How the DLC Does It

Representative Gregory Meeks, an African-American lawyer and assistant district attorney elected to Congress in 1998 to represent a middle-class black neighborhood in Queens, New York, was undecided last year on the divisive issue of trade rights for China. Lobbyists for big business were battling the AFL-CIO and environmental groups on Capitol Hill for every vote, and Meeks, who'd previously voted against granting fast-track negotiating authority to President Clinton, was a prize.

Sensing an opportunity, Representative Cal Dooley, a moderate California Democrat closely allied with that state's high-tech sector, moved in. As co-chairman of the House New Democrat Coalition, a bloc allied with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), Dooley was targeting fence-sitters to vote aye. Along with fellow New Democrats Harold Ford, Jr., of Tennessee and Bob Matsui of California, Dooley hooked Meeks up with a stream of corporate officials from Silicon Valley and the New York financial district. "My boss made sure there'd be support for Meeks from the business community," says a Dooley aide. "He spread the word, through groups like the Business Roundtable, that here was a guy who deserved their support."

"Congressman Dooley helped bring in businesses who otherwise Congressman Meeks would not have known, and didn't have a relationship with, to knock on his door. As a result, scores of meetings were held with the congressman," says an aide to Meeks, citing sit-downs with the CEOs of American Airlines and New York Life Insurance Company. High-tech executives helped ensure that Meeks would be one of two undecided members to accompany President Clinton on his high-profile trip to China before the vote, the aide said; and Meeks also won significant backing from industry political action committees, which ended up nearly matching labor's donations to Meeks's campaign treasury. Included were $5,000 PAC contributions from American Airlines and New York Life. And in the end, Meeks voted business's way.

The DLC's effort to win Meeks's vote was part of a vigorous campaign by New Democrats to assure legislators that business groups would replace campaign contributions from labor lost by a pro-business China vote. In The New Democrat, the DLC's monthly magazine, Washington's most powerful business lobbyist, Thomas J. Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote that even though some members of Congress risked losing the AFL-CIO's support, "business will stick by Democrats on the China trade vote."

Simon Rosenberg, the former field director for the DLC who directs the New Democrat Network, a spin-off political action committee, says, "We're trying to raise money to help them lessen their reliance on traditional interest groups in the Democratic Party. In that way," he adds, "they are ideologically freed, frankly, from taking positions that make it difficult for Democrats to win."

A Business-Led Party

Freeing Democrats from being, well, Democrats has been the Democratic Leadership Council's mission since its founding 16 years ago by Al Gore, Chuck Robb, and a handful of other conservative, mostly southern Dems as a rump faction of disaffected elected officials and party activists. Producing and directing the DLC is Al From, its founder and CEO, who's been the leader, visionary, and energizing force behind the New Democrat movement since Day One. A veteran of the Carter White House and Capitol Hill, where he'd worked for Louisiana Representative Gillis Long and served as executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, From helped build the Committee on Party Effectiveness, a forerunner of the DLC, in the early 1980s. To From, a key rationale for establishing the DLC in those days was to protect the Democrats' eroding bastion in the South against mounting Republican gains, and indeed one of the DLC's chief projects in the 1980s was to create and promote the Super Tuesday primary across the South, aimed at enhancing the clout of southern Dems in selecting presidential candidates.

Privately funded and operating as an extraparty organization without official Democratic sanction, and calling themselves "New Democrats," the DLC sought nothing less than the miraculous: the transubstantiation of America's oldest political party. Though the DLC painted itself using the palette of the liberal left--as "an effort to revive the Democratic Party's progressive tradition," with New Democrats being the "trustees of the real tradition of the Democratic Party"--its mission was far more confrontational. With few resources, and taking heavy flak from the big guns of the Democratic left, the DLC proclaimed its intention, Mighty Mouse–style, to rescue the Democratic Party from the influence of 1960s-era activists and the AFL-CIO, to ease its identification with hot-button social issues, and, perhaps most centrally, to reinvent the party as one pledged to fiscal restraint, less government, and a probusiness, pro–free market outlook.

