Democratic Leadership Council
Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was a non-profit 501(c)(4)
corporation founded in 1985 that, upon its formation, argued the
United States Democratic Party
United States Democratic Party should shift away from the leftward
turn it took in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. One of its main
purposes was to win back white middle class voters with ideas that
addressed their concerns. The DLC hailed President
Bill Clinton as
proof of the viability of
Third Way politicians and as a DLC success
The DLC's affiliated think tank is the Progressive Policy Institute.
Democrats who adhere to the DLC's philosophy often call themselves New
Democrats. This term is also used by other groups who have similar
views on where the party should go in the future, like NDN and
On February 7, 2011,
Politico reported that the DLC would dissolve,
and would do so as early as the following week. On July 5 of that
year, DLC founder
Al From announced in a statement on the
organization's website that the historical records of the DLC have
been purchased by the Clinton Foundation. The DLC's last chairman
was former Representative
Harold Ford of Tennessee, and its vice chair
Thomas R. Carper
Thomas R. Carper of Delaware. Its CEO was Bruce Reed.
1 Founding and early history
2.1 2003 invasion of Iraq
4 Electoral and political success
5 2004 Presidential primary
6 2008 Presidential primary
8 Republican equivalent
9 See also
11 External links
Founding and early history
The DLC was founded by
Al From in 1985 in the wake of Democratic
candidate and former Vice President Walter Mondale's landslide defeat
by incumbent President
Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential
election. Other founders include Democratic Governors Chuck Robb
Bruce Babbitt (Arizona) and
Lawton Chiles (Florida),
Sam Nunn (Georgia) and Representative Dick Gephardt
The model on which the
Democratic Leadership Council
Democratic Leadership Council was built was the
Coalition for a Democratic Majority. Founded by "Scoop" Jackson
Democrats in response to George McGovern's massive loss to Richard
Nixon in 1972, the CDM was dismayed by two presidential election
losses and the organization's goal was to steer the party away from
New Left influence that had permeated the Democratic party since
the late 1960s and back to the policies that made the FDR coalition
electorally successful for close to 40 years. Although Senator Jackson
declined to endorse the organization, believing the timing was
"inappropriate", future DLC founders and early members were involved,
such as Sen.
Sam Nunn and Sen. Charles S. Robb.
In the early 1980s, some of the youngest members of Congress,
including Representative William Gray of Pennsylvania,
Tim Wirth of
Al Gore of Tennessee,
Richard Gephardt of Missouri, and
Gillis Long of Louisiana helped found the House Democratic Caucus'
Committee on Party Effectiveness. Formed by Long and his allies after
the 1980 presidential election, the CPE hoped to become the main
vehicle for the rejuvenation of the Democratic Party. The CPE has
been called "the first organizational embodiment of the New
The DLC started as a group of forty-three elected officials and two
Al From and Will Marshall, and shared their predecessor's
goal of reclaiming the Democratic Party from the left's influence
prevalent since the late 1960s. Their original focus was to secure the
1988 presidential nomination of a southern conservative Democrat such
as Nunn or Robb. After the success of Jesse Jackson, a vocal critic of
the DLC, in winning a number of southern states in 1988's "Super
Tuesday" primary, the group began to shift its focus towards
influencing public debate. In 1989, Marshall founded the Progressive
Policy Institute, a think tank which has since turned out policy
blueprints for the DLC. Its most extensive series of papers is the
series of New Economy Policy Reports.
It is the opinion of the DLC that economic populism is not politically
viable, citing the defeated Presidential campaigns of Senator George
McGovern in 1972 and Vice-President
Walter Mondale in 1984.[citation
needed] The DLC states that it "seeks to define and galvanize popular
support for a new public philosophy built on progressive ideals,
mainstream values, and innovative, non-bureaucratic, market-based
The DLC has supported welfare reform, such as the Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996,
President Clinton's expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and
the creation of AmeriCorps. The DLC supports expanded health
insurance via tax credits for the uninsured and opposes plans for
single-payer universal health care. The DLC supports universal access
to preschool, charter schools, and measures to allow a greater degree
of choice in schooling (though not school vouchers), and supports the
No Child Left Behind Act. The DLC supports both the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America Free Trade
The DLC has both supported and criticized the policies of President
George W. Bush. The DLC opposed the partial birth abortion ban, the
expiration of the 1994 assault weapon ban, the Clear Skies Initiative,
and what they perceived as a lack of funding of the Community Oriented
Policing Services (COPS) program. In 2001 the DLC endorsed the idea of
tax cuts for the middle class, but opposed the
Bush tax cut
Bush tax cut since it
favored the wealthy and was perceived by the DLC as fiscally
irresponsible. The organization supports some forms of Social Security
privatization but opposes financing private retirement accounts with
large amounts of borrowed money.
