Tuesday, July 31, 2007

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Dan Balz confuses me

Over at the Washington Post's blog The Trail, Dan Balz makes an observation about the Democrats shifting to the left:

The story line almost writes itself: Democratic president candidates snub centrists but plan to court liberal bloggers. Another sign of the party's leftward drift?

That's the easy and partially correct interpretation of what is happening this week. But not the whole story.

In the past two years, the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC's) annual summer meeting has been a Mecca for would-be candidates. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton was there along with three Democrats who have since fallen by the wayside: Evan Bayh, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack. Last year in Denver, Clinton among others was there again.

Today, none of the presidential candidates will be in Nashville to address the group that helped redefine the Democratic Party in the late '80s and early '90s -- but the man who did most to put the DLC on the map and who used it as a springboard to the presidency, Bill Clinton, will be.

The candidates cite scheduling conflicts for their absence in Nashville, but a number of them have found time later this week to address the second Yearly Kos convention in Chicago--a clear sign of the ascendance of the blogosphere's influence on politics generally and the Democratic Party in particular.

So what's the whole story? I'm not entirely sure. Balz implies that the DLC is simply less relevant now because of, "the collective desire to put aside what differences remain and focus on winning the White House in 2008." Um, OK, but didn't that collective desire also exist in 2004? Isn't the primary difference between then and now is that the netroots are better organized?

Then Balz closes with:

The Democratic Party has moved to the left since Bill Clinton left office and many independents have moved toward the Democrats because of the Iraq war. But DLC officials predict the party's nominee almost certainly will be at next summer's gathering.
Again, that's actually a sign of waning DLC influence. What matters now is whether the DLC-types can influence who the nominee will be. They have little choice but to provide a platform for whoever the Dems pick.

The fact that YearlyKos matters more than the DLC seems like pretty damning straightforward and uncomplicated evidence to me of where the party has traveled over the last four years.

UPDATE: Changed the word "damning" -- it was a bit more pejorative than I had intended.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum thinks the shift is less about substance than style:

The real difference is that the average Kossack is obsessed with Democrats having the stones to stand up to the modern Republican machine. Presidential candidates get trashed in the Kos diaries not so much when they take disfavored policy positions (though of course that happens too), but when they're viewed as backing down from a fight. The median Kossack may indeed be to the left of the median Democrat it would be shocking if an activist group weren't but mainly they just want their candidates to show some backbone.

I suppose in some sense this is a distinction without a difference. A median Democrat who stands up to the GOP and refuses to budge is, willy nilly, going to end up to the left of a median Democrat who looks for bipartisan compromise. But let's face it: if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you'd see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party's positions ten years ago. If that's the case, though, I've missed it. No one's talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one's proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they're personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that's a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.


posted by Dan on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM




Comments:

That the presidential candidates of the left-leaning party would prioritize a gathering of those on the left during the middle of their campaign to win the nomination of the left-leaning party hardly seems like news.

I think that's all the more true when you consider polling of late that suggests the country (aka, the voters) has moved to the left. That the presidential canidates would seek to move closer to the voters is, again, not surprising.

And that latter bit seems to me the matter of real importance when one considers the upcoming election. Is it the Democratic Party moving left - or is it the national electorate?

posted by: Scott on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



The DLC was the last Democratic organization to get a President elected. That was 15 years ago. That President won the popular vote by a small margin against a very unpopular incumbent, when there was a conservative 3rd party candidate attracting many votes in key battleground states.

The next two Democratic Presidential candidates pulled away from the DLC. The first won the popular vote but still lost the election, while the second lost by a very small margin against another very unpopular incumbent.

If the netroots and other Democrats really want to win, I'm thinking it might be a good idea for them to include the DLC in their coalition. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don't think Iraq is going to be enough, especially if they insist on national health care and card checks.

posted by: kwo on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



Dan,

Given that the DLC played a major role in setting the table for the Iraq War and continued to hurl insults and question the patriotism of War opponents well into the disaster, it would be pretty bizarre if the candidates chose them over YearlyKos.

It's true that the last election the Dems won came out of the DLC, but I wouldn't want to bet money that either Clinton or Gore would choose them over YearlyKos this time.