It's hard to argue that they haven't succeeded.

Today's is not your father's Democratic Party. Though the dwindling chorus of party progressives provides counterpoint, today's Democrats are proud to claim the mantle of budgetary moderation. They oppose President Bush's $2-trillion tax-cut plan not by arguing mainly for more spending on health, education, and welfare, but because it risks the new sacred cause of paying off the national debt. They are the party of increased military spending, the death penalty, the war on drugs, and partnership with religious faith. They are the party of Ending Welfare As We Know It, the party of The Era of Big Government Is Over.

The New Democrats, who helped bring about this shift, have surged in power and influence. The DLC and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), have blossomed into a $7-million-a-year operation. The New Democrat Network (NDN), which provides funds to dozens of certified co-thinkers in federal, state, and local races, raised nearly $6 million last year. Twenty U.S. senators and 70 members of the House of Representatives have formally affiliated themselves with New Democrat caucuses, and hundreds of state and local elected officials are signing on. The three men who've dominated the last three presidential tickets, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Joseph Lieberman, the DLC's most recent chairman, are all quintessential New Democrats. So are many of the party's rising stars, such as Senator John Edwards of North Carolina; Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, the DLC's new chairman; and Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Though the DLC offers a nominal $50 membership to anyone interested, its mass base is minuscule. "There's a New Democrat audience of about 5,000 to 10,000 people who get our stuff on a regular basis," says Matthew Frankel, the DLC's spokesman. And with a nonexistent grass-roots presence, the DLC is generally unknown except to practitioners of "inside baseball" politics. Yet the affiliation of scores of members of Congress has enabled the DLC to establish alliances with Fortune 500 corporate supporters, particularly along the so-called K Street corridor of Washington-based lobbyists and in high-tech enclaves such as California's Silicon Valley.

Once, the Reverend Jesse Jackson disparaged the DLC as "Democrats for the Leisure Class." But no one should underestimate the DLC's role in remaking the Democratic Party. Disciplined and single-minded, working tirelessly to forge alliances between individual Democratic elected officials and business groups, zealously promoting the political fortunes of their stars, and publishing a dizzying array of white papers and policy proposals, the DLC has given strategic coherence to what otherwise would have remained an inchoate tendency within the party. It has become a forum within which like-minded pro-business Democrats can share ideas, endorse one another, and commiserate about the persistence of the Old Guard.

"We're a party that's going through a transition from one ideology to another," says NDN's Rosenberg. "It was 40 years between the creation of the National Review and Newt Gingrich's takeover of Congress in 1994. We're only 16 years into this. Are we challenging old ways and leaders who've been around for a while? Are we being contentious? Yes."

Of course, it is easier to be contentious when you are well financed. And the DLC message of pro-market moderation is just what organized business wants to hear. From its modest beginnings--with a start-up budget of just $400,000 in its first year, cobbled together at fundraisers starring Robb, former President Jimmy Carter, and K Street Democratic eminence Bob Strauss--the DLC patiently cultivated wealthy individuals and corporate backers. By 1990 the combined DLC-PPI operation boasted revenues of $2.2 million, a big chunk of which came from a single source, New York hedge fund operator Michael Steinhardt, who pledged $500,000 a year for three years. (Steinhardt, whose actual donations came to half that in the end, was named chairman of the newly formed PPI's board of trustees, before falling out with the DLC in the mid-1990s.)

One by one, Fortune 500 corporate backers saw the DLC as a good investment. By 1990 major firms like AT&T and Philip Morris were important donors. Indeed, according to Reinventing Democrats, Kenneth S. Baer's history of the DLC, Al From used the organization's fundraising prowess as blandishment to attract an ambitious young Arkansas governor to replace Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia as DLC chairman. Drawing heavily on internal memos written by From, Bruce Reed, and other DLCers, Baer says that the DLC offered Clinton not only a national platform for his presidential aspirations but "entree into the Washington and New York fundraising communities." Early in the 1992 primaries, writes Baer, "financially, Clinton's key Wall Street support was almost exclusively DLC-based," especially at firms like New York's Goldman, Sachs.

