A Brief History of the DLC, and Where Do We Go From Here?
The roots of the thinking that led to the creation of the Democratic Leadership Council(DLC) go way back, and there are arguably many different starting points. I choose to start in 1972, when George McGovern’s insurgent campaign of youthful supporters took over the Democratic Party and delivered the nomination to a true peace candidate, and a true Social Democrat in the Western European sense of the term.
I turned 14 that year, and was instructed by my “social studies” teacher, an ignorant rightwing Texas high school coach, to debate the best and the brightest students of the class after me and one other guy named Fred, who was much like Sean Penn’s Spicoli character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, were the only two in a class of 30 who said we would vote for McGovern if we could. He wanted to put us long-haired pinko commies in our place.
Fred and I prepared for a week, and debated the clean-cut Republican scions of upper middle class doctors and lawyers using McGovern’s social democratic platform as our main rhetorical weapon. Then the class voted again: McGovern 16, Nixon 14. The outraged coach took us to the equally outraged Vice Principal’s office, where we were suspended for anti-American activity. Needless to say, my dad hit the roof and called on some of his many Texas Democratic Party contacts, like state senators and Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, who made a few phone calls. Fred and I were swiftly reinstated and the coach and Vice Principal were disciplined by the school district.
Unfortunately, McGovern only got 38% of the popular vote and carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Much of the Democratic leadership panicked, and started changing primary rules to give more weight to the more conservative South in an effort to head off another McGovern. This helped Jimmy Carter in 1976, but his social democratic VP, Walter Mondale, still got the nomination in 1984 and got 41% of the popular vote, and just Minnesota and DC in the electoral college.
Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore decided that since Nixon and Reagan both had huge campaign war chests funded by corporate interests, that they had to do the same to win. For these self-styled New Democrats, winning wasn’t everything, but the only thing. It didn’t matter that their progressive, New Deal-style economic principles had to be sacrificed, and wealthy business interests were more than happy to oblige. They determined to make the rules so that Democrats like them were guaranteed to win the presidential nomination, and the DLC was born.
Bill Clinton’s triumph in 1992 over an obviously out-of-touch Poppy Bush(who marveled at grocery store bar codes just weeks before the election) in the midst of a recession came after a populist campaign that promised to kill or at least reform NAFTA, expand the earned income tax credit, “reform” welfare in some vague way that would “reward work,” and create an economy that would benefit everyone by government and business “working together.” There was also a lot of emphasis on the rights of various identity politics groups of people. The old Progressive/New Deal idea of the federal government defending workers and poor people from abuse by powerful businesses was given minimal lip service.
The DLC’s true colors became apparent very quickly. Clinton DID expand the earned income credit, but reversed himself by fast-tracking NAFTA with the aid of Republicans, destroyed the old welfare system that allowed poor families to remain intact by the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act(PRWORA), showed how business, or at least Wall Street banking, and government could work together by repealing Glass-Steagall. Clinton also enabled the cancerous growth of the Arkansas retailer Wal-Mart by means of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit(WOTC), which reimburses businesses for 6 to 9 months of a new employee’s minimum wage income if said employee had been receiving any kind of public assistance when hired. Other employers were quick to jump on that gravy train.
The WOTC does not penalize employers for firing or harassing employees until they quit, so they are constantly getting new workers, and then using our tax dollars to pay their meager wages. It also doesn’t penalize employers for paying workers so little that they are still eligible for public assistance. Wal-Mart swiftly expanded across America, especially in small towns and rural areas, driving truly small businesses under and frequently monopolizing all retail sales, including groceries, in entire counties. Wal-Mart then rewarded the Clintons by appointing Hillary to their board of directors after Bill left the White House.
Clinton did more Bad Things in the name of corporate profit, like encouraging private for-profit prisons and attacking free public education and…well, whole books have been written on these subjects. You get the idea.
Gore would have just been more of the same, and Obama clearly was the epitome of DLC policies and tactics. Possibly the best con artist in history, Barack Obama used oratorical skills comparable to Cicero and Churchill to bamboozle most American voters into believing that he at least really wanted to bring change they could believe in. He certainly fooled me in 2008. What he brought were more imperial military adventures and the greatest transfer of wealth from the working and middle classes to the top 1% in the history of humanity. The 2016 presidential election, which probably will have one of the lowest voter turnouts ever, was a categorical rejection of the DLC and the New Democrats.
That’s great news for those of us on the left, but how do we best take advantage of this great opportunity? DLCers and corporate interests are deeply entrenched in the Democratic Party. The election of Wall Street toady Chuck Schumer as Senate Minority Leader and the probable retention of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader pretty much prove this. The rules of the DNC were written by the DLC and are still intact. As the Donald creature accurately said, the Democratic primary system was rigged, and it still is.
We clearly need to expand and grow the movement which Bernie Sanders’ supporters started, and we need to gain at least significant support in rural and small town America. Those people have been ground down just as hard as my inner ring suburban and urban neighbors have been, and that ain’t right, either. Sanders proved such support exists by winning rural state after rural state in the primaries. For such a movement to succeed, I firmly believe it must be class-based, as in the working and middle classes against the wealthy and comfortable corporate and power elites. As Jim Hightower has said, they’ve been waging class war against us for generations; it’s time for us to get together and fight back. Identity politics is the tool which corporatists in both parties use to divide us, and it won’t bring us the changes we need. I could go on and on about that, but now is not the time.
But is the Democratic Party the right vehicle? I don’t think it is; at least not at first. I think we can use the Greens, who at least already have the beginnings of a national party infrastructure, as that vehicle, at least at first. If the Democrats strongly move in a truly populist economic direction as they did under FDR and LBJ, then we can support them again. I, for one, am from Missouri on this one. They have to show me that they really mean it by their actions first. Until they do, I think it’s a mistake for those of us on the left to place any faith or energy in the Democratic Party. If you disagree, please feel free to try to convince me I’m mistaken. I will listen.
Thanks for your time, and have a nice day.Carolina, historylovr, ninety percent jimi and 28 othersUtopian Leftist, kjg, NothingcleverjustRay, ThatGuy888, OzoneTom, disillusioned73, Smarmie Doofus, Paka, HomerRamone, 2bAnon, Iwalani88, ablamj, arendt, glitch, jwirr, Pacco Fransisco, virgdem, Jillian, Enthusiast, madfloridian, Two way street, exindy, Marym625, mrdmk, djean111, Haikugal, 99thMonkey, goodgirl like this"Identity politics is the last refuge of the politically incompetent." --Me, with a hat tip to Isaac Asimov
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