Would you?

-- Joel

posted by: Joel on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



Kwo,
How much did Gore and Kerry really pull away from the DLC? The DLC is corporate backed. How is that good for the Democrats? Who was Gore's VP nominee? That's right, it was some fraud named Joe "HoJo" Lieberman. And who is the featured speaker at the DLC convention this week? So guy named Joe Lieberman. The DLC is a centrist organization? Says who? The discredited MSM? The DLC'ers are wolves in sheep clothing. How did the DLC candidate do in the Senate primary last year in Montana? The DLC has no natural constituency. What does the DLC stand for? Selling out of Democratic values, that is what it stands for. If they want to sell out voters to the interests of big business let them go be Republicans. Besides, I wonder how DLC'er Mary Landrieu feels about fellow DLC'er Lieberman after he stabbed her in the back as regards Hurricane Katrina. The candidates all know that associating themselves openly with the DLC anymore will be their political death. Why do you think it was important that Howard Dean become head of the DLC. If the DLC is so great, how come we never had control of Congress but for two years, in their hayday? Terry MacAuliffe sure was a successful party chairman, wasn't he?

posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



Joel,
See my comment above. What has the DLC given the Democrats given the besides getting Clinton elected twice? Nothing. They lost control of both Houses of Congress while on the DLC's watch. They lost two presidential elections. Not a very good record. Besides, look at the DLC candidates, too business friendly for most Democrats. The Democrats used to be for the working people, not the corporations. The DLC is completely corporate funded(except maybe a few rich individuals). They were also vocally pro-war. Al From is a cancer on the Democratic Party. Why do you think the netroots sprang up? It was because Dems were pissed that they kept losing elections. Losing elections to complete jackasses(like our current president). As I asked above, besides two Clinton victories, what good has the DLC been for the Democratic Party? Is From is really a Democrat, why does he insist on bashing fellow Dems in public? The DLC is exists to bust the Democratic Party.

posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



The fact that YearlyKos matters more than the DLC seems like pretty damning and uncomplicated evidence to me of where the party has traveled over the last four years.

Damning of whom? 70% of the country is to the left of the DLC when it comes to Iraq. If not now, soon more than 50% of the country will be to the left of the DLC when it comes to Universal Health Insurance.

The DLC was thought to be a voice for all the Independants looking for an excuse or justification to vote with the Democrats. Unfortunately, it is now just a voice for certain corporate sponsors, and for anachronisms like Joe Lieberman. Good riddance to them.

posted by: Xenos on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



Xenos,
You are right. In fact, I think more than 50% want universal health care. After all, what is Medicare and Medicaid? Most elderly people I know seem to like it pretty well. Why not extend that to the whole population?

posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



It seems fairly simple to me. The Dem candidates embraced the "Kos" type sites when it appeared advantageous to them early on, and are now afraid to cross them by appearing at the more moderate DLC during the primary season.

So they'll do their "YearlyKos" appearances to bolster their "cred" in the left-wing blogosphere -- or more accurately, to avoid the wrath that would be visited upon them by slighting same.

The fireworks start after the nomination is cinched and the nominee starts moving away from the fringe in prep for the general -- it's going to be ugly, but what the heck, the Dems not only embraced, but enhanced the power of the left-wing blogs when it suited them, so they'll have to take the heat as they move away from them as well.

I guess the question is whether the "Kos" faction will be able to constrain their anger at the upcoming abandonment during the final run-up to 11/08, or if they'll stomp their feet and damage the nominee closest, but not close enough in their eyes, to their ideology?

posted by: Mark H. on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



The DLC was a useful tool when conservatism was in its ascendancy.

During that point in time, being farther right was a good thing.

The DLC at that time was in the direction the pendulum was swinging.

Now, the pendulum is changing directions.

Now the DLC is in the direction the pendulum is swinging away from.

posted by: paul on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



I'm not sure how important DLC is right now outside of the fundraising department, but the Kos gathering reflects an interesting sort of convergence between the parties.

In recent history the lowest common denominator in Republican Party Presidential politics has been the desire for a strong leader who will stand up to liberals and the media. Its counterpart in the Democratic Party has been unqualified loyalty to each of "the groups": organized interests with very specific policy agendas.

