An interesting piece on Politico.com this evening discusses a potential shakeup at the Democratic Leadership Council. It seems like just yesterday to me (well, actually it was the early 1990s, but I’m dating myself) that the DLC’s centrist political philosophy provided Democrats with their best opportunity in over a decade for attracting the mass of voters sitting at the center of the ideological spectrum. Its policy agenda and political strategy were effective enough to help Bill Clinton capture a plurality of the vote and the White House in 1992.
I also remember being surprised by the vehemence with which Howard Dean, at the peak of his electoral rise as a presidential candidate in the fall of 2003, went after the organization. Losses in the 2002 midterm elections, during which DLC-types were derided as “Republican Lite,” had knocked the organization back on its heels, and certainly set the stage for the later attacks by Dean, DailyKos, and others on the left. And, once candidates like Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, and even Evan Bayh and Tom Vilsack were all out of the 2008 presidential race, the DLC’s relevance as an electoral force in the party was largely diminished. Still, the article correctly notes that some of those folks now walk the halls of the Obama Administration.
The Politico piece suggests the organization will revamp itself to focus less on a strategy for building a winning Democratic coalition (Obama has already done that), and more on being an influence for centrist policy ideas. We’ll see how that goes. For all the recent talk of bipartisanship and/or post-partisanship, centrist politics does not seem to be much in favor on either side of the aisle at the moment (despite voter preference for it). In any event, its time as an electoral force in the party seems to have passed, at least for the foreseeable future. For those of us who closely watched Bill Clinton’s rise to power in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is a moment to pause.

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