The Corporatist Democratic Leadership Council
by Ralph Nader
August 7, 2003
Al From, the founder and soul of the soulless Democratic Leadership Council(DLC), assembled his flock in Philadelphia recently and warned his comrades about a takeover of the Democratic Party by "the far left." Launched in 1985, the "far right" DLC grew to have a controlling interest in the Party through the efforts of then-Governor Bill Clinton, Senator John Breaux, Senator Al Gore and Senator Joseph Lieberman.
If there were a superlative to the word "hubris," it would come close to describing Al From and his DLC cohorts. With unseemly regularity, they take credit for all Democratic victories as having been rooted in their philosophy of turn-your-back-on-organized labor and open-your-pockets-to-corporations (who fund the DLC, incidentally). All Democratic defeats are explained as owing to losing candidates being too "left" or too "populist."
The DLC brags about one of their own-- Bill Clinton-- developing the message that brought the Democrats the White House in 1992, after the disastrous failed and supposedly ultra-liberal candidacies of Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. Clinton insiders will tell you that Ross Perot (and his 19 million voters) was more responsible for beating President George H. W. Bush than the DLC strategy.
So what is the explanation when two of their very own, Gore and Lieberman, lost what should have been a landslide election in 2000? Soon after the election was stolen by the Bushites and the Supreme Court, From's group gathered to post-mortem the reasons why Gore lost (though he won) and concluded it was because he chanted populism ("I will represent the people, not the powerful"). A few months later, Lieberman agreed with From, saying he would not have campaigned with words that criticized industries like the oil, insurance, drug and HMO barons. (To his credit, From has not blamed the Greens.)
But Gore won the election-- both the popular and, as subsequent reviews documented, the electoral vote in Florida as well. (See Jeffrey Toobin's book "Too Close to Call.") Instead of going after the still-operating perpetrators of this theft in Florida and pushing for national electoral reform that not only accurately counts all the votes but eliminates the disenfranchisement of citizens from the voting rolls, the DLC continues its ideological tautologies.
Observers are still waiting for the DLC to explain how, with Democratic candidates espousing its protective imitation of Republicanism, the Party could lose more governorships, more state legislatures and both the U.S. House and Senate. Overall, it has been downhill since the DLC drove the Party into groveling haplessness beneath corporate lobbies and their corrupting campaign contributions.
As the New Republic, a fan of the DLC, reported, the Party deliberately chose conservative Democratic challengers to win back the House in 1998 and 2000 only to have them go down in defeat. DLC-type Democratic Senate incumbents went down to defeat in 2002, plaintively expressing their support for George W. Bush's war mongering and pro-super wealthy tax policies.
To the DLC mind, Democrats are catering to "special interests" when they stand up for trade unions, regulatory consumer-investor protections, a pre-emptive peace policy overseas, pruning the bloated military budget now devouring fully half of the federal government's entire discretionary expenditures, defending Social Security from Wall Street schemes, and pressing for universal health care coverage.
So right-wing is the DLC, mounted imperiously on their sagging Party, that even opposing Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, that cause huge federal deficits and program cuts in necessities such as health, education, environmental protection and children well-being, is considered ultra-liberal and contrary to winning campaigns.
"Special interests" to the DLC means defending the rights of African-Americans, Hispanics, blue-collar workers, and securing the full day in court for wrongfully injured Americans. Being serious about consumer justice and environmental protection also raises DLC's eyebrows.
It is hard to discern how much is left for the Democratic Party's raison d'etre when these activities are excluded.
In 1995, Al From emerged from a closed-door meeting with Silicon Valley executives and announced his support for their restrictive legislation, which passed and made it harder for defrauded investors to hold the responsible outfits accountable. Al From was on another mission that day- raising money from these same computer industry moguls.
Small wonder that the DLC is not exactly hard on the ensuing corporate crime wave that has looted or drained trillions of dollars from millions of investors and pensions.
So far right is the corporatist DLC that it believes that the Party can move toward Republican positions and still maintain its voting base among labor and minorities because they have nowhere else to go. Maybe that is one reason so many of these voters are staying home.
Liberal Republican Senators in the Seventies, such as Jacob Javits (New York) and Chuck Percy (Illinois), would now be considered on the left wing of the DLC-dominated Democratic Party.
Besides, what does the Democratic Party win if it loses its historic principles as the Party of working people and the downtrodden? Nothing more than the right to take marching orders from its corporate paymasters.
Ralph Nader is Americaís leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martinís Press, 2002)