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
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.