Democrats Must Adopt A Centrist Course

But Will The “Progressives” Repeat The Sins Of Their Fathers?

Al From, head honcho at the Democratic Leadership Council, sent heads spinning in the netroots as only he can do with a piece in the San Diego Tribune admonishing Democrats to resist pandering to “ideologically inflexible and noisy party activists.” In other words, govern for the common good of the people and not for every single issue advocacy group.

Two passages in particular have infuriated the “cult of perpetual outrage” across the blogosphere. The first, paraphrased above, warns Democrats not to systematically bend their knee to ideologically inflexible and noisy party activists to have any prayer of nomination or election in 2008. From states they should pay attention to what happened in Connecticut on Nov. 7, where even in a strongly anti-war blue state, voters rejected a high-profile effort to exclude Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party by “progressives.”

The second point From makes is a request that Democrats exercise self-restraint in promoting new “public-sector activism,” accurately pointing out surveys that continue to show a clear majority of Americans favor a government that is smaller and does less to one that is larger and does more.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why this advice vexes the left so much. Volumes have been written, complete with statistical evidence, that Democrats lost favor among the American public for two reasons – a perceived weakness on national defense and an incessant massaging of special interests groups.

In 1988, Jesse Jackson loved to invoke the image of a quilt when referring to the various special interest groups the Democratic party found itself answering to. The patches on the quilt, Jackson would explain, represented each of these and he would admonish them that their patch was too small, their influence too weak, and that each needed a bigger patch. This was in contrast to a blanket, Jackson would continue, meaning America was not one unified and uniform piece of cloth.

Though the Democratic party had long been accused of pandering to, and indeed answering to, various single issue advocacy groups, Jackson’s meme just may be the closest thing to an admission of the charge. But it certainly isn’t the most blatant example. Just last year, leading up to the confirmation of now Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, it was revealed Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid had met with representatives of 40 groups in Washington, and he bowed to their pressure not to vote for Robert’s confirmation. In explaining his opposition to Judge Roberts, Reid told the Senate he had been “very swayed” by the public testimony of, and his private meeting with, those civil rights and women’s groups.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, one of the groups with enormous influence in Democratic Party councils and whose organization had called President Bush’s nomination of John Roberts, in measured language, “an outrage and an insult to the women of this country,” … attributed Reid’s move not to internal character, but to outside muscle, telling The New York Times, “He got the message loud and clear, didn’t he?”

Former Vice President and Presidential candidate Walter Mondale, it is said, couldn’t tie his shoes without consulting special interests groups and as his popularity waned leading up the Democratic National Convention in 1984, a Gallup Poll found the number one reason cited by disaffected voters for their dwindling support of him was his “promises and ties to labor and other special interest groups.”

The list of such pandering is endless and is one of the issues I have with my political party. You would think that Democrats would rather take pages from the playbooks of Truman and Clinton, who both believed in common interests over special interests, the “common good” as it has come to be known now. But these single issue groups have never been about the success of the Democratic party or even the “common good” of the American people. Their chief concern is forwarding their agenda and they see the Democratic party as their best vehicle to that end.

The history of this can be traced directly to the Reform Commission of 1968 when George McGovern, the commission’s chairman,  altered the nominating process of the Democratic Party.  The commission mandated quotas for proportional special interest groups delegate representation.  The result was a process whereby the party’s  presidential contenders had a tough time securing the nomination without getting approved by numerous organizations who only had their narrow agenda as a litmus test.  Losses for the Democrats in 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988 did little to correct the course.

But the netroots, either because they believe having to appeal to over 40 single issue advocacy groups  is a good thing or because they want to rub the GOP’s nose in their midterm losses, see no reason to alter the course.  And they’ll attack anyone who even suggests it.   Want to know the real reason the netroots continue to pound DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer and DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel even after they delivered the Senate and House to the Democratic Party?  Because, in the words of Schumer, “the days are over when a Democratic candidate has to check off 28 boxes on the issues to get our support.”

As From stated in the referenced article, the independent and moderate voters who keyed our victory want real-world results from their government and from both parties, not just a choice between two noise machines. They want to know what each political party is fighting for, not just fighting against. And they will have a lot to say about control of the White House in 2008, and about the fate of the large Democratic freshman class of 2006, many of whom will have tough re-election races in a presidential year.

We simply cannot repeat the sins of our fathers if we want to retain the power we now have.


6 Responses to Democrats Must Adopt A Centrist Course

  1. Beth says:

    One of the things I enjoy about your blog is your command of history and how it related to current events. If “party activists” were more in tune with where the Democratic party has been and how it reached its state today, I believe they’d be much less shrill.

    “cult of perpetual outrage.” LOL!

  2. SaveElmer says:

    Yeah I agree “Cult of perpetual outrage” is classic!

    It is also a truism that the “netroots” would be falling all over themselves praising these comments had Jon Tester made them. More than simply requiring potential Democratic candidates sign off on the correct far left positions, they are after what most groups are after…power. And they will ignore or excuse comments which the day before would have made them apoplectic if one of their annointed ones makes it.

    I’m not a huge fan of Al From…I think he is a poor public persona for the DLC…but he is correct in his assertion here. And I think besides the substance of the comments, the netroots have been driven into a frenzy over them because they were made by Al From…the antichrist of the far left!

  3. Gary says:

    Will the Democrats go to the center?? That’s like asking them to walk and chew gum at the same time. It isn’t going to happen. This was a mandate for the center, but the Democrats will lurch to the left simply because the nutroots will not allow them to govern from the center. People like Charlie Rangel, John Dingell, Henry Waxman and others will not do what the people elected them to do. The Republicans suffered this time around, but don’t be surprised if the next election cycle, the Democrats suffer because they moved to the fringe left. these people never learn.

  4. Shaun says:

    Join Joey on my radio program tonight!! Subject 2 Discussion starts at 7pm PT with our Political News Digest then at 7:30pm PT 10:30ET Joey will be on to discuss the week in politics and what the blogoshere is saying.

    After him in the second hour is our Galactica/Doctor Who discussion and then the Pop Culture Discussion

    Join us LIVE on or

  5. klik says:

    San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom recently said that from a political perspective, the biggest mistake the Democrats made was to pull together and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because the Democrats haven’t carried the South since, but it was the right thing to do and the courage to do the right thing in the face of that kind of vociferous oppostition is the definition of leadership. Being from San Francisco I was appalled to hear the expression, “San Francisco values” hurled at Pelosi and Democrats in general. It reminded me of Dukakis being tagged as a “liberal.” I should hope a move to the center is more based on pragmatism and principle rather than a way to attract more voters. My hope is that the leadership-elect makes every effort to expose and discredit the neocons and show the nation that the policies, decisions and actions of the current administration have been a complete failure. So long as the Democrats can work together on the long-term goal of getting the country back on track, I don’t see why there would need to be a shift towards the center within the party, only the populace.

  6. donkeydigest says:


    In all actuality, the core principles of the Democratic party are at the center of America’s ideological spectrum. One key aspect of the party charting a centrist course is, like you mentioned, pragmatism. Two polls in 2005 revealed rank and file Democrats want their leaders to be more moderate and willing to compromise in the spirit of progress. Interestingly, the majority of the independent voters who broke our way this year gave the same reasoning for their vote. Simply put, the US has grown weary of the GOP’s “government for the base and by the base” experiment and they certainly don’t want the same formula from the Democrats.

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