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DLC Dies, But Its Ideas and Legacy Live On

Recent poster boy for DLC (grabbed from DLC YouTube)

For all the talk of how liberals picked up the “progressive” brand to evade the long history of demonization that conservatives associated with that word, the centrist wing of the party has pulled off a pretty impressive bit of brand management over the past several years.

In the beginning (OK, the 1990s) there was the DLC. And they represented the right flank of Democrats. They funneled their kind of candidates into office and pushed corporate-friendly “third way” ideas on the party. Throughout the Bush years, they became reviled by a new and more aggressive left that bubbled up from the blogs. In 2007 every Presidential candidate but Joe Biden came to Yearly Kos and not one came to the DLC’s forum. In a sign of their desperation they hired Harold Ford. They were seen as barely hanging on to whatever was left of their power by 2008.

In the space of two short years, Rahm Emanuel became White House chief of staff, and then a board member of Third Way, Bill Daley, replaced him. Emanuel’s co-author on a policy book and the last President of the DLC, Bruce Reed, became Biden’s Vice Presidential chief of staff. All of a sudden Third Way, before this time a fairly weak sister to the DLC, became significantly more prominent, with op-eds and position papers pretty much blanketing DC. With the hated DLC essentially replaced by Third Way, and with DLC acolytes installed throughout the government, there was no longer any need for the organization. And so, today, they dissolved.

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.

The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

The board apparently couldn’t find a replacement for Reed, and some anonymous source said it was hard finding donors for “a Democratic group that isn’t seen as an ally of the White House.”

That’s nonsense. That wing of the party has simply reinvented itself. I’ve been going to conventions for years where “DLC!” was used as a pejorative. Now it doesn’t exist. Its ideas are featured, however, in like-minded think tanks and organizations, and throughout the Congress and the White House at the highest levels. The conservative wing of the Democratic Party managed to shed its skin without altering its policy a whit.

Well done.

UPDATE: As Ezra Klein notes, the DLC’s preferred policy strategy – namely, “free market” solutions – now predominates in Democratic circles. And the Administration on down seeks to promote their business friendliness. As Klein concludes: “For better or for worse, the DLC won. That’s why potential donors and others are now comfortable letting it die.”

CommunityThe Bullpen

DLC Dies, But Its Ideas and Legacy Live On

For all the talk of how liberals picked up the “progressive” brand to evade the long history of demonization that conservatives associated with that word, the centrist wing of the party has pulled off a pretty impressive bit of brand management over the past several years.

In the beginning (OK, the 1990s) there was the DLC. And they represented the right flank of Democrats. They funneled their kind of candidates into office and pushed corporate-friendly “third way” ideas on the party. Throughout the Bush years, they became reviled by a new and more aggressive left that bubbled up from the blogs. In 2007 every Presidential candidate but Joe Biden came to Yearly Kos and not one came to the DLC’s forum. In a sign of their desperation they hired Harold Ford. They were seen as barely hanging on to whatever was left of their power by 2008.

In the space of two short years, Rahm Emanuel became White House chief of staff, and then a board member of Third Way, Bill Daley, replaced him. Emanuel’s co-author on a policy book and the last President of the DLC, Bruce Reed, became Biden’s Vice Presidential chief of staff. All of a sudden Third Way, before this time a fairly weak sister to the DLC, became significantly more prominent, with op-eds and position papers pretty much blanketing DC. With the hated DLC essentially replaced by Third Way, and with DLC acolytes installed throughout the government, there was no longer any need for the organization. And so, today, they dissolved.

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.

The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

The board apparently couldn’t find a replacement for Reed, and some anonymous source said it was hard finding donors for “a Democratic group that isn’t seen as an ally of the White House.”

That’s nonsense. That wing of the party has simply reinvented itself. I’ve been going to conventions for years where “DLC!” was used as a pejorative. Now it doesn’t exist. Its ideas are featured, however, in like-minded think tanks and organizations, and throughout the Congress and the White House at the highest levels. The conservative wing of the Democratic Party managed to shed its skin without altering its policy a whit.

Well done.

UPDATE: As Ezra Klein notes, the DLC’s preferred policy strategy – namely, “free market” solutions – now predominates in Democratic circles. And the Administration on down seeks to promote their business friendliness. As Klein concludes: “For better or for worse, the DLC won. That’s why potential donors and others are now comfortable letting it die.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen