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sellout of progressive politics has been a total disgrace for the Democratic
Party. Not only is it morally wrong and politically cheap, but it doesn't
'We're gonna rebuild
America's cities and we're gonna do it with America's steel .... Medicare
for all, money pulled out of the Pentagon budget to pay for schools and
other domestic programs, and total nuclear disarmament .... This war was
wrong! This war was fraudulent! We must expose this administration!"
These are the voices of the Democratic Party's base, the voices that the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) is sworn and determined to smother in a sea of corporate dollars.
They are those voices that brought down the house at last week's Take Back America conference, in Washington, organized by the Campaign for America's Future. These are the messages that rocked the house of labor at AFSCME's Democratic presidential candidate forum in Des Moines, Iowa, last month, and have energized the party's core constituencies at gatherings across the nation. Words like these, and the struggles they evoke, are the reasons that blacks and progressives remain Democrats.
The DLC's mission is to erase the last vestiges of social democracy from the Democratic Party, so that the corporate consensus will never again be challenged in the United States. Acting as a Republican Trojan Horse in the bowels of the Democratic machinery, the DLC claims the "real" party lives somewhere off to the right, where George Bush dwells, and that minorities, unionists, environmentalists, feminists, men and women of peace - virtually every branch of the party except corporatists - must be purged or muzzled.
The Take Back America agenda, which would have seemed mild not so long ago, is too radical for the DLC:
Rev. Jesse Jackson,
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney, AFSCME President
Gerald McEntee, and New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine endorsed the conference
- but they are marginal figures, according to the DLC. Ascendant since
the mid-Eighties, the once -"disgruntled," "rump faction"
of endangered white southern Democrats - as Robert Dreyfuss describes
the early DLC in an excellent 2001 article - dole out millions of dollars
from Republican corporations to buy the party out from under its
core constituents. In a now infamous May 15 memo titled, "The
Real Soul of the Democratic Party," DLC founders Al From and
Bruce Reed shamelessly steal the people's very language to advance the
Republicans have nothing on the DLC when it comes to slinging code words. In truth, this "rump faction" has no soul. It's just a big, white corporate pocket. The only masses that count for the DLC are massed dead presidents, stacked high. The From-Reed crowd operates on a cash for favors basis, only. When a corporate deal is brokered for hungry Democrats, the DLC considers the agreement binding, on pain of later impoverishment.
Dreyfuss laid out the "New Democratic Network" fund-raising process in his American Prospect piece, "How the DLC Does It."
It is a textbook model of 21st Century political accountability - not to voters, but to corporations that spend most of their dollars with Republicans. The DLC is, at root, a candidate shakeout mechanism for big business, a clearinghouse for betrayal. Candidates must agree to support the "narrowly defined criteria" of the boardrooms, rather than the needs and aspirations of their constituencies. Every candidate that embraces the DLC has signed off on very specific points of the corporate agenda - a kind of political receipt for services rendered.
Democratic elected officials and candidates from Congress to city council and in practically every state of the union complete detailed questionnaires probing their views on war and peace, on criminal justice, on trade, tax policy and corporate welfare. Their answers are funneled to the national organization where they are meticulously examined. The Democratic incumbents and hopefuls that pass muster are called in for personal interviews by senior staff. Democrats who clear the rigorous screening process are highly recommended to the organization's corporate constituents as worthy of their wholehearted and generous support.
A purely corporate edifice
The DLC doesn't represent any Democratic Party voters. Its masters include American and United Airlines, Aetna and New York Life Insurance, Microsoft, DuPont, the agribusiness and pharmaceutical industries, Citigroup and, until recently, Enron, among many others. The DLC is an organization conceived in the boardroom and dedicated to the proposition that moneyed interests trump all others. About two hundred corporations comprise its Board of Advisors (fee: $5,000), and nearly 100 pay the cost to be the boss on the DLC's Policy Roundtable ($10,000 each). For $25,000, around 30 corporate executives pretend to be Democrats as members of the DLC Executive Council. Enron sat there, along with Philip Morris, Texaco, Chevron, and Dupont.
