You may have heard that the centrist Democratic Leadership Council is permanently closing up shop. There was a time in the 1990s when it seemed like the organization had discovered the keys to sustained power through dominance of the political center, an ideological space where many American voters continue to reside today. Bill Clinton’s two terms as president were undoubtedly the apex of the DLC’s electoral success.
Those glory days aside, however, I’ve had the sense that the DLC’s influence has been waning for some time, ever since former Vermont Governor Howard Dean hit the organization relentlessly on the Iraq War in the 2004 presidential campaign. With Hillary Clinton losing the 2008 Democratic nomination for president, and other younger leaders (and DLC chairs) like former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. leaving elected office, there really was no compelling leadership left to move the organization forward.
While presidents will continue to move pragmatically to the ideological center when necessary to achieve their legislative objectives, the demise of the DLC will likely reinforce the prevailing wisdom on both the left and right that this sort of centrist positioning is really a form of political capitulation to be avoided at all costs, rather than a strategic imperative geared toward the achievement of legitimate policy goals. This is a fittingly polarizing assumption about politics at a polarizing time in our politics.
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