Matt Zeitlin does a good job of decoding the different policy recommendations in this Harold Ford and Martin O’Malley WaPo Op-Ed for the DLC. Zeitlin’s right that what Ford and O’Malley are passing off as sensible, non-partisan solutions are really just bad policy wrapped in the New Dem rhetoric of appealing to the center. Which brings me to my larger point. I’m also completely on board with this sentiment:
There is a place for “centrists” in the Democratic coalition, we should have a big tent, and a large part of the party are still attached to 90s style Clintonomics and will be for the foreseeable future. The problem with the DLC is that they frame the debate with an almost instinctive dislike for more partisan Democrats.
However, what the DLC is peddling, and has advocated in the past, isn’t always centrism, but often Clintonian triangulation, which sees political victory in taking the average of two opposing political views. This is fine for political expediency and pragmatism at times, but the important concept to keep in mind here is average. The average of a lot of wingnutty ideas on one side (or more extreme outliers) and moderate policy on the other does not equal centrist policy. The mean is not the same as the median. If more people are generally supportive of, say, a withdrawal from Iraq, taking the average of your opponents’ belief that we should also attack Iran and the belief we should begin drawing down troops is not going to adhere too closely to the majority opinion (that is, more people will be numerically supportive of withdrawal, but you’re still busy trying to dodge criticism from your opponents, shifting your policy further rightward than it needs to go).
Additionally, I think we’re also in the murky territory of moderate/centrist liberal/progressive politics, where terms are ill-defined and we’d all be better served by a fleshed out political taxonomy. The DLC is stumping for a brand of Clintonism, a centrist politics that is itself an off-shoot (or depending on how you look at it, an amalgam) of neoliberal politics. David Greenberg had a great post a few months back at Open University, writing a brief history of neoliberalism, and contrasting it against Clintonian politics and other left-of-center movements. The brand of Clintonomics that the DLC is fond of is also the result of several strains of economic thought. “Global economic competition that demands we raise our game” smacks of the sort of Reich/Thurow sloppy trade economics that Paul Krugman warned against in Pop Internationalism. This is in contrast to the Robert Rubin/Larry Summers wing, which, I suppose, The Hamilton Project represents, but of course also made up Clintonomics (and in the end, won the day).
Regardless, the DLC seems to be fighting irrelevance by sticking to their comparative advantage: bashing other liberals. It isn’t 1992 and the liberal/progressive agenda isn’t the stagnant, balkanized coalition it once was. The center has moved.