DLC: Dead or Reborn?
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of a group that has seen its power and influence wane since the presidency of Bill Clinton or the death knell of an out-of-date organization?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.
"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.
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