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Writing Iraq Out of the Fall of the DLC

It seems Al From is stepping down as head of the Democratic Leadership Committee in favor of Bruce Reed who’s a font of clever small-bore policy ideas:

From always relished the conflicts. Lately, though, the problem has not been these intramural quarrels so much as obscurity. Barack Obama ascended to the presidency without much debate over whether he was a “new” or “old” Democrat, and did not seem much interested in the DLC — spurning the Clinton precedent and never addressing the group’s annual conventions.

Reed, a close friend and one-time co-author with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, said he plans to run a leaner organization focused less on internal party battles and more on “post-partisan” policy ideas.

Most of this article I agree with, and I think Reed taking over is a good idea. There’s some valuable work to be done in that kind of policy space, and I hope a Reed-helmed DLC makes it. But it’s ridiculous to discuss the waning influence of the DLC without talking about the war in Iraq. Back in 1992, I don’t think anyone thought that being a “DLC Democrat” entailed the idea that it would be good to respond to a terrorist attack with a unilateral preemptive invasion of a country that wasn’t involved in the attack. I don’t think anyone thought that in 1993. Or in 1994. Or in 1995. Or in 1996. Or in 1997. Or in 1998. Or in 1999. Or in 2000. Or in 2001. As of 2001, guys like Al Gore and Howard Dean were DLC Democrats in good standing. And that’s because for all this time friends and foes of the “centrist” tendency in Democratic Party politics didn’t see a very specific and weird foreign policy doctrine as the essence of what the centrist tendency was all about. But starting in the fall of 2001 and continuing through 2003 and 2004 the DLC completely overhauled its brand around a war focus, loudly and frequently complaining that expressing doubts about the wisdom of such a unilateral preemptive invasion would condemn the Democratic Party to electoral oblivion. This was a huge tactical and substantive error and opened up a lot of space for other groups to blossom and fill some of the valuable functions that people once associated with the DLC.

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I’ve complained about this repeatedly with regard to the post-hoc history of the Obama–Clinton primary race, but I think political journalists have spent an enormous amount of time forgetting about the intra-party fight over Iraq that Democrats had in 2003 and the following few years. But this was a big, bitter battle with a lot of consequences (including ironic ones — progressive doubts about Clinton’s national security judgment drove a series of events that ended with her being put in charge of foreign policy) that linger to this day.