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
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
June 2: Rise of Religious “Nones” a Mixed Blessing for Democrats
Since I’m always standing at the intersection of politics and religion, I’m always interested in fresh data on the subject, and wrote some up at New York:
One of the big predictions in American politics lately, of infinite comfort to embattled progressives, is that the increasing number of religiously non-affiliated Americans, particularly among younger generations, will spur a steady leftward drift. Perhaps that will mean, we are told, that Democrats will be able to build their elusive permanent majority on the grounds of abandoned houses of worship. Or perhaps, some hope, the religious roots of today’s Republican extremism will begin to wither away, allowing American conservatives to resemble their less intemperate distant cousins in other advanced democracies, ending the culture wars.
Both propositions may be true. But it’s a mistake to treat so-called nones as an undifferentiated secularist mass, as Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge explains with some fresh data. He notes that “in 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular.” This large bloc of “nothing in particular” voters may lean left, all other things being equal, but they tend to be as uninterested in politics as in religion, making them a less than ideal party constituency. He explains:
“To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.
“While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely.
“They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.
“This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories.”
As Burge mentioned, however, there is a “none” constituency that leans much more strongly left and is very engaged politically — indeed, significantly more engaged than the white evangelicals we’re always hearing about. That would be atheists. In a separate piece, he gets into the numbers:
“The group that is most likely to contact a public official? Atheists.
“The group that puts up political signs at the highest rates? Atheists.
“HALF of atheists report giving to a candidate or campaign in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
“The average atheist is about 65% more politically engaged than the average American.”
And as Thomas Edsall points out in a broader New York Times column on demographic voting patterns, atheists really are a solid Democratic constituency, supporting Biden over Trump in 2020 by an incredible 87 to 9 percent margin. It’s worth noting that the less adamant siblings of the emphatically godless, agnostics, also went for Biden by an 80 to 17 percent margin and are more engaged than “nothing in particulars” as well.
So should Democrats target and identify with atheists? It’s risky. Despite the trends, there are still three times as many white evangelicals as atheists in the voting population. And there are a lot more religious folk of different varieties, some of whom have robust Democratic voting minorities or even majorities who probably wouldn’t be too happy with their party showing disdain for religion entirely. There’s also a hunt-where-the-ducks-fly factor: If atheists and agnostics already participate in politics and lean strongly toward Democrats, how much attention do they really need? There’s a reason that politicians, whatever their actual religious beliefs or practices, overwhelmingly report some religious identity. Congress lost its one professed atheist when California representative Pete Stark lost a Democratic primary in 2012; the only professed agnostic in Congress is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose political future isn’t looking great.
It’s a complicated picture. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat argues that American liberalism’s increasing identification with secularism is keeping a lot of conservative Christians from politically expressing their reservations about Donald Trump. And religious people beyond the ranks of conservative faith communities may feel cross-pressured if Democratic politicians begin to reflect the liberal intelligentsia’s general assumption that religion is little more than a reactionary habit rooted in superstition and doomed to eventual extinction.
Perhaps it makes more sense for Democratic atheists and agnostics to spend time educating and mobilizing the “nothing in particular” Americans who already outnumber white evangelicals and ought to be concerned about how they’ll be treated if a Christian-nationalist Gilead arises. Only then can “nones” become the salvation for the Democratic Party.