No Republican could get nominated for the Presidency without at least looking like a strong leader who would stand up to the hated liberals (though the first George Bush got a kind of half-pass from party conservatives because he ran under Reagan's aegis); no Democrat who didn't get behind the whole agenda of the teachers' union, the feminist groups, the supporters of Israel and most of all the trial lawyers (the Democrats haven't nominated a Presidential candidate who did not go to law school since 1980) could get nominated by that party.

What Kos represents is the increasing importance for Democrats of finding candidates who will stand up to the hated Republicans and the media associated with them. This reflects among other things Democrats' long-belated recognition that supporters of all "the groups'" added together do not make up a majority in Presidential electoral politics; it isn't any longer thought enough to reach consensus among Democrats on a candidate -- that candidate has to demonstrate an appropriate level of toughness and hostility toward the other party and its symbols.

Republicans for their part have in recent years demonstrated an increasing degree of hyper-responsiveness to specific interests demanding action on very narrow issues. An example was the somewhat degrading Congressional debate a couple of years ago about Terry Schiavo, a woman without brain function who the pro-life and evangelical groups became determined to prevent from being allowed to die under Florida law.

Of course, the Republicans haven't lost their zeal for candidates who look like strong leaders and stand up to the liberals and the media, and Democrats appear as devoted to having their candidates recite interest-group catechisms as they ever were. Both parties nonetheless seem determined to adopt each other's salient characteristics.

posted by: Zathras on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



The DLC was the last Democratic organization to get a President elected. That was 15 years ago.

Well, 11, but who's counting? In any case, putting aside the DLC itself, try to remember the last time a Democrat was elected president from the liberal wing of the party. (Carter's post-presidential reputation aside, he was the conservative Democratic candidate; that's why Kennedy challenged him from the left in 1980.)


How much did Gore and Kerry really pull away from the DLC? The DLC is corporate backed. How is that good for the Democrats?

Well, someone has to actually produce something of value for the left side of the Democratic Party to confiscate and redistribute.

Seriously, you realize that corporations are not actually a bad thing, right?

posted by: David Nieporent on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



The DLC was the last Democratic organization to get a President elected. That was 15 years ago.

Well, 11, but who's counting? In any case, putting aside the DLC itself, try to remember the last time a Democrat was elected president from the liberal wing of the party. (Carter's post-presidential reputation aside, he was the conservative Democratic candidate; that's why Kennedy challenged him from the left in 1980.)


How much did Gore and Kerry really pull away from the DLC? The DLC is corporate backed. How is that good for the Democrats?

Well, someone has to actually produce something of value for the left side of the Democratic Party to confiscate and redistribute.

Seriously, you realize that corporations are not actually a bad thing, right?

posted by: David Nieporent on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



it's not so much about the direction the Dems are going but rather the direction Republicans have gone. Extremes on one side provoke extremes on the other - which suits Rove just fine since he reckons forced to choose between the extremes the center will lean right. Look at Cheney's CNN interview last night - it was all about stoking partisan flames because he knows the further left you can drive the Dems the better it suits Republican needs. I mean if your plan is to blame failure in Iraq on cut and run lefties, and that obviously is their plan, then forcing erstwhile centrist candidates like Hillary left, which has happened, well that's sauce for the goose.

So Dan it's disingenuous to talk about the damning evidence of a slide toward the Kos element without mentioning the real reason for the slide.

posted by: gus on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]



Seriously, you realize that corporations are not actually a bad thing, right?

Corporations are morally neutral. One can admit there are many good reasons for allowing them to exist and prosper without wanting them to have much political influence. And when lefties condemn corporations, they are generally being critical of corporate insiders who use corporations to enrich themselves and leave the inconvenient externalities (eg. pollution, harm to consumers, corruption of the political process) to be born by the rest of the population.

"big, bad corporations" is just shorthand for "big, bad corporatist class". Given the tremendous accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of what could fairly be described as a corporatist class, it is fair to open them up to criticism without distracting the debate into the abstract question of whether corporations are legitimate legal and social entities.

posted by: Xenos on 07.31.07 at 09:33 AM [permalink]






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