The Democratic Leadership Council is the mother of all corporate Trojan horses, and despite its incompetence at persuading Democratic voters to come to the polls it has come to dominate today's Democratic Party. These "New Democrats" bring their corporate assets to Philadelphia, July 19, for what they call a "National Conversation" - one in which money does all the talking. Look around for the black faces - they're under contract or, as DLC founder Al From puts it, "on display":
DLC boss From expects about 300 "New Democrat" elected officials to show up in Philadelphia. That's about the same as the number of corporations represented in the national DLC, whose "ideas and strategies" the elected officials have signed on to serve. Theoretically, each elected "New Democrat" can buddy up with a corporate executive in Philadelphia, to carry on their own "national conversation" free from meddling by actual voters and, in Al From's words, "the narrow concerns of interest groups and activists so visible in party caucuses."
Whistling Dixie on the way to the bank
The DLC is the corporate-funded right wing of the Democratic Party. It was founded in the mid 1980s by a small group of mostly white, male, largely southern Democratic politicians, corporate lobbyists and fundraisers. The original clique included Tennessee Congressman Al Gore, Senators Chuck Robb of Virginia and Sam Nunn of Georgia, and Al From, a former political operative from the Jimmy Carter Administration. To them, the Democratic Party had become too open to the political voices of African Americans and Latinos, too respectful of the rights of working Americans and the labor movement, too responsive to the justice, peace and environmental movements. "The DLC thundered against the 'liberal fundamentalism' of the party's base - unionists, blacks, feminists, Greens, and cause groups generally," wrote Dreyfuss.
Most alarming of all, in their eyes, was the 1984 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson, in which the black candidate received a percentage of the vote considerably higher than the proportion of black votes in several states, and sparked a significant expansion of the party's base constituencies among minorities, labor, and even some white rural voters. The Democratic Party was actually growing - but in the wrong direction to suit the "rump faction" centered in the white South.
Today, after almost two decades of DLC cash subversion and seduction of Democratic candidates and office holders, there is less difference than ever between Democrats and Republicans in state houses and legislatures, in City Halls or on the bench, in Congress or among the so-called "serious" candidates for president. Once again, actual and potential Democratic voters have been deterred from entering a political process that does not address their needs. For its next triumph, the DLC threatens to eviscerate or neutralize the very heart, soul and base of the Democratic Party - the Black Consensus.
Polluting the "base"
The hustlers that founded the DLC noted that vast amounts of corporate money were flowing into the state and national bank accounts of the Reagan-era Republican Party. To qualify for a cut of that largesse for themselves they would have to hijack the Democratic Party and move it to the right, away from its Democratic voting base.
The clique's objectives were (a) to move the Democratic Party to the right in order to attract contributions from the oil and insurance industries, from Wall Street and military contractors and whoever else could write the big checks, and (b) to tailor the Democratic Party's pitch to attract upwardly mobile conservative white and suburban "swing" voters.
Bill Clinton, the ambitious young governor of Arkansas, was an early DLC star recruit, and Al Gore was its anointed presidential candidate in 1988. Super Tuesday, a multi-state mega-primary centered in the former Confederate states, was engineered by the DLC/New Democrats to be their first electoral coup. By concentrating the weight of the South, Super Tuesday was designed to preemptively narrow the range of choices available to Democratic voters nationwide early in the presidential nominee selection process. It was also deliberately intended to swing the advantage to the candidate who could spend big bucks on simultaneous media campaigns in several states. However, the strategy backfired when Jesse Jackson, on the strength of an unprecedented mobilization of the Democratic "base" vote, won the South Carolina primary outright.