The DLC's investment in Clinton paid off, of course, after the 1992 election. Not only did the DLC bask in its status as idea factory and influence broker for the White House, but it also reaped immediate financial rewards. One month after the election, Clinton headlined a fundraising dinner for the DLC that drew 2,200 to Washington's Union Station, where tables went for $15,000 apiece. Corporate officials and lobbyists were lined up to meet the new White House occupant, including 139 trade associations, law firms, and companies who kicked in more than $2 million, for a total of $3.3 million raised in a single evening. The DLC-PPI's revenues climbed steadily upward, reaching $5 million in 1996 and, according to its most recent available tax returns, $6.3 million for 1999. "Our revenues for 2000 will probably end up around $7.2 million," says Chuck Alston, the DLC's executive director.

While the DLC will not formally disclose its sources of contributions and dues, the full array of its corporate supporters is contained in the program from its annual fall dinner last October, a gala salute to Lieberman that was held at the National Building Museum in Washington. Five tiers of donors are evident: the Board of Advisers, the Policy Roundtable, the Executive Council, the Board of Trustees, and an ad hoc group called the Event Committee--and companies are placed in each tier depending on the size of their check. For $5,000, 180 companies, lobbying firms, and individuals found themselves on the DLC's board of advisers, including British Petroleum, Boeing, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Coca-Cola, Dell, Eli Lilly, Federal Express, Glaxo Wellcome, Intel, Motorola, U.S. Tobacco, Union Carbide, and Xerox, along with trade associations ranging from the American Association of Health Plans to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. For $10,000, another 85 corporations signed on as the DLC's policy roundtable, including AOL, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Citigroup, Dow, GE, IBM, Oracle, UBS PacifiCare, PaineWebber, Pfizer, Pharmacia and Upjohn, and TRW.

And for $25,000, 28 giant companies found their way onto the DLC's executive council, including Aetna, AT&T, American Airlines, AIG, BellSouth, Chevron, DuPont, Enron, IBM, Merck and Company, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Texaco, and Verizon Communications. Few, if any, of these corporations would be seen as leaning Democratic, of course, but here and there are some real surprises. One member of the DLC's executive council is none other than Koch Industries, the privately held, Kansas-based oil company whose namesake family members are avatars of the far right, having helped to found archconservative institutions like the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy. Not only that, but two Koch executives, Richard Fink and Robert P. Hall III, are listed as members of the board of trustees and the event committee, respectively--meaning that they gave significantly more than $25,000.

The DLC board of trustees is an elite body whose membership is reserved for major donors, and many of the trustees are financial wheeler-dealers who run investment companies and capital management firms--though senior executives from a handful of corporations, such as Koch, Aetna, and Coca-Cola, are included. Some donate enormous amounts of money, such as Bernard Schwartz, the chairman and CEO of Loral Space and Communications, who single-handedly finances the entire publication of Blueprint, the DLC's retooled monthly that replaced The New Democrat. "I sought them out, after talking to Michael Steinhardt," says Schwartz. "I like them because the DLC gives resonance to positions on issues that perhaps candidates cannot commit to."

A key member of the event committee for the 2000 annual fall dinner was Mike Lewan, who runs a boutique lobbying house that has represented clients such as Oracle and BellSouth. In the late 1980s, Lewan, who joined the DLC because he was "one of those disaffected Democrats," went to work as Lieberman's chief of staff--and promptly introduced the Connecticut senator to the DLC. Today, Lewan helps recruit support for the DLC on K Street. "It's astonishing to me how much support the DLC is getting from the professional Washington people, the lawyers, the lobbyists," he says. "There's a relationship and a trust level that's been built up."