In 2006, the DLC also urged Senate Democrats to vote against Bush's
Samuel Alito to the
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court "on principle",
but firmly opposed any filibuster of the nominee.
2003 invasion of Iraq
The DLC gave strong support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Prior to
the war, Marshall Wittmann, Sen. Joe Lieberman's press secretary and a
senior fellow with Will Marshall's DLC-affiliated Progressive Policy
Institute think tank, co-signed a letter to President Bush from the
Project for the New American Century
Project for the New American Century endorsing military action against
Saddam Hussein. During the 2004 Primary campaign, Wittmann attacked
Howard Dean as an out-of-touch liberal because
of Dean's anti-war stance. Wittmann dismissed other critics of the
Iraq invasion such as filmmaker
Michael Moore as members of the "loony
Even as domestic support for the
Iraq War plummeted in 2004 and 2005,
Will Marshall called upon Democrats to balance their
criticism of Bush's handling of the
Iraq War with praise for the
president's achievements and cautioned "Democrats need to be choosier
about the political company they keep, distancing themselves from the
pacifist and anti-American fringe."
The DLC has become unpopular within many progressive and liberal
political circles such as the organizations Democracy for America, and
the blog MyDD.
Some critics claim the strategy of triangulation between the political
left and right to gain broad appeal is fundamentally flawed. In the
long run, so opponents say, this strategy has resulted in concession
after concession to the opposition and promotion of a free-market
economic agenda favorable to corporations and entrepreneurs, including
those seeking to privatize public services, while alienating
traditionally-allied voters and working-class people.
Other critics cite that the low turnout of organized labor in the 1994
Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade
Agreement into law resulted in the Republican Party gaining a majority
in the 1994 House of Representatives elections and 1994 Senate
elections that would last for twelve years until 2006.
Author and columnist
David Sirota has strongly criticized the DLC, who
he claims have sold out to corporate interests. In 1980, the
Democratic National Committee
Democratic National Committee (DNC) founded the Democratic Business
Council to compete with the
Republican National Committee
Republican National Committee for
donations from businesses and corporations. Sirota has also argued
that the term "centrist" is a misnomer in that these politicians are
out of touch with public opinion. Sirota's article "The Democrats' Da
Vinci Code" argues that truly progressive politicians are more
successful in so-called "red states" than the mainstream media have
Others contend that the DLC's distaste for what they refer to as
"economic class warfare" has allowed the language of populism to be
monopolized by the right-wing. Many argue that the Democrats'
abandonment of populism to the right-wing, shifting the form of that
populism from the economic realm to the "culture wars", has been
critical for Republican dominance of Middle America. (See, for
instance, Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?.)
Still other critics believe the DLC has essentially become an
influential corporate and right-wing implant in the Democratic party.
Marshall Wittmann, a former senior fellow at the DLC, former
legislative director for the Christian Coalition, and former
communications director for Republican senator John McCain, and Will
Marshall, a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, are among those
associated with the DLC who have right-wing credentials.
Finally, detractors of the DLC note that the DLC has received funding
from the right-wing
Bradley Foundation as well as from oil companies,
military contractors, and various Fortune 500 companies. However, the
DNC proper has also benefited from funding by corporations like these
via the Democratic Business Council.
Electoral and political success
A Gallup poll of
Democratic National Committee
Democratic National Committee members (in February
2005) showed that, by more than two-to-one (52%-23%) the DNC members
wanted the party to become more moderate, rather than more liberal.
That view was shared by Democrats nationally; in a January 2005
survey, Gallup found that 59% of Democrats wanted the party to take a
more moderate course.
Although progressive critics argue the DLC's centrism has led the
Democratic party to multiple electoral defeats, DLC candidates, office
holders, and their moderate policies have been generally favored by
the American electorate. When the Democratic party won majority status
in the Senate in 1986, it was done with centrist and DLC affiliated
candidates Barbara Mikulski (a participant in the DLC's National
Service Tour), Harry Reid (who recently said Democrats have to
"swallow their pride" and move toward the middle), Conservative
Democrat Richard Shelby, DLCer Bob Graham, DLCer Kent Conrad, and
DLCer Tom Daschle. When Bill Clinton, former Chairman of the DLC, made
up his mind to run for the presidency in 1992, the DLC spotted the
right candidate to promote its mission.
