Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a
senior member of Congress from Ohio. During our brief chat in
his office, he complained to me that the source of labor’s
problem was that "too many union members don’t support
the Democrats." To which I replied, "The problem is,
all Democrats are not created equal." And then he
confessed, "You’re right, the DLC has taken care of
The DLC he refers to is the Democratic
Leadership Council. Over the years I have occasionally
mentioned the DLC in this column, and you may have heard of it
long before that. The DLC had a big burst of free publicity
back in 1992 when Clinton and Gore were elected, since these
guys were (and still are) loyal DLCers. Both got in on the
ground floor of the DLC’s "New Democrat" wave
fifteen years ago.
Another splash of media attention was showered
on the DLC when Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) was selected as
the vice-presidential running mate last year. Lieberman was
DLC chairman at the time. The DLC made news earlier this year
when it loudly criticized Al Gore for losing the presidential
election to Bush. As far as the DLC is concerned, Gore blew
the election by catering to union members and working people
at the expense of winning the votes of "information
age" and "affluent" voters.
Are These People?
It’s pretty obvious that the DLC — and its
think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute — has been
growing in size and influence. But do we really know what this
means? Where did the DLC come from, what does it stand for,
who belongs to it, and where is it taking the Democratic
The DLC was born out of the ash heap of the
Mondale presidential campaign in 1984. Some of you may
remember that whole sections of the Democratic Party
officialdom and apparatus sat out the election, effectively
going on a political strike, allowing Ronald Reagan to be
reelected in a landslide. While organized labor worked itself
to a frazzle trying to elect Mondale, many Democrats refused
to work for Mondale because he was "too liberal to
win." In early 1985, several conservative and moderate
Democratic Party officials from the West and South created the
DLC, "with the express purpose of pushing the party to
the center, out of the clutches of liberal interest groups,
most notably organized labor," noted Robert Kuttner in
his 1987 book The Life of the Party.
As for what the DLC stands for, the Winter
2001 issue of its publication Blueprint spells it out pretty
clearly. Listed as "Ten Big Ideas — A New Democrat
Agenda for Governing," the DLC program covers exciting
territory such as "boosting new growth economics,"
along with "achieving universal health insurance,"
"finishing the welfare revolution," — and my
favorite — "promoting free trade in the Americas."
Roughly translated, the DLC program is to give big business
pretty much whatever it wants, in the hope — but not promise
— that the profits will trickle down to us little people.
And if you were led to believe by the headline
that the DLC supports real health care reform, ‘tain’t so.
A reading of their section on "achieving universal health
insurance" reveals that their solution is some kind of
"refundable tax credit" and "group purchasing
arrangements," all to deliberately avoid a national
health care system. If you’d like to see more of these
inspirational nuggets, check out the DLC website at www.ndol.org
(link opens new browser window).
The star players in the DLC today are numerous
congressional Democrats, including Evan Bayh, senator from
Indiana and DLC chairman; and Rep. Ellen Tauscher from
California, the vice-chair. A total of 72 Democrats in the
House and 19 senators are DLCers. A good number of state and
local Democrats are also members of the "New
Democrat" coalition. The founder and CEO of the DLC is a
guy by the name of Al From, a lifetime inhabitant of Capitol
Hill. He began as a congressional staffer, graduated to
director of the House Democratic Caucus, and helped start the
DLC in ’85. From has been on the DLC payroll ever since. His
online bio boasts, among other things, that he is "a
member of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce National Chamber Foundation." No, I’m not
making this up.
And as for where the DLC is taking the
Democratic Party, that’s yet to be seen. Or more correctly,
it’s not clear if they’ll get away with it. The DLC has a
pretty good scheme, and a steadily growing number of Democrats
are buying it. It all fits together:
Join the DLC;
let the DLC do your thinking for you;
let the DLC help you raise campaign money
from rich people and big business by introducing you as a
"New Democrat" who is friendly to business and
not "held hostage to special interests" (like
enjoy the best of both worlds as you win
election and reelection.
Democrats vote for you because you are less
awful than a full-blown Republican, and significant numbers of
Republicans vote for you because you are sufficiently horrible
to pass the test. Working people get left in the dust.
So there’s the DLC in a nutshell. I’ll
have more on the DLC and its prominent personalities in future
One parting thought: Let’s not blame the DLC.
It is doing exactly what any group of comfortable-to-rich
folks would do given the situation they find. They have a
goal, they have a plan, and they are putting their plan in
motion. They are making progress: The Democratic Party is
significantly less sympathetic and useful to working people
since the DLC was founded. The question for us is, "What
plan does the labor movement have?" The other question is
one you should ask of your coworkers: "Would you like to
join the Labor Party?"
Chris Townsend is political action director
of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of