Funded by an impressive array of corporate backers, the DLC/New Democrats founded their own think tank, the elegantly misnamed Progressive Policy Institute, and ground out reams of press releases, corporate-friendly position papers, consultant referrals, in-person and on-air advice to Democrats that they'd better become more like Republicans if they wanted to remain "competitive" - an invitation to make themselves fitting recipients for corporate bribes, a.k.a. big campaign contributions.
The insurgent DLC tinkered with the delegate selection process at Democratic conventions to frustrate the participation of grassroots party activists. They developed their rightist corporate message and they stayed on it. They built an impressive machine to boost each other's careers and publicize the alleged "new ideas" and "innovative approaches" of their star politicians. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt and Bill Clinton all served as DLC chairs. Jimmy Carter was involved, as was every southern Democratic governor.
The DLC in the White House
Clinton was the DLC/New Democrat candidate in 1992. Rather than answer the Reaganite myth of the welfare queen, Clinton pandered to it and gave us a "welfare reform" more punitive than anything Reagan-era Republicans could have wrested from the Congress. Following the advice of his DLC advisors to not appear too close to his party's base - which had nowhere else to go, anyway - New Democrat Clinton took a couple days off during the campaign to fly back to Arkansas and pull the switch on a mentally impaired black convict, and attended an Operation PUSH event specifically to upbraid young black activist Sista Souljah. Once in office, it was Bill Clinton's DLC advisors who prevailed upon him to make passing NAFTA his first priority rather than working to fulfill his campaign promise to make medical care available to everyone. So it was that during his first two years as president, the only years during which Democrats controlled the Congress, Bill Clinton called in all his chips to get DLC/New Democrats in Congress to vote against the majority of their party caucus and join with the Republican minority to pass NAFTA, directly causing the loss of millions of US jobs to low-wage labor markets elsewhere in the hemisphere.
By 2000 the DLC/New Democrats were firmly in control of the Democratic convention, as well as the process of selecting delegates and the party's nominees - their old retread from the 80s, Al Gore, and a piously pandering senator and former DLC chairman from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman. DLC/New Democrats at the convention used any means necessary to shut down the "national conversation" that hundreds of grassroots delegates wanted to take up. John Nichols provided a valuable account in the September 2000 issue of The Progressive, "Behind the DLC Takeover."
The DLC is trying to run the same game in 2004.
The DLC and Black Trojan Horses
Back in 's second issue (May 8 2002) Harvard's Dr. Martin Kilson coined the term "Black Trojan Horse" to describe the stealth candidacy of one Cory Booker for mayor of Newark, New Jersey. The Booker campaign was a joint project of the DLC and the most right-wing foundations and think tanks in the nation. (See "Fruit of the Poisoned Tree," April 5 2002.) Although revelations of Booker's far-right associations caused him to lose his bid to plant the school vouchers flag in a major black city, the DLC continues to bestow its corporate seal of approval on a steady trickle of black officeholders and candidates. A new class of trophy blacks will walk the corporate runway in Philadelphia, next month.
We laid out 's position on so-called New Democrats in our September 19 Trojan Horse Watch article.
For the Right, bankrolling black Trojan Horses who can masquerade as Democrats while pushing positions well to the right of most other African Americans and the rest of the Democratic party's base has distinct advantages over feeding and watering the old stable of token black Republicans like former Congressman J.C. Watts. Black Republicans are rarely electable to significant office outside overwhelmingly white constituencies, making it difficult for the Right to maintain the pretense that these craven stooges represent black public opinion, or anything beyond their own career ambitions. It should come as no surprise that black Republicans are a hard sell among black voters, since a large part of their credentials consists of ostentatious display of "courageous independence" from and opposition to the views of the vast majority of the African American community.
By contrast, the employment of black Trojan horse Democrats opens up new opportunities for the Right. It is in fact cheaper and easier for the corporate Right to flip an incumbent black Democratic city councilman, state legislator or congressman than it is to bring up stooges through its own farm system. Given the choice, the Right would rather buy a black, than groom one.