Joining Lewan on the event committee were several dozen of Washington's elite lobbyists, including representatives from the Dutko Group, Greenberg Traurig, the Wexler Group, Verner, Liipfert, and SVP Kessler and Associates, all with blue-chip clients, along with lobbyists for Chevron, Citigroup, Salomon Smith Barney, and others. One was Arthur Lifson, vice president for federal affairs at Cigna Corporation, one of the nation's largest health insurers and a company that stands to gain enormously if, say, Medicare were privatized along the lines proposed by the DLC and by one of its founders, Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. "The DLC is trying to bring some fresh ideas to Medicare and to dealing with the uninsured," says Lifson, whose company is listed as a member of the DLC's policy roundtable. "It builds on changes that are taking place in the marketplace, rather than turning everything on its head [like] Hillary Care." Lifson frankly endorses the DLC as a counterweight to "populists ... at the other end of the party."

Pac-men

In 1996 Lieberman, Breaux, and Simon Rosenberg founded the New Democrat Network political action committee. "Our role is to add political muscle," says Rosenberg. In the 1997–1998 reporting period, its first full cycle, NDN raised $1.4 million directly, and another $1.2 million in so-called "bundled" contributions, gathered at fundraisers for individual candidates and funneled through NDN. In the 1999–2000 period, NDN more than doubled its take, raising $4 million directly and bundling $1.45 million more, plus $450,000 for GoreLieberman. Nearly $2 million of NDN's take in the last cycle came in large, unregulated soft-money chunks from companies such as Aetna, AT&T, and Microsoft and from trade groups such as the Securities Industry Association, who helped sponsor a $1.2-million fundraiser honoring Lieberman on February 13.

NDN's brochures sound like investment prospectuses. "NDN acts as a political venture capital fund to create a new generation of elected officials," says the PAC. "NDN provides the political intelligence you need to make well-informed decisions on how to spend your political capital. Just like an investment advisor, NDN exhaustively vets candidates and endorses only those who meet our narrowly defined criteria."

With three full-time fundraisers plus consultants in New York and Los Angeles, NDN runs a prolific schedule, holding more than 100 events last year. Most of them are typical Washington, D.C., money events, with the usual cast of characters from PACs and lobbying houses; a smaller number are held around the country. NDN also holds some large-scale happenings: Last year, its annual legislative retreat was held at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where members of the congressional New Democrat caucuses mingled with wealthy contributors from the private sector. Even more ambitious was its annual retreat in June, a three-day gathering spread out all over the San Francisco Bay Area, at which no less than 23 House and Senate Democrats met with executives who paid $1,000 each for the event, which was cosponsored with TechNet.

To many up-and-coming politicians, NDN's events are heaven-sent forums at which they can strut their stuff and ring up contributors. Case in point: Tom Carper, the newly elected senator from Delaware. Last year, NDN raised $55,000 for Carper's Senate race. But it provided an intangible benefit as well. "He's a believer," says Rosenberg. "In addition to all the support we gave him, he'd come to a lot of our other fundraisers, and he was able to meet a lot of new people and develop new contacts. That's one of the reasons why so many elected officials come to our events." For politicians like Carper, NDN is a pipeline for campaign contributions. For donors, NDN provides precertification that none of the politicians are noisy populists. "The candidates are validated to people in the room as New Democrats," says Rosenberg.

To ensure that liberals don't slip through the cracks, NDN requires each politician who seeks entree to its largesse and contacts to fill out a questionnaire that asks his or her views on trade, economics, education, welfare reform, and other issues. The questions are detailed, forcing candidates to state clearly whether or not they support views associated with the New Democrat Coalition, and it concludes by asking, "Will you join the NDC when you come to Congress?" Next, Rosenberg interviews each candidate, and then NDN determines which candidacies are viable before providing financial support.

Sitting in his office at the DLC's bustling headquarters a few blocks southeast of the Capitol along Pennsylvania Avenue, Al From vigorously rejects the idea that the DLC shapes its views to cultivate its donors: "Anybody who's familiar with the DLC knows that we do what we think is right." Even 17 years after the fact, From is impassioned when he recalls the Democrats' crushing defeat in 1984, when former Vice President Walter Mondale lost 49 states. "Robert Kennedy is my hero," says From. "I saw the liberal cause, which I believe in, almost go the way of the Whigs. And I said, How do you take these principles ... and do it so that people will vote for us again?"

Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a DLC nemesis, strongly agrees that money is not the primary motivator for the organization. "It's ideological," he says. But certainly the DLC has been able to advance its ideology more effectively within the party because of money. Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who is considering helping to organize a grass-roots-based, left-wing alternative to the DLC, sees the DLC as partly responsible for making the Democrats "much more of a money party and less of a grass-roots party." He adds: "The imperative of fundraising has weakened the policy performance. Whether or not the DLC should get most of the credit or not, I don't know. Certainly that is the direction that President Clinton took the party."

Principles and Interests

Over the course of its 16-year history, the DLC has been consistent on its core principles: support for fiscal discipline, free trade, reinventing government along more free-market lines, a strong military, welfare reform, a tough-on-crime approach, and a generally pro-business outlook. The organization has tended to bounce around some on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, which went almost unmentioned in DLC policy statements in the 1980s, and on race.

At its founding, the DLC's chief emphasis was on reconnecting the Democratic Party to white working- and middle-class class voters, who, the DLCers feared, had been increasingly attracted by the Republican Party's social conservatism, especially among northern ethnics and southern Protestants. To the DLC of the 1980s, that meant a message that was less tilted toward minorities and welfare, less radical on social issues like abortion and gays, more pro-defense, and more conservative on economic issues--in other words, less liberal generally. The DLC thundered against the "liberal fundamentalism" of the party's base--unionists, blacks, feminists, Greens, and cause groups generally.

A decade later, however, the DLC was arguing that the country had undergone a social and economic revolution. Mr. and Mrs. Swing Voter were now ambassadors of the new economy. Echoing writer Alvin Toffler's Third Wave hyperbole, and sounding strikingly similar to the Newt Gingrich–allied Progress and Freedom Foundation's gurus of e-Nirvana, the DLC maintains that with the telecommunications and computer revolution, the "rising learning class" of individualist new-economy workers will resist populism, reject Big Government, spurn unions, and abandon the social contracts of the New Deal and the Great Society. These upper-middle-class, new-economy voters, while still conservative on economic and fiscal issues, are more liberal on social policy. Adapting itself accordingly, the DLC is now a fervent backer of gay and abortion rights; last October, Lieberman was the featured speaker at a black-tie gala in Washington sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. gay activist group. Al From, acknowledging the evolution, says the DLC is simply changing with the times. "What we're about is the modernization of progressive politics so it can be successful."

If From is the DLC's Marx, Will Marshall, the genial and articulate president of the Progressive Policy Institute, is its Engels. From the earliest days of the organization, he has been its co-anchor, with From increasingly handling politics and Marshall the DLC's policy agenda. At PPI Marshall oversees a staff of 15, producing an avalanche of proposals on education, health care, Medicare and Social Security, trade, environment, national security, and more. Marshall points to welfare reform as the turning point. "The end of welfare state paternalism was a momentous policy shift for the Democrats," he says. "This was the most radical change in government since the 1960s. It was a Rubicon, and we've crossed it." [See "Liberal Loss" by Will Marshall on page 12.]

During the last months of the 2000 presidential election, however, it must have seemed to the DLC that Gore and Lieberman, ur–New Democrats both, had crossed back to the other shore. Abandoning the DLC's message almost entirely, they scrambled to look like plain, old-fashioned Democrats in an awkward, faux-populist "people versus the powerful" campaign that sought to energize the party's working-class and lower-middle-class base. The DLC's elation at the selection of its chairman as the running mate for one of its founders turned to dismay during the Democratic convention last August, as Gore lurched left.

"I listened to Gore's speech at the convention with incredulity," says William Galston, a longtime DLCer who served as domestic policy adviser to President Clinton and who is currently a special consultant for Blueprint. Galston was the Gore campaign's representative to the Democratic platform committee, working alongside From and Elaine Kamarck, another veteran DLC strategist, who chaired the committee. Galston had heard rumors on the eve of Gore's speech that it would represent a shift but hadn't been otherwise warned. "From the convention on, I had essentially no input into the campaign," he says.

