David Sirota said he “boldly did what so few Democratic politicians are willing to do: he told the truth about the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council” Charles P. Pierce at TAPPED called it “the best argument yet made against the DLC by someone not named David Sirota.”I was naturally curious to read what motivated all this gushing, and discovered a rather peculiar rant by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to a group of Wisconsin reporters that blamed the DLC for all the sins of the Democratic Party in the last decade or so.I was particularly interested to learn from Feingold that the DLC “came up with the health care plan with the Clintons that was so complicated nobody could understand it.” Gee, I seem to remember that the DLC actually opposed the Clinton Health Plan. “They are the ones that coalesced with the big corporations to pass unfair trade agreements that hurt America.” Funny: I thought maybe this guy named Bill Clinton–following the tradition of every Democratic president going back to Martin Van Buren–had a bit more to do with, say, NAFTA than anybody at the DLC. And here’s my favorite “bold” attack: “Feingold said DLC consultants ‘instill fear in Democrats’ by saying opposition to the war would be taken as not supporting the troops…. “It’s the DLC that has cut off our ability to say things like, ‘Let’s get out of Iraq because it’s a bad idea.”Until now, I had no idea what vast powers we exercise around here. Al From or Bruce Reed or somebody gets quoted in the papers, and Democrats fall silent in terror. And the stuff about “DLC consultants” is beautifully vague. Unless I’m forgetting something, the chief political consultant for the last two Democratic presidential candidates was named Bob Shrum, whose relationship with the DLC is about as warm as Ned Lamont’s with Joe Lieberman.Look, folks, what the DLC does is to write policy papers, hold conferences, publish a magazine, and network among state and local elected officials. Three of us do blogs. Our staff is small by Washington think tank standards; our budget is a fraction of CAP’s. Democrats are free to take the DLC’s advice or leave it. It’s hilarious to be told that attacking us represents some sort of profile in courage; it seems to have done wonders for the career of David Sirota, whose willingness to spit venom at the DLC has helped make him a quote machine in both the blogosphere and the mainstream media.So why the gratuitous outburst from Russ Feingold? It’s not like many actual voters have ever heard of the DLC; hell, it took my own family about five years to internalize the fact that I worked for the DLC rather than the DNC. You have to figure Feingold was sending a signal to the segment of Democratic activists, old and new, for whom those three letters “DLC” have come to represent a sort of Unified Field Theory of recent Democratic electoral losses.You probably know the rap: soulless, poll-driven centrists in Washington sold out their principles for corporate cash, blah blah blah, lost Congress and the states, blah blah blah, spend all their time on Fox News defending Bush and attacking Democrats, blah blah blah, denied Gore his victory and “took down” Howard Dean, bark bark woof woof. It takes a lot of words, and maybe a few actual facts, to say all that, so just intoning “DLC” and hearing the instant cheers is a nice shorthand, and less politically risky than, say, frontally attacking Bill Clinton. The fact that this sort of code and the lurid narrative it signals makes the messenger sound a bit like a Larouchie off his meds is, I suppose, a small price to pay for the message it sends to listeners eager to hear it.The odd thing is that Russ Feingold is actually pretty popular here at Centrist Conspiracy HQ. He’s usually refreshingly direct, and willing to be unorthodox in all sorts of different directions. But there’s nothing in Democratic politics today more tediously orthodox than DLC-bashing. I do offer one suggestion to other bold, brave politicians out there: if you’re going to do this, try and get the basic facts straight.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a quote from Kyrsten Sinema this week that made me angry, so I vented my spleen at New York.
In a cloying little exchange of pleasantries before Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema spoke from the podium of Mitch McConnell’s eponymous center at the University of Louisville on Monday, the Senate Republican leader called the Democrat “the most effective first-term senator” he’d ever seen. McConnell was probably being sincere given Sinema’s role, along with Joe Manchin, in saving the filibuster, the chief tool in the GOP’s obstructionist bag of tricks. He could have called her a “one-term senator” since her demise in 2024 seems all but certain after she alienated as many Arizona Democrats as she could, but that wouldn’t have been gracious. Instead, he went on to give her the highest token of his esteem, calling her a “deal-maker.”
For her part, Sinema noted that she and McConnell share a “respect for the Senate as an institution,” a statement she reinforced by calling for the restoration of 60-vote thresholds for executive and judicial-branch confirmations in the upper chamber, which were abolished by serial Democratic and Republican majorities in 2013 and 2017, respectively. Sinema is, you see, an old-school respecter of the Senate, which makes me sick to my stomach.
Anyone who spends time around the Senate (I worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s and with Senate offices for years before and after that) is aware of the extremely high regard in which senators hold themselves “as an institution.” They don’t publicly bash House members as petty-minded, party-bossed parochial Lilliputians who have to spend all their time running for reelection. But the unstated though very real mutual disdain of the two congressional chambers is deeply rooted in the Senate’s distinctive constitutional role as an anti-democratic redoubt of entrenched privilege.
This is nowhere more apparent than in Sinema’s beloved filibuster, which in its most recent incarnation has made supermajorities a requirement for even routine legislation. But lest we forget, even if the filibuster went away, the Senate’s grant of equal power to all 50 states is profoundly undemocratic. The states themselves are not allowed to get away with such a gross misappropriation of legislative power. In the 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the Equal Protection Act of the 14th Amendment, state legislatures had to respect the principal of “one person, one vote,” with seats in the upper as well as lower chambers being awarded in districts of equal population. As Chief Justice Earl Warren famously wrote in the Court’s opinion in a 8-1 decision:
“Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.”
The logic is the same with respect to the model for all those once-oligarchical state upper chambers, the U.S. Senate itself. But the Senate has its own separate, unassailable constitutional basis. The Article I, Section 3 provision of the Constitution providing for equal representation of states in the Senate is expressly exempted from amendment in Article V (“no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate”). So we are stuck with an anti-democratic chamber. But we don’t have to celebrate it.
It’s important to remember the two reasons we have a U.S. Senate. First, it represented a compromise with those in the founding generation who wanted an unelected body like Britain’s House of Lords to counteract “the people’s House,” the lower chamber. But more important, as James Madison made clear in “Federalist 62,” it was essential to the ratification of the Constitution that the country maintain its original character as a compact of states, not as a truly United States:
“It may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each state, is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual states, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty …
“Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the states.”
This understanding of the country as a modified confederation of states with a stronger central government than it originally had more or less perished with the outcome of the Civil War and the ratification of the Civil Rights Amendments (including the 14th Amendment, that great and still-evolving guarantee of individual rights against states rights). But the Senate remains as a relic of the era when McConnell’s hero Henry Clay and a host of other patriarchal slaveholders held the Union temporarily together by engaging in “deal-making” at the expense of human dignity. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913 and providing for the popular election of senators instead of letting state legislatures choose them, took the chamber as far toward democracy as a flawed Constitution would allow.
“Respect for the Senate as an institution” means contempt for democracy as a fundamental value. That is why those with respect for democracy — particularly those who profess to be a member of the Democratic Party — should do everything possible to minimize the Senate’s ability to function according to the Founders’ design instead of boasting about making the chamber even more susceptible to high-handed measures to frustrate the popular will.