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Where did the DLC go wrong?

May 17, 2008

TPT writes the obituary of the DLC

Although the most recent Oregon polls suggests that Hillary Clinton cannot be discounted, Barack Obama is still clear favourite to be the Democratic nominee. Although the respected political consultant Dan Gerstein says that Obama’s victory represents the triumph of the moderates within the Democratic party, I have to respectfully disagree. Indeed, this seems to be represent a repudiation of the once influential DLC and the triumph of the antiwar left, as represented by the internet site, and pressure groups, Daily Kos. Indeed, last year no candidate attended the annual DLC forum, choosing instead to go to Yearly Kos. In contrast, only eight years ago the DLC would be riding high, with a ticket made up a (then) moderate Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. Who would have thought that Hillary Clinton, the doyenne of the Democratic left, would be considered too right wing for the new model Democratic Party? Of course, the DLC has been extremely unlucky since Mark Warner’s decision not to enter the nomination contest and the razor-thin defeat of Harold Ford Jr in 2006 robbed the DLC of two of its most promising politicians. However, this explanation is unsatisfactory since the success of John McCain in the Republican primaries proves that a candidate can win by swimming against his party’s tide.

The reason why I think the DLC failed was that it spent too much time philosophising. Instead of simply adopting an updated JFK style agenda for the 21st century, or an Americanised version of Blairism, it spent too much time in search of some ‘third way’. It is not particularly difficult to say that one is a moderate progressive on economics, hawkish on foreign policy and that one realises that some family values need to be returned to the public square. There was also the problem that it emphasised the electoral rewards for being centrist on many issues, especially family values, rather than promoting the rationale behind these issues. Although Joe Lieberman and Wittmann were clearly people who managed to combine a liberal stance on abortion with a genuine concern about the mainstreaming of poronography and the decline of the two parent family, the stances of other members of the DLC could be perceived as more opportunistic. Indeed, some members of the DLC sounded like the fictional Mayor “Tommy” J. Carcetti, whose concern for law and order was opportunistic. The most obvious example of this was Cory Booker, who ran on a ticket of law and order in Newark, only to turn into a pro-drug legalisation tax hiker once he was elected.

With the exception of Joe Lieberman, the DLC members spent too much time making their message on Iraq unnecessarily complicated. Instead of simply saying that they favoured a combination of a more aggressive counterinsurgency strategy and staying the course they waffled. Even the normally excellent Marshall Wittmann once wrote, ‘The Third Camp stands between the Administration “stay the course” and the “withdrawal now” forces. It includes both supporters of the decision to go to war and critics. Its leaders include John McCain, Joe Biden and Wes Clark’. Although I prefer Biden’s stance on Iraq to that of Barack Obama, ultimately he and Clark have never been supporters of the war in the war that McCain or Lieberman have, and for Wittman to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. Iraq is one of those issues where there is no ‘third camp’ (except possibly in calling for an more aggressive counterinsurgency strategy). Although a big tent is important, so is fighting one’s corner, especially when it is under attack.

Clearly, thing could swing again back in the DLC’s favour, but history is not encouraging. Indeed, the twenty-four year gap between LBJ and Bill Clinton was too long shows how long a philosophy (and a party) can remain cut off from the electorate, and even then Clinton was disappointing in many respects. Even if Hillary manages to surprise the critics, and become the Democratic nominee, the Democratic party will still be committed to an isolationist trade and foreign policy, although not perhaps such an extreme one. The correct strategy would be for DLC, and members of the more socially conservative Blue Dog coalition, to cut themselves off from the General Election, or even to endorse McCain, and hope that Obama will be defeated by McCain. With the Daily Kos wing of the Democratic party discredited, the up and coming leaders of the DLC, such as Ken Salazar, Mark Warner and Harold Ford Jr, can then fight their corner for the Democratic nomination in 2012.

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One comment

  1. […] The Political Tipster suggests one avenue for Blue Dogs and DLCer to get free of the “netroots”/Daily Kos/Moveon.org wing of the Democrat Party: The correct strategy would be for DLC, and members of the more socially conservative Blue Dog coalition, to cut themselves off from the General Election, or even to endorse McCain, and hope that Obama will be defeated by McCain. With the Daily Kos wing of the Democratic party discredited, the up and coming leaders of the DLC, such as Ken Salazar, Mark Warner and Harold Ford Jr, can then fight their corner for the Democratic nomination in 2012. […]



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