Magazine article The American Prospect

The DLC Flunks Politics 101: Why Democrats Need Their Base-As Well as Swing Voters. (Gazette)

Magazine article The American Prospect

The DLC Flunks Politics 101: Why Democrats Need Their Base-As Well as Swing Voters. (Gazette)

Article excerpt

DEMOCRATS HAVE A PENCHANT for circular firing squads, particularly in the wake of electoral defeat. Once more, a first salvo has come from the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which has made its name sniping at other Democrats. In a confidential memorandum on the "Road Ahead," the DLC's Al From and Bruce Reed surveyed the 2002 election and decided--why does this not surprise?--that the party's problems are being "too liberal" and focusing too much on its base at the expense of the "forgotten middle class." Its salvation can only come by lurching to the right, particularly by being tougher than Bush on terrorism and Iraq.

The memo is a virtual recipe for defeat, a clear example of the thinking Democrats must shun if they are to revive. There should be no confusion about why Democrats lost ground in an agonizingly close 2002 election. Led by the president, who raised record sums and personally drove the late surge, Republicans ran a ruthlessly efficient campaign. The White House rolled out the Iraq debate to define an election about national security. Republicans shamelessly dressed themselves up as reformers on the domestic issues--prescription drugs, corporate accountability, Social Security--that they feared would be most damaging. They mobilized millions via independent ads, used to blur party differences and paid for by corporate allies. And they poured resources into getting out their vote, using an institutional capacity that far outstrips anything on the Democratic side.

Contrary to the DLC, Democrats did not counter this onslaught with a campaign focused on their base. Leaders hardly had a national message at all. They recruited anti-choice, pro-gun candidates for swing, conservative districts. They chose to stand with Bush on terrorism and Iraq because they didn't want to argue about national security. They failed to offer their own economic plan, instead carping about risks of recession. Senators in contested races even embraced the Bush tax cuts. The Senate majority was too divided to embrace real corporate accountability or pension reform, or even to pass a prescription-drug plan. Defense of Social Security was the oasis in an otherwise barren desert.

From and Reed sensibly indict the party for having had "too little to say and [having] been too timid to say it," and for failing to offer a "coherent plan for economic growth." But they ignore the VLC's own contribution to this failure. Last year, Reed was advising legislators that no big program was needed because Democrats could win just by attacking Republican excesses.

They now criticize the party for blowing the corporate scandals, but this summer From and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) were warning Democrats not to be "too anti-corporate," justifying Lieberman's timidity as chair of the committee investigating Enron.

From and Reed now criticize Democrats for walking into a trap on homeland security, a "phony debate over the makeup of a department that ... isn't enough to ... solve the problem anyway." But they fail to mention that their champion, Lieberman, pushed the idea as a way of looking tough on security.

From and Reed now rebuke Bush's "tax cuts for the rich," but earlier warned against liberal "class warfare." The DLC did join with liberals in opposing the Bush tax cuts. But when conservative Democratic senators embraced the cuts, the DLC's fixation on budget balancing helped leave Democrats tongue-tied.

THE DLC POSTMORTEM READS AS if the authors were frozen in some kind of Groundhog Day circa 1985. Democrats focus too much on their base and have neglected "the forgotten middle class." The supposed progress made under Bill Clinton on values (!) and national security (!) has now been erased. Dems are turning out their faithful but losing the suburbs. "There are more conservatives than liberals ... and more independents than either Republicans or Democrats," so Democrats have to stop catering to their base and focus on swing voters, presumably the white "office-park dads," the most Republican portion of the electorate, that the DLC has touted in past memos. …

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