Bill Clinton ran his 1992
and 1996 campaigns as a New Democrat and (prior to Obama's
2012 presidential re-election) became the only twice elected
Democratic president since President Franklin D. Roosevelt. New
Democrats made significant gains in both the 2006 midterms and the
2008 elections. While explicitly denying any direct connection to
the DLC in 2003, in May 2009 President Obama reportedly declared
to the House
New Democrat Coalition, "I am a New Democrat."
Some political analysts like
Kenneth Baer contend the DLC embodies the
spirit of Truman-Kennedy era Democrats and were vital to the
Democratic party's resurgence after the election losses of liberals
George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis. Simon
Rosenberg, a long time Democratic campaign operative and strategist,
said recently, "there is a strong argument to be made that the DLC has
been the most influential think tank in American politics over the
past generation... the DLC helped set in motion a period of party
modernization that has helped the Democratic Party overcome the potent
and ultimately ruinous rise of the New Right."
2004 Presidential primary
In May 2003, as the Democratic primary of the 2004 presidential
campaign was starting to pick up, the organization voiced concern that
the Democratic contenders might be taking positions too far left of
the mainstream general electorate. Early front-runner Howard Dean, who
attracted popular support due in large part to his anti-war views
despite his reputation as a centrist governor of Vermont, was
specifically criticized by DLC founder and CEO Al From. From's
criticism of Dean was also likely due to the former governor's
opposition to the Iraq War, which most party centrists, including
From, endorsed. Dean's claim to hail "from the Democratic wing of the
Democratic Party" (a phrase originally used by Senator Paul Wellstone
of Minnesota) has been interpreted by some as subtle(?) criticism of
the DLC and the
New Democrats in general. Indeed, Dean once described
the DLC as the "Republican wing of the Democratic Party."  The DLC
countered that Dean represented the "McGovern-Mondale wing" of the
Democratic Party, "defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist,
interest-group liberalism at home."
John Kerry won the Democratic primary and chose primary
John Edwards as his running mate. Both Senators were
members of the Senate
New Democrat Coalition, and the DLC anticipated
that they would win the general election. In a March 3, 2004 dispatch,
they suggested voters would appreciate Kerry's centrist viewpoints,
imagining voters to say "If this is a waffle, bring on the syrup."
2008 Presidential primary
The 2008 Democratic Primary pitted New York Senator Hillary Clinton, a
prominent DLC member, against Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who had
previously stated that his positions on NAFTA, the
Iraq War and
universal health care made him "an unlikely candidate for membership
in the DLC." However, President Obama has since surrounded himself
with DLC members, appointing Clinton herself as Secretary of State. In
May 2009, President Obama reportedly declared to the House New
Democrat Coalition, the congressional arm of the DLC, "I am a New
Democrat." President Obama has also called himself a progressive,
in addition to being endorsed by Howard Dean's progressive political
action committee Democracy for America.
Joe Lieberman, another notable member of the DLC, endorsed Republican
John McCain for the presidency in 2008, citing his agreement
with McCain's stance on the
War on Terrorism
War on Terrorism as the primary reason for
his support. Later in the campaign, Lieberman was mentioned as a
possible Vice Presidential nominee for John McCain's ticket.
However, Lieberman denied any interest in this role and Alaska
Sarah Palin was ultimately selected to be McCain's running
Dick Gephardt of Missouri (1985–1986) (House Minority Leader
Chuck Robb of Virginia (1986–1988)
Sam Nunn of Georgia (1988–1990)
Bill Clinton of Arkansas (1990–1991) (President 1993–2001)
John Breaux of Louisiana (1991–1993)
Dave McCurdy of Oklahoma (1993–1995)
Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (1995–2001) (2000 Democratic
Evan Bayh of Indiana (2001–2005)
Tom Vilsack of Iowa (2005–2007)
Harold Ford of
(Titles listed are those held at time of assuming chair.)
On the Republican side of the aisle another centrist organization was
founded by moderate and some left of center Republicans with the same
purpose for the Republican Party. The Republican Leadership Council
was founded by former New Jersey Governor
Christine Todd Whitman
Christine Todd Whitman and
former Missouri Senator and Episcopal priest John Danforth.
New Democrat Network
New Democrat Coalition
"Centrist Democrats Warn Party Not to Present Itself as 'Far Left'" by
Adam Nagourney, New York Times July 29, 2003
The Emerging Democratic Majority, by
John Judis and Ruy Teixeira
"How the DLC Does It", Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect, April 23,
Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to
Clinton, by Kenneth Baer
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The Democratic Leadership Council
List of DLC members from nndb.com
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