The DLC’s Stolen Thunder

It seems that the once-mighty Democratic Leadership Council is going to close its doors.

Jon Chait says it’s because the group became obsolete:

I always had mixed feelings about the group. I think it was about half innovative effort to counterbalance traditional Democratic interest groups, and half naked effort to suck up to corporate America and/or give contentless messaging cover to red state Democrats.

But for the main part, the DLC disappeared because its work was over. The remaking of the Democratic Party begun by Clinton held in place. The DLC floundered because it had nowhere else to go — having moved the party to the center, it could only advocate for the party is it stood in the Clinton and post-Clinton era, or advocate that it move further still toward the center. It became a an anachronism.

There’s something to that, but I think it’s hard to understand the decline of the DLC outside the context of the rise of Third Way during the same period. If it were really true that DLC’s market niche had become anachronistic, it’s hard to see why we’d see a new organization with the same basic political mission and diagnosis become prominent. The key thing, I think, is that Al From’s decision to go all-in on Joe Lieberman and the invasion of Iraq fatally weakened the institution. That didn’t change the fact that there’s a market (both on the donor side and the politician side) for economic policy ideas that are to the right of CAP’s but to the left of Paul Ryan. The energetic entrepreneurs behind Americans for Gun Safety were able to seize this opportunity and build a more ambitious organization whose growth further ate away at the DLC’s foundations.

Meanwhile, I think it remains an open question who’ll be out there to take on some of the less overtly political elements of the DLC’s mission like complaining about shoe taxes.