A new crop of "black leaders" - appointed, anointed and financed by corporate cash - is being foisted on the community, some of them old faces transformed by new infusions of capital. An ominous and confusing period is upon us as these newly minted or recently transformed black elected spokespeople are trotted out by the corporate media as evidence that the Black Consensus no longer exists, that African Americans have shed our "outmoded" habit of groupthink everywhere that it differs from the purported White Consensus.
Breaking up the bloc
For more than two generations the vast majority of African Americans have cast ballots for Democrats, comprising that party's most loyal constituency. The black bloc vote phenomenon is the electoral expression of what we call the Black Consensus, in which African Americans support in overwhelming numbers whichever candidate they perceive to be closest to their commonly held views on public education, full employment, war and peace, criminal justice, fairness and other issues.
The black American tendency to vote more or less as a community is what made possible the careers of generations of African American Democratic (and if you go back far enough, Republican) operatives and politicians. More importantly, black bloc voting is the only factor that keeps the legitimate demands of African Americans alive and visible in the nation's political discourse.
Breaking up the black bloc vote and thereby blunting the electoral impact of the Black Consensus has long been the cherished goal of the bipartisan Right. White pundits are forever scolding black America for our misguided "monolithic" behavior at the polls, duplicitously complaining that it isolates rather than empowers black communities. Each election cycle, they wistfully predict that black bloc voting is about to end. Soon a new crop of corporate funded black candidates and elected officials, many originally elevated to office on the strength of the Black Consensus itself, will be available to tell white America what it wants to hear, that the consensus is irrelevant or no longer exists.
Philly follies and minstrelsy
If the DLC's roster is any guide, we can expect a modest herd of actual and aspiring black Trojan Horses to converge on Philadelphia, July 19, ready and willing to adjust their views on war and peace, criminal justice or anything else on the agendas of the wealthy campaign contributors gathered there to meet them. A significant number will be incumbent black elected officials.
Just what do black elected officials get from affiliating with the DLC/New Democrats?
They don't get "new ideas." Memphis Rep. Harold Ford doesn't have any ideas, other than to pledge allegiance to the Bush war policy. Georgia Rep. Denise Majette has none, and Cory Booker is just a shill for private school vouchers. They are essentially empty suits.
A look through the DLC/New Democrats' online "Congressional Idea Book" and State and Local Playbook reveals little that is new and even less that is of interest to what the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone used to call the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party". The DLC/New Democrats have nothing to say about full employment, or raising the minimum wage, or about making health care available to everyone. Instead, they package as "new" and "progressive" the craven and ridiculous suggestion of presidential candidate Joe Lieberman that the national focus should be on curing chronic diseases rather than extending health care to everyone. National health insurance is dismissed as "big government."
The corporate-funded New Democrats are mute on repealing NAFTA or the Patriot Act, mushy on affirmative action, and oppose committing the US to a course of nuclear nonproliferation. Aside from a reference to anti-profiling measures, there is little that addresses the needs of working Americans, of minorities, or that holds corporations accountable for their misconduct, or about financing elections with public funds to break the hold of big money contributors on the political processes.
Another representative sample of New Democrat "new ideas" is The May 30, 2003 New Dem "Idea of the Week" - charter schools for military dependents, which will somehow benefit public school students in nearby communities by injecting "choice and competition" into the mix. What it will actually do is further contribute to the increasing separation and isolation of the military and their families as a separate class from the rest of civil society, and further defund and degrade the public schools that children of non-military families near the base must attend.
