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Temper Tantrums at Big Money's Democratic Party Embassy

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It's been a rough few weeks for the folks at Big Money's Democratic Party Embassy, otherwise known as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). First, Rolling Stone cut through the DLC's seemingly friendly, subtly caustic, vaguely cultish rhetoric and exposed its rather odious agenda for all to see (an agenda I also try to detail in my new book Hostile Takeover). Then, DLC posterboy Joe Lieberman lost to a previously little-known reformist challenger named Ned Lamont, despite Lieberman grossly outspending Lamont with corporate dollars flowing to him from many of the same industries that fund the DLC. Then, populist Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D) dropped the hammer on the DLC in a speech at the Milwaukee Press Club - the first time in recent memory a Senator has publicly told the truth about the destructive influence the DLC has had on the Democratic Party. So, all in all, DLC staffers Al From, Bruce Reed, Will Marshall, Ed Kilgore, Marshall Wittman and the Big Money interests they rely on for their DLC paychecks are probably not so happy.

That has to explain why Kilgore, formerly a Zell Miller staffer (see addendum for clarification), melted down yesterday on his blog. In an eight paragraph rant attacking me and Sen. Feingold, he tries to paint the DLC as just a small, low-budget idealistic operation struggling to advocate for the greater good in an evil corrupt Washington that the DLC had nothing to do with corrupting. We're expected to believe the DLC is the organizational equivalent of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or a garage band struggling to make it big. All "the DLC does is write policy papers, hold conferences, publish a magazine, and network among state and local elected officials," Kilgore writes. "Three of us do blogs." They are the virtuous underdog, doing whatever they can to go up against the powers that be, right?

Wrong. As the American Prospect detailed a few years ago, the DLC is funded by huge contributions by some of the largest and most powerful multinational corporations in the world - companies like Chevron, DuPont, Enron, IBM, Merck and Company, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Texaco, and Verizon Communications who eagerly forked over the $25,000 entry fee to be on the DLC's "executive council." As the Prospect noted, the DLC's "revenues climbed steadily upward, reaching $5 million in 1996 and, according to its most recent available tax returns, $6.3 million for 1999. " Said the organization's executive director: "Our revenues for 2000 will probably end up around $7.2 million."

Put another way, the DLC making itself out to be the innocent, virtuous, shoestring underdog is like billionaire Warren Buffet telling people with a straight face that he is applying for food stamps.

But, of course, we're expected to forget that reality - and forget what the DLC's huge treasure trove of corporate cash has bought over the years. Kilgore wants us to believe that the DLC, for instance, had nothing to do with aggressively pushing corporate-written trade deals that deliberately undermined Americans' job security, wages and benefits - all to the benefit of the DLC's big corporate donors. He wants us to believe the DLC had nothing to do with these trade deals, despite the DLC's well-documented record pushing these trade deals even today - as trade policy's horrific consequences for ordinary Americans are intensifying.

Similarly, he wants us to believe the DLC has been a great champion of health care reform, instead of what it really has been: a force that, at every turn, has tried to make sure Democratic Party policy never challenges the profiteering of the DLC's health and pharmaceutical industry donors.

We're also not expected to remember that the DLC and cronies like Lieberman have made their name viciously attacking progressives on all sorts of issues and undermining the Democratic Party's ability to have a clear message that contrasts with Republicans. But again, that runs into the actual, fact-based public record. You may recall, it was the DLC that spearheaded a smear campaign against Howard Dean in the lead up to the 2004 Democratic primaries. You may recall it was DLCers like Will Marshall that helped neoconservatives push the Iraq War in the late 1990s. You may recall it was the DLC and DLCers like Joe Lieberman who helped legitimize the concept of Social Security privatization as far back as 2000 - undoubtedly making their donors in the financial services industry very happy. You may recall it was the DLC's congressional arm that authored a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert demanding Hastert pass the credit card-industry written bankruptcy bill.

