Dems React to DLC’s Demise

by Brian Bolduc

The Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist contingent of the Democratic party, is disbanding, Politico’s Ben Smith reported yesterday. The reaction from Democratic insiders? No biggie.

“I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised,” William Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, says. Ex-DLC chief Bruce Reed’s decision to join Vice President Joe Biden’s staff last year struck a deadly blow. “It created some questions for the organization that its directors couldn’t resolve — at least not quickly,” Galston says. He also credits the rise of Third Way, a moderate think tank, with sapping DLC’s strength. Unlike the DLC, which focused on the presidency, Third Way concentrated on Congress. “Third Way was founded and grew at a time when the congressional wing of the party was stronger than the presidential wing,” Galston says. “There was an unoccupied niche that Third Way filled, and the two Bush terms were a period in which the DLC was groping for a presidential direction and did not quite find it.”

Speaking more structurally, a senior Democratic aide tells NRO the DLC’s demise “was a long time coming.” “Both of the parties are increasingly ideologically homogeneous,” the aide says. “There’s no longer a vibrant Ripon society in the Republican party, and that is in large part because you have the demise of the Rockefeller Republicans and the conservative Democrats.” (Although this trend is discernible among congressional candidates, it seems less visible among the public.) The aide also identifies the DLC’s support of the Iraq War — and its opposition to Howard Dean — as moments when the organization alienated itself from the Left.

A paradox, the aide adds, is that President Obama is now trying to portray himself as a centrist, and recruiting former DLC members, such as Reed, to high positions in his administration.

One analyst at the Progressive Policy Institute, a separate group that worked in tandem with the DLC for many years, concurs: “Pragmatic centrism has not been the flavor of the Democratic party recently, but all that changed with last year’s election. President Obama now understands that he has to reestablish his standing with independent, moderate voters who were one of the two sturdy pillars of his election.”

In other words, the DLC’s body is dead, but its spirit — at least in part — lives on.