In the Arena

New Donkey Strikes Back

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The estimable Ed Kilgore, aka Newdonkey, formerly of the DLC, but now the official blogger of Democratic Strategist, had a problem with my column this week. I’ll let him explain:

In Joe Klein’s piece on the DLC, “Political Pariahs,” I was nodding along with much of his analysis until I came to a section where he accused Al From of picking “silly fights” and then said this:

In 2003, From took on Howard Dean for opposing the Iraq war. “It used to be that you could kick around liberals and not get a reaction,” says Ed Kilgore, a former DLC spokesman turned moderate blogger. “Dean changed that. The liberal blogosphere kicked back.”

I was rather surprised by this attribution, since (a) I don’t agree with the first sentence at all; (b) never use the word “liberals” to describe the DLC’s critics, and (c) also don’t agree that From or the DLC “picked a fight” with Dean, or that the fight as it developed was just about Iraq (after all, a big chunk of DLC friends in Congress voted against the war authorization, and if anybody at the DLC attacked original war critics like Wes Clark and Bob Graham, I missed it).

What I actually recall saying to Joe in our conversation at the DLC event is that the fight over Dean (arguably just a standard-brand nominating season fight) did indeed lead to a demonization of the DLC among many elements of the netroots, fed in part by occasional but provocative DLC quotes comparing the Doctor to McGovern and Mondale, which were not intended as compliments. More importantly, the fracas helped soldify a netroots stereotype of the DLC as an essential–perhaps the essential–part of the DC Democratic Establishment, which completely submerged the DLC’s past history as party outsiders, and continuing focus on non-Beltway elected officials, as reflected in the entire eleven-year history of the DLC’s annual meeting. I also told Joe that unexpressed hostility to Bill Clinton, and expressed hostility to Hillary Clinton, was a motivating factor for some DLC-haters in the party, who invariably identify the DLC with Dick Morris’ infinitely unfortunate term, “triangulation.”

It would probably take a team of psychologists and archeologists to reconstruct the history of the DLC’s relationship with other Democrats, and probably very few people actually care. But I don’t think current netroots hostility to the organization is simply a product of “silly fights” launched by Al From.

My Response: I may have been wrong about the use of the word “liberal,” but I stand by the rest of Ed’s quote and will add this: Ed may not have been talking specifically about the From-Dean controversy, he may have been talking, generically, about how the relationship between the netroots-wing of the Democratic Party and the rest of the world changed with the arrival of lefty bloggers. But his point–the one in the quote–is a good one, either way. The controversy between the DLC (or much of it) and the left over Iraq was the first time that the left could “kick back” effectively, because of the blog megaphone. The dynamic between the DLC and the left-wing of the party changed, dramatically, for the worse.

Ed and I may also have a disagreement about which, if any, of Al From’s fights with the left have been silly. I agree with Ed that hostility toward the DLC isn’t merely a consequence of the sins of From. In fact, most of the criticism coming from the left is inaccurate, overwrought and foolhardy: the people attending YearlyKos this weekend would have not have found much to quibble with, in a policy sense, at the DLC’s annual meeting last week. But sins there were: the problem for Democrats in 2004 was not Howard Dean, but George W. Bush. It was a time for the DLC to reach out to the anti-war movement, and find points of agreement. Now, when even Al From, concedes that he was wrong on the war–and the actual policy differences are miniscule–it’s even more crucial for both sides to figure out how to reconcile.

In the end, let me reiterate what I said in the column: The DLC is not merely Joe Lieberman, it is also Harold Ford–and a slew of moderate Democrats who hold office throughout the country. For the netroots to read them out of the party is incredibly stupid. The fixation that Democrats, far more than Republicans, have on heresy is one of the weirder, cripppling aspects of the party.