Hilariously, Kilgore also tries to imply that even if the DLC had behaved like this, it hasn't really had a way to get its message out because, again, we're expected to believe all "the DLC does is write policy papers" and all the DLC has is three blogs. But you may also recall that the DLC has, for years, been able to rely both on fawning coverage of its Big Money agenda by the Beltway media, and more importantly, the microphone of a weekly magazine called The New Republic.

That's thanks to New Republic owner Marty Peretz - the guy who not-so-subtly makes fun of the family wealth of others, yet who himself married into a corporate empire and then bought himself a media platform he couldn't achieve on his own merits. His magazine for years provided a built-in subscribership for the DLC to peddle neoconservatives' and corporate executives' latest press releases. That is, until the magazine's subscribership began to steeply plummet to butt-of-jokes depths when readers caught onto just how much of a right-wing propaganda rag it had become, and how disgusting chickenhawks like Peretz and his writers were using the magazine to push the very kinds of misguided military actions they personally sought to avoid when they had the chance to serve themselves. Nonetheless, Peretz recently sold a piece of his share to one of the DLC's founding financiers and the magazine - despite its depressed subscribership - still is a reliable rag for DLC-ish screeds against the Democratic Party and progressives in general (read editor Peter Beinart's now infamous New Republic cover story demanding the Democratic Party purge progressives from its ranks - call it the Elitist Manifesto, if you will).

Kilgore can try all he likes to dishonestly claim the DLC is just some low-budget idealistic garage band pursuing their supposedly innocent and not-yet-realized dreams of prominence. And it's likely true - there are more than a handful of corporate lobbyists in Washington shedding tears now that the DLC's star is falling and people have woken up to the DLC's destructive influence, transparently corrupt agenda, and election-losing advice. But this persecuted underdog fable likening the DLC to the main character in the movie Rudy is positively laughable.

Moreover, even if you accept Kilgore's lie that the official DLC organization itself has been just some infinitesimally small gnat barely making the supposedly Evil Liberal Colossus twitch, it's clear that DLC-ism has intensely afflicted the Democratic Party for the last 10 to 15 years - and with horrible electoral consequences. That DLC-ism's fundamental tenets preach that Democrats should 1) never frontally challenge moneyed power; 2) unquestioningly embrace Washington's distorted definition of national security "strength" as being a politician willing to indiscriminately bomb/invade foreign lands regardless of how that weakens U.S. security; and 3) deliberately distort the concept of "centrism" to make it mean "well outside the mainstream of American public opinion."

That this DLC-ism is being handily rejected by more and more Democrats at the very same time Democrats are surging in the polls clearly makes the staff at the DLC very frightened. They know people are figuring out that Democrats are making political gains BECAUSE they are finally rejecting DLC-ism, and starting to push a far more populist agenda - and one that is at the actual "center" of American public opinion, not the distorted faux "center" of the Washington Beltway. This agenda is scary to the powers that be because it doesn't rely on the official approval of a bunch of Washington lobbyists, corporate lawyers and unprincipled insiders sitting around a conference table at places like the Washington Court Hotel, the DLC's D.C. offices, or the DLC's highly-touted "national conversations" that are, of course, officially "not open to the public."

Make no mistake about it - Kilgore's rage is not surprising, and it is being parroted by other DLC staffers (check out this radio debate I recently did with one of them - in response to my pointing out the DLC's corporate backing, he melted into a babbling incoherent rant about George Soros). Hell, I'd be scared and upset if I was working at the DLC, because everyday I came to work, I'd be reminded of my own irrelevance, ineptitude and public rejection - and with the new rise of truly grassroots politics, there would be fewer and fewer things I could do about it. That may be bad for the DLC, the lobbyists, and the Washington establishment, but it's great for small-d democracy.

ADDENDUM: Kilgore, I found out after writing this post, worked for Miller well before Miller abandoned the Democratic Party, and publicly attacked Miller when he began attacking Democrats. I regret that I did not know this when I wrote the post, and I sincerely apologize to Ed Kilgore for not being more clear about this.