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Posted at 6:32 PM ET, 02/ 7/2011

The decline and fall of the Democratic Leadership Council

By Chris Cillizza

The news, first reported by Politico's Ben Smith, that the Democratic Leadership Council will shut down -- possibly by the end of the week -- marks the end of an era in Democratic party politics.

"With its CEO Bruce Reed joining the Administration, the DLC Board of Directors has decided to suspend operations while it considers what the next phase of the DLC will be," DLC founder Al From said in a statement released this afternoon.

From, along with an up-and-coming politician named Bill Clinton, formed the group in 1985, a reaction to Ronald Reagan's sweeping presidential win in 1984.

The DLC's stated goal? "Creating a dynamic but centrist progressive movement of new ideas rooted in traditional American values," according to Clinton's autobiography "My Life".

(Among the other heavy hitters included in the early days of the DLC were Sens. Sam Nunn, Chuck Robb, Joe Lieberman and Al Gore as well as governors Lawton Chiles and Gerry Baliles.)

The zenith of the group's power came with the election of Clinton as president in 1992 on a heavily centrist platform.

Among the legislative victories the group claimed during those days included the creation of AmeriCorps, an expansion of the earned income tax credit and welfare reform.

In the wake of the Clinton years, however, the DLC fell on hard times as the liberal left -- primary through the blogosphere -- rose in opposition to the presidency of George W. Bush.

The liberal blogosphere in many ways positioned itself against the DLC, which it cast as a Republican-lite organization that did little to foster the foundational principles of the party.

"We pushed the party so far left that we positioned it squarely in the American mainstream and last year won a historic, sweeping congressional victory, something the 'centrist' groups had been unable to accomplish for decades -- not even in the DLC's glory days of the 1990s," wrote Markos Moulitsas and Susan Gardner in a 2007 op-ed in the Washington Post.

(Animosity from the liberal left toward the DLC is nothing new. Rev. Jesse Jackson once said the group's initials stood for "Democratic Leisure Class".)

The election of President Obama was another blow to the DLC. Obama didn't run from the DLC but neither did he run toward their principles either. And, the fact that Obama beat then New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary made the loss all that more stinging.

From's retirement from the DLC in 2009 was regarded by many as the beginning of the end although the hiring of Reed, another former Clinton aide, was seen as a possible saving grace.

Reed's departure to become chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year left the organization without a high profile leader.

In the wake of the DLC's collapse, other moderate Democratic groups argued that the sensible center still had a place in politics -- pointing to the rise of groups like Third Way, which remains a robust entity within the party with 37 staffers and a budget of upwardfs of $7 million.

"Al From built the DLC into one of the most important political organizations of the last quarter century, and Third Way is proud to carry on that legacy," said Matt Bennett, one of Third Way's co-founders.

With Karen Tumulty

By Chris Cillizza  | February 7, 2011; 6:32 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party  
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