There’s nothing quite like listening to two New Democrats complain about exactly how much is the right amount to sell out the liberal movement. Today, the battle was between John Breaux and Ed Kilgore. It all started with a Molly Ball article about Mary Landrieu, The Last Southern Democrat. In it, Ball asked one of those dreary and stupid questions about “what happened” to the Democrats on 4 November. Landrieu didn’t want to answer the question, but former Senator Breaux did, “The perception now is that the Democratic Party is too far to the left and the Republican Party is too far for the right. The majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle.”
This statement is true, but not in the way that Breux thinks it is. Americans are socially conservative and economically liberal. And when you ask them about specific policies, the American people come down decidedly with the Democratic Party. That ought to make Democrats think that the party needs to get a whole lot better at messaging — not that it should move to the right politically. But Breux wants to start up the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) again. And what that means is that he thinks that the Democrats should move to the right on exactly the economic issues where the American people are generally to the left of it.
Ed Kilgore is not happy to hear this, even though he used to work at the DLC. His complaint is that unlike the real New Democrats, Breux and his ilk never believed in the philosophy and were only interested in making whatever deals they could with the Republicans. That would be a good point to make if the principles of the DLC were not so toxic. After all, their primary interest was to remove economic liberalism as a choice from either major American political party. And ultimately, it was razor-focused on winning elections regardless of its effect on actual policy. As I’ve argued many times before, the Republicans won when Clinton became president.
What the DLC always stood for was winning elections. And their way to do that was to pander to the oligarchs. But they couldn’t just become the Republican Party. They had to maintain the brand of liberalism. So they held onto civil rights (as long as it didn’t cost the rich any money) and abortion rights (as long as it didn’t cost the rich any money) and gay rights (as long as it didn’t cost the rich any money). So it is hardly strange that Breux is obsessively pushing the Democratic Party to the right — that’s what a New Democrat is always for.
It’s funny, of course, that Breux can’t see that Obama is exactly a New Democrat — pretty much indistinguishable from Bill Clinton except for the tail chasing and the skin color. What’s really happened is that Kilgore has ossified as a member of the early DLC. Thus, he still believes in many forms of liberalism. But Breaux is actually the more true to the movement. After all, the DLC was only in favor of given policies at any particular time. The overall philosophy was: ever to the right!
If there is a difference between the Kilgore style DLC and the Breux style DLC, it is that the latter is just stupid. If you are willing to move to the right for political gain, you have to do it strategically. John Breux is like many a southern Democrat who abandoned the party during the years of Bush the Younger. But let’s not kid ourselves: the DLC has done terrible harm to liberalism generally and the Democratic Party specifically. And it did absolutely nothing to get Democrats elected. Democrats would have won in 1992, 2000, and 2008 regardless. Kilgore’s embrace of the DLC can be attributed to youthful idiocy. Breux’s embrace of always moving to the right can be attributed to lifelong idiocy. But the DLC was terrible for the country, regardless of whose philosophy of selling out liberalism was followed.