Also left with sharply reduced influence was From, who recalls with resignation his inability to bring the Gore-Lieberman ticket home to its New Democrat roots. "Once Joe [Lieberman] got on the ticket, I worked mostly through him," says From, ticking off the names of campaign staffers through whom he tried to reach Gore. "I talked to [Bob] Shrum, [Stanley] Greenberg, [Carter] Eskew, and Tad Devine," he says. "I did a memo to Gore. I actually gave him a game plan to try to contain the populism in a way that would do the least damage."

After his populist turn, Gore surged in the polls in August and early September, and many analysts credited his fiery attacks on pharmaceutical companies, HMOs and health insurers, Big Oil, and George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich. "When I came on in July, Gore was already beginning to move in a populist direction," says Stan Greenberg, Gore's pollster for the last few months of the campaign. Brought in to replace Mark Penn, the chief pollster for both Clinton and the DLC, Greenberg helped move Gore to the left, targeting the candidate's message to recapture white working-class voters in the $30,000-to-$50,000 income range. On the ground, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, and other components of the Old Democrats' traditional voter base--organized labor, African Americans, Hispanics, abortion rights activists--conducted intensive voter education and the get-out-the-vote drives, and these groups now take credit for delivering Gore's popular vote victory.

But the DLC is having none of it. While acknowledging the importance of the old Democratic Party base, after the election Al From blasted Gore for alienating upscale "wired workers" in the new economy, the swing voters in comfortable suburbs who, he says, were turned off by Gore's populist message. In a special issue of Blueprint entitled "Why Gore Lost," From issued a scathing broadside against his former New Democratic ally. "By emphasizing class warfare," wrote From, "he seemed to be talking to Industrial Age America, not Information Age America."

Key to the DLC's political strategy is its belief that American workers are no longer attracted by the Democrats' support for the New Deal and the Great Society because they are entering the upper-middle class in droves. "You can't have class warfare without classes," says Peter Ross Range, the editor of Blueprint. "All these guys have boats in their backyards."

For a group that emphatically rejects "class warfare," this analysis of class in America is nonetheless central to DLC ideology. As Americans have become less affluent, say DLC theorists, the great electoral prize is the upper-middle class. But in the view of party liberals, this construct leaves out those stuck in the service economy, which currently generates far more jobs than the knowledge economy. It offers little to those who currently don't vote, and leaves out the role that large popular social programs have played in energizing and unifying a broad coalition of middle- and working-class voters. For DLC critics like the Economic Policy Institute's Jeff Faux, the particular needs may be different from the 1930s--child care, say, rather than social insurance for the elderly--but the role of government in providing security and opportunity that markets won't provide is no less real or politically valued by potential Democratic voters.

The DLC, Faux says, "has helped to paralyze the mainstream of the Democratic Party in making the case for government. I've seen it. I've been at meetings on Capitol Hill where someone will propose an idea for expanding a program, and the conversation just stops. åWe're gonna be accused of being for Big Government!' someone will say."

To advance its anti–Big Government message to the next level, the DLC is taking its act on the road. For virtually its entire existence, the DLC has been a Washington group. But the future, its leaders believe, is in developing a cadre of state and local elected officials and party activists in all 50 states. They've established the State Legislative Advisory Board (SLAB) and the Local Elected Officials Network (LEON) to advance the effort. Representative Ellen Tauscher of California, the DLC's vice chair, recently completed a swing through the Southwest, California, and Washington State to spread the DLC's gospel. "My role is deepening the bench," she says. "We've got governors all over the country, state legislators, city councilmen, mayors." In the past two years, the DLC has conducted numerous seminars to help recruit local politicians to the cause, in Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. "We're building one hell of a farm team," says Debbie Cox, a DLC organizer based in Santa Barbara, California, who is overseeing the effort.

