Sunday, August 12, 2007

DLC: Dinosaur-Like Centrist

I wrote about this a couple weeks back when the DLC was making its way to Nashville, but never posted it. However, it seems the topic is still timely; Democratic “centrism” has turned up over at TN Guerilla Women, Volunteer Voters and a few other places, not to mention Friday’s Tennessean Op-Ed by Tim Alexander, so I thought I’d take another stab at it.

I’m sick of hearing people talk about the Democrats “ceding the South” when they do anything that makes them look less like Republicans. The Democratic Party’s “50 State Strategy” doesn’t “cede” any state or region of the country. What these people are really saying is that the Democratic Party has failed to suck up to Southern conservatives on cultural issues. And I say, why should we? We’re Democrats, not Republicans!

Tim Alexander wrote on Friday:
Democrats must admit they have been about silencing faith in the public square. They have been wrong about promoting abortion. They have been wrong to embrace illegal aliens. They have been wrong to attack traditional families and support gay marriage. Until Democrats admit they have been wrong to embrace policies that frighten those who elect them, they will continue to lose.

Alexander has a few choice words for Republicans, too:

They have made the world safe for Halliburton. Republicans protect countries that protect terrorists. Schools can crumble, factories can close, health care can vanish, and seniors can die destitute. But woe to the one who would attach community responsibility to individual freedom. Woe to the one who claims national interest trumps corporate greed. Woe to the one who values blood more than oil.

So I suppose that makes Alexander a “centrist.” But Alexander is wrong when he says Democrats have “promoted” abortion and “attacked” faith and traditional families. He’s merely repeating conservative talking points one hears on Fox News and conservative talk radio any day of the week. It’s right-wing propaganda designed to label Democrats as godless heathens, the implication being if you vote for a Democrat then you’re a godless heathen, too.

What folks like Tim Alexander are really saying is, “Democrats don’t agree with me on cultural issues, so they are out of touch with Southern voters.” I think that’s just wrong. The “cultural” issues he mentions are Republican issues, they are part of the GOP Platform. Alexander is probably pissed that the political party that agrees with him on cultural issues ended up being corporate suck-ups inept at governing. Well, sucks to be you. I really don’t see how this has anything to do with Southern voters or Northern ones; the issues he mentions are national ones.

Democrats have cultural issues, too. Like poverty, better wages for workers, and healthcare for all. It’s true that on the right’s cultural issues, Democrats are horribly inept at articulating a position. For instance, I don’t see Democrats embracing gay marriage--if anything, they run far and fast from it, too scared to take a stand. The reason is people like Tim Alexander, Harold Ford Jr. and the DLC “centrists” who keep telling them to be more middle-of-the-road on this stuff, better to avoid alienating independent voters.

Bullshit. I don’t see Democrats winning any hearts and minds by adopting the same conservative cultural stands that have driven a wedge through the Republican Party and created the largest block of independent voters in recent memory. Here’s an example: Democrats don’t “promote” abortion but they do believe it should remain legal, safe and accessible for those who choose that option. If you believe abortion is murder, then by all means, don’t have one. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

President Bush and the other Texas GOPers at the Republican helm steered their ship hard right. That may make Democrats look ultra liberal by comparison, but it doesn’t mean they are ultra-liberal. And I don’t see why Democrats have to veer right just because the Republicans made the mistake of going that way.

That’s what Harold Ford Jr. and the other DLCers don’t get. Noam Scheiber’s July 28 New York Times Op-Ed explained it well:

... George W. Bush taught Democrats of all stripes that their differences with one another were minor compared with the differences between them and Republicans. For seven years, Democrats have faced a radical administration that operates in bad faith. Yet there was the Democratic Leadership Council, still arguing that teachers unions endanger the republic.

Democrats, moderate and liberal, have been bewildered by the group’s post-Clinton agenda. Take, for example, the law passed by Congress in 2005 that makes it harder for ordinary people to declare bankruptcy. The measure’s only obvious beneficiary was the credit-card industry, and most Democrats opposed it. One main exception was a coalition of House members allied with the council. In an implicit rebuke to their Democratic colleagues, these New Democrats declared their support for the bill “as champions of both personal and fiscal responsibility.”

But Democrats had by this point done much to establish themselves as proponents of “personal and fiscal responsibility.” They were in no danger of trashing the party’s post-Clinton reputation. More important, the bill hardly seemed like a high priority amid the Bush administration’s vast upward redistribution of wealth.

The bankruptcy bill was just one of several DLC-engineered mistakes that prevent Democrats from sending a clear message to voters about who they are and what they believe. The DLC picks fights with the “netroots” on this stuff, as if the biggest problem Democrats face are the liberal activists that brought them a majority in 2006. But the DLC is out of touch with American voters on a whole range of issues.

They seem to be the last people to know this. Scheiber explains:

Today, the council has almost no constituency within the Democratic Party. About every five years, the Pew Research Center conducts a public opinion survey to sort out the country’s major ideological groupings. In 1999, Pew found that liberals and New Democrats each accounted for nearly one-quarter of the Democratic base. By the next survey in 2005, New Democrats had completely disappeared as a group and the liberals had doubled their share of the party. Many moderates, radicalized by President Bush, now define themselves as liberals.

I take issue with the term “radicalized,” since I don’t think opposing a war waged to control the last drops of a vanishing resource is all that radical; it's just common sense. But Scheiber’s point remains: the DLC has no constituency in the Democratic Party. It’s out of touch, plain and simple.

See ya, DLC. Thanks for the memories. Now, don’t let the door hit you on the fanny on your way out.