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DLC: Dead or Reborn?

Bill Clinton's presidency marked the high water mark for the Democratic Leadership Council. (AP Photo/Mike Wintroath)

The recent retirement of Democratic Leadership Council chief executive Al From and the decoupling of the DLC and the Progressive Policy Institute, its longtime think tank, mark the first major changes at the organization in the better part of a decade.

Are these changes the first steps in the re-imagining of a group that has seen its power and influence wane since the presidency of Bill Clinton or the death knell of an out-of-date organization?

That depends on who you ask.

Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the liberal Daily Kos Web site and a frequent critic of the DLC, sees only doom and gloom in the recent developments.

"The DLC's way of doing politics, of trying to blur the differences between us and Republicans, gave us a Republican majority, eight years of George W. Bush and little hope for victory," he said. "It was only when Democrats were convinced (in large part by us) to call for withdrawal from Iraq and stand strong against social security privatization that they started to get their mojo back."

Bruce Reed, the new president of the DLC, not surprisingly sees things very differently. In a piece for Slate magazine, Reed argued that Obama is, in fact, a "New Democrat" and noted that the president's call for responsibility and accountability are directly in line with the DLC's values.

Wrote Reed:

"As Obama and others have observed, the traditional terms of the ideological debate -- liberal and progressive, moderate and centrist, conservative and right-wing -- are stale and imprecise. Obama has the opportunity to define a governing philosophy for our time on his own terms."

(Moulitsas, for his part, flagged a piece written in 2003 in which Obama seemed to reject the "New Democrat" label.)
Others aligned with the DLC movement -- including chairman Harold Ford Jr. -- argue that Obama's Cabinet choices and senior staff picks are evidence of his DLC leanings.

"Look at the personnel in the Obama Administration starting with the chief of staff [and] you have a strong DLC presence," said Ford. "Across the board at some of the Cabinet positions, many of them come from that wing of the party."

A quick glance at Obama's Cabinet shows five secretaries (or secretaries-designate) with close DLC ties: Tom Vilsack (Agriculture), Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services), Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security), Ken Salazar (Interior) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (State).

But, the most important Obama administration figure with the strongest hand in determining the future propsects of the DLC isn't any of those Cabinet members but rather chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel and Reed have a long and close relationship, having worked together in the Clinton White House and co-authored a book -- entitled "The Plan" -- in 2006. The two men speak regularly and Reed, in an interview with the Fix, emphasized their relationship.

"This White House has an insatiable appetite for ideas," Reed said. "In my experience, it's always better to give Rahm what he wants."

The truth is that it's too early in the Obama administration to determine whether the DLC can re-make itself into a player or not.

Reed's connection to Emanuel ensures that DLC ideas will get a full hearing in the White House but the organization remains behind the curve when it comes the pace of producing policy proposals -- especially when compared to newer (and more liberal) ideas incubators like the Center for American Progress.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 23, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party  
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Mark Who founder of the Daily What?

Posted by: lithium452 | March 24, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

If I were Obama/Rahm I don't think I would let this group have any real with who brung ya'!

Posted by: newbeeboy | March 24, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

the country was pushed to far to the right under bush-cheney that the progressive platform of the netroots ended up being center-left rather than any real progressive platform.

i have a feeling that both are correct. obama is probably further left in his opinions than the way he will govern. he'll try to find a way between more moderate and more progressive approaches to a problem because he's an incrementalist. by coating the progressive policies with DLC flavoring, the "medicine" will taste like bubble gum. but over the long haul, everything will be much healthier.

Posted by: plathman | March 23, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse


Obama has proven himself to be a cautious pragmatist, so he would seem to fit more neatly into the DLC pidgeon-hole.

But with Leon Panetta, Eric Holder, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod within the presidential ambit...

...and as POTUS consolidates power and recognizes the necessity of ferreting out hold-over saboteurs and Dr. Strangeloves...

...perhaps he'll move closer to the Center for American Progress model.

Or so hopes the "base" who got him elected.



* Silent, covert microwave radiation weapons (D.E.W.) assaults on innocent but "targeted" U.S. citizens;

* Terroristic vigilante community gang stalking, surreptitious home entry, police-tolerated vandalism;

* Secret federal "programs of personal financial destruction" that have used the IRS as an ideological tool of "social cleansing."

OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 23, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Its funny because dems on the left claimed they wanted a more liberal party but voted overwhelmingly for a centrist like Obama.  I fully expect the DLC to emerge quite prominently over the next decade which should not surprise or anger liberal dems because you get what you vote for.

Posted by: ohjamboree | March 23, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The DLC remains relevant b/c "Red State" House members and Senators hold the fate of Obama's legislative priorities in their hands. The DLC was never a bottom-up organization but a top-down entity that thrived b/c DC Democrats wanted and needed its ideas and moderate stances.

While the netroots believes it is challenging the DLC, they are not, in fact, competitors. Heath Shuler, Jon Tester, and other Blue Dogs don't pay any heed to the netroots. As long as the Blue Dogs exist (and they are a stronger entity due to the 2006, 2008, and Obama's hopes for reelection hinges upon North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia), the DLC will remain relevants. As a Democrat, I want moderates to remain at the center of my party. Look at what the ideologues have done to the GOP. Obama understands this--I hope Reid and Pelosi do as well.

Posted by: bloodwor003 | March 23, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

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