadir. And it is all fitting together pretty well.

But the DLC just can't handle it. I'm not sure if it is just because I don't like Al From or what, but the DLC gets under my skin almost as much as Tom Delay and Halliburton. I appreciate the ideas PPI brings to the table, I receive the NDOL newsletter, hell, I've even gone to two different DLC conventions. But they just don't get what it means to belong to a political party or how to operate in a two party system.

Consider David Broder's column in today's Washington Post. The condescension starts in the opening paragraphs.

The Democrats have convinced most of the journalists covering their convention here that their party has eliminated most of its internal differences. That is true, unless you count the gap between the party's head and its heart.

The head -- the platform and the policy ideas embraced by John Kerry and John Edwards -- belongs to the New Democrats, the group that 20 years ago founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which became the political base for Bill Clinton.
The DLC would be the head of the party if it was capable of sophisticated political thought. Triangulation is not a heady philosophy. George W. Bush even understands this, with his "We're not going to negotiate with ourselves" approach to politics. The DLC doesn't bother to negotiate with conservatives - it concedes before negotiations begin. A triangle requires two separate points in its base. The DLC's strategy would simply produce a new line, with a significantly larger left margin of excluded policies, ideas, and people.

The most damning aspect of the DLC is that it has internalized so many of the right wing caricatures of the left. When I read our platform, I could quibble (particularly with its lack of discussion of transparency, a glaring weakness), but I thought it fairly represented my positions. Yet Broder, and I suspect the DLC itself, read it as representing their views. And it does - but not exclusively. It is an ambiguous document, well designed to incorporate many perspectives. They have no exclusive claim to it.
Kerry, who voted to give Bush authority to take on Saddam Hussein, easily dispatched the challenge of antiwar candidates Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Bob Graham. Then he filled out his ticket with Edwards, who had voted the same way he had. Unlike the delegates, they say that American troops should remain in Iraq as long as it takes to stabilize its democracy. On that -- and on a variety of domestic issues -- their policies reflect the views of the DLC and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

Originally, some key DLC leaders backed Joe Lieberman, a former DLC chairman, for the nomination. But when he faltered, they had no problem switching to Kerry, who had been active in their group as well. Edwards was not a DLC member, but only because he saw that Lieberman and Kerry had a better claim on its support. His policy views are perfectly compatible with the group's.
I would bet David Broder $500 that had the DLC endorsed Kerry he would not have won the nomination (knowing that Broder would welsh). Lieberman was a doomed candidate from the beginning - that the DLC endorsed him shows how addled their political mind is - but the DLC endorsement hung like an albatross around his neck. Kerry and Edwards can make a claim for the allegiance of the democratic wing of the party because they have been willing to stand up to the conservatives: they aren't members of the new Committee on the Present Danger. They don't hink labor is a dirty word. They are being attacked by conservatives as being liberals - if nothing else, we have a stake in proving that "liberal" isn;t a dirty word.

I probably wouldn't have voted for Lieberman in a general election, and I would support a Nader candidacy against him in 2006.
Al From, the longtime chief executive of the DLC, says confidently that "the debate within the party is over and we have won."
This is why I don't like Al From. He "won" the debate in the same way Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly "win" their debates - by marginalizing and excluding their opponents.

The DLC has frequently argued that liberalism just isn't politically feasible, and their mealy mouthed centrism is the best we can do - call it reluctant accomodationism. When Howard Dean offered an alternative - muscular liberalism - the DLC mocked it, despite his strong record on many of their issues. Until they recognize that activist Democrats are "real people" and not "elites," they have no claim to my head, and I question whether they have any head at all.

 

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