To supplement its bad policy advice, the DLC offers exceptionally bad campaign advice to African American and other candidates and officeholders, and expensive consultants to dispense it. Although the electorate as a percentage of eligible voters has been shrinking for decades, the enlightened wisdom of DLC operatives, which has become the conventional wisdom of Democratic political consultants, is not to bother enlarging the pool of eligible and interested voters. DLC advisors counsel clients to run to the "center," a target that is itself constantly shifting rightward, to tailor their appeal to an ever-smaller group of Republican-leaning swing voters, and to do it with large expenditures on big media and direct mail to targeted constituencies. A couple of 2002's DLC non-success stories include Ron Kirk of Texas among black candidates, and Roy Barnes, the former governor of Georgia - another rising DLC star until he lost last year despite outspending his Republican rival about five to one.
What African American politicians and candidates do get from DLC affiliation is "access" - access to the money they need to pay for the bad advice. Access to money to pay for TV time. Access to the funding to retire old campaign debts and be re-elected. Before the days of the DLC it was said that corporate interests gave politicians money so they could get "access" to powerful politicians. But the DLC/New Democrats have effectively subordinated the crafting of public policy to the quest for campaign contributions. The old relationship has been reversed. Black politicians seek campaign donations to be viable candidates, and are thus "free" to adjust their stands on issues in the direction that keeps those contributions flowing. The DLC and its corporations have purchased the political discourse.
So it is that this mother of all political Trojan Horses, the DLC, has seized institutional control of the Democratic Party and will not be dislodged easily, if at all.
One saving grace remains. Although corporations can buy politicians by the bushel, they cannot vote. The logical answer to corporate dominance of the electoral process then, is to remove corporate money. Real campaign finance reform would outlaw contributions from corporations and big donations of wealthy individuals. Once corporations are deprived of the ability to bribe politicians, the Democratic Party will belong to its base among Democratic voters. There are formidable barriers to reform of this kind, including Supreme Court decisions that very nearly equate corporate bribes to politicians with First Amendment-protected "free speech." Campaign finance reforms must also be legislated upon by the very state and federal lawmakers elected under the current system. As Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago) put it:
And what if corporate money cannot be removed from the process any time soon? The time may be near when the Black Consensus and other parts of the Democratic Party's historic legacy will have to find temporary or permanent homes elsewhere. In 1948 the Progressive Party presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, in which Paul Robeson played an important part, posed a significant enough threat to Democrat Harry Truman's chances that he was forced to move to the left to keep that Democratic base largely intact. This was why in the weeks before the election Truman found the spine to veto the infamously anti-labor Taft-Hartley bill and desegregate the armed forces by presidential decree. Without a high-profile Progressive Party presidential campaign in 1948 the US armed forces might not have begun desegregation until the mid-1950s or later. Though legal barriers to ballot access are higher than two generations ago, and access to coverage in the corporate-owned media harder to come by than ever, this is another avenue that may have to be explored.
Meanwhile, recommends that readers interested in identifying the corporate-funded black Trojan Horses among their Democratic elected officials peruse the DLC/New Democrat online directory of local elected officials and its "100 Democrats to Watch" page. There will be a lot of watching and some calling to accounts in the near future. In the words of Rep. Jackson, again:
Maybe the last time
Fifteen-hundred activists showed up in Washington last week to rally under the banner, "Take Back America," but the real agenda was to take the Democratic Party back from the DLC. Although conference turnout was triple that of last year, progressives remain on the defensive, largely ignored by corporate media and relentless reviled by the now-entrenched DLC. As organizer Robert Borosage told the Washington Post, "They want to read the peace movement out of the party. That's goofy politics .... The base of the Democratic Party is here."
The DLC also seeks to purge the Black Consensus from black electoral politics, a consensus that is overwhelmingly for peace. As wrote in a November 21 analysis:
The Black Consensus is also a "big government" agenda, requiring big solutions to big problems bequeathed by monstrous racism.
Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way, seemed confident that the DLC can be beaten back this primary cycle. "We've been preparing a long time for this," said Neas to the Hartford Courant, "and we are going to block any right-wing nominee."
The right-wing nominee's name is Joe Lieberman. If he wins the nomination, it will be time to head for the exits of the national Democratic Party.
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