The DLC Is MIA

The centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) has been missing in action, a virtual no-show in the media during the run-up to the election. And with the lingering suspicion that the DLC is on the outs with Obama, many are predicting its demise or, at the very least, organizational irrelevance.

The post-Clinton years have not been kind to the DLC. Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, both DLCers, went down in defeat. Had Gore heeded the DLC platform rather than resorted to a populist appeal down the stretch, he could have won, or so the DLC likes to say. And the organization suffered another blow when, in the wake of 9/11, it aggressively supported Bush on national security.

In May 2003, early front-runner and Iraq war critic Howard Dean was targeted by DLC founder and CEO Al From, who wrote that Dean represented the "McGovern-Mondale wing" of the Democratic Party, whose "weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home" had crippled the party. In 2006, as Democrats swept to victory based largely on their opposition to the war, the DLC was relegated to the sidelines. The DLC was right to support a war, given that it was trying to rebrand the Democratic Party; they just chose the wrong war. And it hurt them, perhaps irreparably. No longer, it seemed, was there much of a market for the DLC. Why try to emulate Republicans when their product isn't exactly moving off the shelves?

A near-knockout punch was leveled with the nomination of Barack Obama. In his post-partisan rhetoric, Obama could have easily been mistaken for a DLC poster child, but he had mixed feelings about being in the organization's corner -- concerned, perhaps, that it would hurt his standing with key liberal constituencies whose support he needed to earn the nomination. When Obama didn't attend the DLC national convention in Chicago --- which was widely viewed as a snub -- and later moved into the White House, the DLC was put on life support.

Obama has generally kept his distance from the DLC. As far back as 2002, when he was still an Illinois state senator, Obama was reluctant to be seen as a DLCer. That year, he was mentioned in a DLC list of 100 rising stars, prompting the liberal Black Commentator to remark that Al From and the DLC leadership had claimed Barak Obama as one of their own. "A black activist/intellectual/politician with previously stellar progressive credentials," it said, "has joined the main mechanism of corporate, right wing influence in the Democratic Party." With a flair for finesse, Obama responded that he didn't object to inclusion on the list but that it didn't indicate his endorsement of the DLC platform. Elsewhere, he was reported to have said that his positions on the Iraq war, NAFTA, and health care made him "an unlikely candidate for membership in the DLC."