Friday, July 21, 2006

Centrist Democrats convene

The Democratic Leadership Council, bastion of Clintonism, is meeting this weekend in Denver.

The Denver gathering is scheduled to hear from the putative Democratic frontrunner for 2008, Senator Clinton, as well as other possible contenders such as Senator Bayh of Indiana, Governor Vilsack of Iowa, and Governor Richardson of New Mexico.

Their main conflict is not with Republicans but with the netroots left epitomized by Howard Dean and DailyKos.

The tension dates back to the last presidential race when council officials threw cold water on the populist, Webdriven campaign of Howard Dean. Dr. Dean, who is now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, derided the council as the "Republican wing of the Democratic Party." A sharp-tongued aide for a Dean rival told the New Republic that the Vermont governor's Internet-savvy backers resembled the grotesque denizens of the "bar scene from ‘Star Wars.'"

The conflict between the two camps is so intense that when Mrs. Clinton appeared before the council last year and called for a halt to the internecine fighting, bloggers unleashed attacks on her that are still reverberating. A newspaper report in May that Mrs. Clinton hoped to create a unified Democratic agenda under the council's aegis received two reactions from a leading liberal blogger, Markos Moulitsas of, "LOL," shorthand for "laugh out loud," and "DOA," meaning "dead on arrival."

I'm of a couple of minds about this.

I think the Democrats need to have a knock-down, drag-out battle for the soul of the party. But they also need to be a big-tent party. That makes defining the party's "soul", much less fighting for it, a difficult task. In an ideal world, the party would define a few broad principles and let each individual candidate decide on specific policy positions. The trouble is that such a necessarily vague appeal will be inherently less persuasive than more ideological rhetoric. So the practical often loses out to the seductive.

Then there's the practical problem of reconciling certain policies with a big-tent approach:

Mr. Sirota scoffed at the notion that, with Mrs. Clinton's prodding, the DLC can lead a "big tent" coalition. "You can't put the steelworkers, working class people, in the same tent with an organization that continues to push trade policies that sell out workers," he said. "I don't care how big a tent you have. You just can't do it."

That's another reason to stick to broad principles on the party level while working with individual candidates to craft policy. All in all, though, I like the philosophy behind the DLC -- an effort to confront the entrenched interests of the old Democratic Party. I like much of what the DLC advocates. I do wonder on occasion if they have been co-opted by the Clintonistas, but as long as they stand by their stated principles, I'm happy.

Which is good, because while I like Howard Dean, I think some of the policies he embraced in 2004 were ill-advised. And the Kossacks can be just plain nuts. I find them more palatable than fire-breathing conservatives, if only because they're generally less bloodthirsty. But I have no interest in seeing them become the dominant force within one of the major parties.

So I wish the DLC well. If they can establish firm control of the party while giving the netroots faction a place to express itself within the party, it would bode well for moderates -- and Democrats -- in the upcoming elections.

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Blogger JP said...

Problem is, they don't have the core principles defined yet, not in bullet points like the Republicans anyway. A framework within which to explain individual positions would make things a lot easier for them.

7/21/2006 10:04 PM  
Blogger KDJ said...

JP-You have the bulletpoints right there on your blog from the New Direction for America.

However, I heard Bill Clinton give a few of his own here in Orlando a few weeks back: Equal opportunity, shared responsibility, and an inclusive community. I like those a lot.

I am a DLCer and am proud of it. That organization produces more ideas and practical solutions to America's problems than the blogosphere ever has. However, I wish the two groups would work together in the sense that the DLC would come up with the ideas and the blogopshere would talk about them, promote them, and even help put them into action with their netroots candidates.

7/21/2006 10:35 PM  

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