Why Is the Democratic Leadership Council Shutting Down?

Is the group that made the Democratic Party more centrist a victim of its own success?

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Just as President Obama is being hailed for his Clintonesque turn toward centrist policies--"Triangulation 2.0," in the words of multiple pundits--the icon of triangulation itself, the Democratic Leadership Council, has run out of cash and is closing up shop. The DLC has fallen far from its peak in the mid-90s, Politico's Ben Smith reports, and has had trouble raising money because of a cool relationship with the Obama administration.

After embarrassing losses in the 1980s, Al From founded the DLC to push the Democratic Party to the center. It seemed to succeed--think Bill Clinton and welfare reform--and for that reason the left has long seen the DLC as an enemy, turning promising politicians into mushy moderates. But the DLC's  not much of a bogeyman anymore--even its website looks very 90s. Its homepage features a months-old column by  Harold Ford, who lost his campaign to represent Tennessee in the Senate in 2006.

Is the DLC a victim of its own success? Or has the liberal netroots slayed a monster?

  • Mission Accomplished, Steven L. Taylor writes at Outside the Beltway. Clinton's election in 1992 and 1996 made the DLC "superfluous... As such, I am not sure that the organization has been especially relevant for almost two decades.  Despite what some on the rightward side of things may think, the main Democratic Party is actually a lot more like the centrist DLC than it used to be–much to the chagrin, in fact, of the more progressive wing of the party."
  • 'The DLC Disappeared Because Its Work Was Over,' The New Republic's Jonathan Chait writes, adding, "it's hard to remember, but the whole rise of the progressive netroots was organized around opposition to the DLC, which liberals saw as Satan incarnate" As for his own view?"I always had mixed feelings about the group. I think it was about half innovative effort to counterbalance traditional Democratic interest groups, and half naked effort to suck up to corporate America and/or give contentless messaging cover to red state Democrats."
  • Lieberman Was the Last Straw, Matt Yglesias writes at Think Progress. But if, as Jon Chait claims, the DLC's work is over, then why are similar organizations like Third Way thriving? "The key thing, I think," says Yglesias, "is that Al From's decision to go all-in on Joe Lieberman and the invasion of Iraq fatally weakened the institution. That didn't change the fact that there's a market" for moderate economic policy.
  • It Was All About the Money, Salon's Alex Pareene writes. In the 80s, the
basic idea was that Democrats were too liberal to win elections, and they all had to be more like the Democrats who carpet bombed Vietnam to prove that they weren't hippies. Except they got the calculation completely wrong. While that gutless old ward-heeler Hubert Humphrey certainly would've happily bombed all of Indochina into submission, he wouldn't have ever crossed the AFL-CIO. The DLC, on the other hand, sided with management, because in order the 'modernize' the party they had to modernize its donor list. ... While the New Left is typically blamed for the shattering of the post-War coalition and establishing the damning image of the Democrats as the party of elite coastal liberals, the Third Way New Democrats did the heavy lifting...
  • It's Because Moderate Dems Are Gone, Hot Air's Allahpundit counters. "Virtually everyone in Congress who might have listened to them--i.e. the Blue Dogs--was wiped out in the big red tsunami in November, and the few survivors left in the south are now busily converting to the GOP to protect themselves. ... They have every incentive, in other words, to tack right on some issues without Harold Ford urging them to do so."
  • A Sign of Polarization, Andrew Malcolm says. Clinton got hammered in the 1994 midterms, but then he "seized back the center and walloped the GOP in his 1996 reelect... Last November's electoral spanking was even worse than 1994 for Democrats. ... But how closely is this savvy repositioning president embracing the proven DLC model as undeniable proof of his change of political heart? He's not. Further evidence that both parties have moved farther to their own side of the road," as is the DLC's closing--in part because no one would lead the group that "Clinton said he could not have been elected without."
  • DLC's Ghost Will Haunt Dems, National Journal's Marc Ambinder argues. "No question: the Netroots and progressive left are at the center of gravity for the Democratic Party as an institution. There is a distinction, though, between energy and influence. And it still isn't clear how Democrats win the election without galvanizing the type of voters the DLC sought to attract. The group may be going away, but debates about its ideas will dominate politics for a long time to come."
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