The DLC is also cheered by the fact that each new crop of members of Congress is joining the New Democrat Coalition in increasing numbers. According to figures compiled by the well-named Representative Adam Smith of Washington, in the 103rd Congress (1993–1994), just 16 percent of the incoming freshmen joined the NDC. In successive sessions, the percentage rose to 24 percent, then to 60 percent--and in the 106th Congress, 16 out of 23 (70 percent) joined the NDC. Eventually, he says, New Democrats will gain enough power in the House to start electing the Democratic leadership, which so far they've been unable to crack.

Coming to the Aid of the Party?

Yet at the very moment of its greatest ideological and factional influence within the Democratic Party, the DLC is oddly unhelpful in the current crisis facing the Democrats as an opposition party: how to oppose the Bush administration effectively and prepare for the elections of 2002 and 2004. Many in the party, defeated on one party-line vote after another, want to draw as stark a difference as possible with Bush and the GOP, in order to give voters a sharp choice in those elections--and to do so in a way that will appeal to an expanded Old Democrat base, namely, the poor, the working class, organized labor, African Americans and Hispanics, women, immigrants, and seniors. [See "Progressive Mandate" by Robert L. Borosage and Stanley B. Greenberg on page 13.]

In the early skirmishes between Bush and the Democrats, the DLC has compiled a record that is spotty at best. Indeed, the lack of party unity plaguing House and Senate Democrats in close votes is in no small measure the work of New Democrats. The DLC did oppose the nomination of Attorney General John Ashcroft, and 68 of 72 New Democrats in the House voted against the first part of Bush's tax plan. In the Senate, however, Senator Bayh and other New Democrats have taken the lead in proposing a so-called tax trigger that would freeze the tax cut in the event the projected surpluses fail to materialize. But the trigger, whose mechanism is clumsy at best, is seen by Republican antitax activists as providing useful political cover for New Democrats who lean toward joining fellow DLCer Senator Zell Miller of Georgia in support of Bush.

On other issues, 51 New Democrats in the House joined with the fiscally conservative Blue Dog caucus, the GOP, and lobbyists for banking and credit-card companies to support a bankruptcy bill strongly opposed by most Democrats and consumer groups. And though From has lately pronounced labor a necessary ally, the DLC has been completely silent on Bush's assault against the labor movement, with not a single word in its New Democrat Daily devoted to Bush's antilabor executive orders. Six mostly New Democrat senators joined Bush and the GOP to overturn a Labor Department ergonomic regulation that was 10 years in the making.

The DLC supports Bush on issues like the troubled faith-based initiative and his education reform plan, which is largely drawn from the PPI's policy papers. Perhaps most important, Senator Breaux seems intent on leading congressional New Democrats in support of Bush's stated goal of voucherizing Medicare and partly privatizing Social Security--though both of those highly controversial ideas are opposed by most Democrats and seem unlikely to be enacted during this session of Congress.

Representative Adam Smith, for one, worries that with Republicans in control of both the White House and Congress, Democrats will revert to their old ways, thumping the anti–Big Business, pro-government themes that the DLC has fought so hard to suppress. "It's easier to draw a good contrast if you take the approach that on every issue, Bush is kowtowing to the corporations, that he's in the pocket of the pharmaceutical companies, that he's in the pocket of Big Oil," says Smith. "Too many Democrats want to say, åVote for me because Exxon is screwing you, Chase Manhattan's screwing you.'" On Medicare, for instance, which is likely to be a defining issue in the current Congress, Smith is concerned that while President Bush and Democrats like Senator Breaux might be able to strike a deal on privatizing Medicare, other Democrats will block it. "I fear that the party now, if the Republicans roll something like that out, will be reflexively hostile to it in order to draw a contrast, to accuse the Republicans of simply not caring and of getting in bed with their friends in the health insurance industry."

On the table in front of him as he speaks is the business card of Vanda McMurty, Aetna's Washington lobbyist and a member of the DLC's board of trustees. "In fact, I was just meeting with a guy from Aetna," says Smith.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)

Connect
, after login or registration your account will be connected.
Advertisement