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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Feingold Exposes Centrist Plot

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.

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