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July 23, 2005

Triangulators?

With the DLC conversation in the post below raging forward, I think this is one misconception widespread enough it that its correction should be bumped up to the front page: The DLC has nothing to do with triangulation. They don't. Not at all. Triangulation was entirely Dick Morris's word, idea, and concept. Morris, a mostly-Republican operative, thought Clinton could take the good from both sides, drop the bad, and thus transcend partisan differences. So the triangle, with bottom point "a" being one party, bottom point "b" being the other, and the top point being the President rising above both.

That's not what the DLC wants. They believe they've created a new ideological structure, similar to how neoconservatism has brought new foreign policy ideas to the Republicans party, they want to bring new domestic ideas (and occasionally foreign) to the Democratic party. They want a party that's more market-based, more concentrated on growth, more deficit-centered, more concerned with correctly responding to globalization, more intent on fostering "the Information Age", etc.

You may think they're right or wrong on these tenets, or that their policies do/do not achieve these ends, but their motivation isn't moderation for moderation's sake. Don't get me wrong: there's plenty to criticize the DLC for, but too often they get criticized for what they're not. And they are not triangulators, nor the inventors of triangulation, nor advocates of its continued use. And we should get that right.

July 23, 2005 in Democrats | Permalink

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hey want a party that's more market-based, more concentrated on growth, more deficit-centered, more concerned with correctly responding to globalization, more intent on fostering "the Information Age", etc.

Break me a fucking give, Ezra. To the extent that is all they wanted, the war was won in 90s. The market thing won, they're inventing new challenges (just as PNAC did) - hence Iraq. As MY's pointed out, the largest thing that divides the Kos-ites, etc. from the DLC is Iraq. The DLC will never admit that decision was a mistake.

To the extent they get "blamed" for triangulation, it's because of their doomed faux-Lost Cause attempt to redeem the South by getting it to vote for Democrats. It's great if a few states in the South vote our way, but (a) it's not strictly necessary electorally, and (b) we don't want to give away the store to do so. They are constantly commenting that the ways in which we fail are precisely the ways in which we will become more palatable to the most odious on the other side. Let them, just once, say something about Padilla.

To the extent the DLC gets blamed for attacking Dems - is anyone really in any doubt about this? If you had to pick two Dem politicians that seemed to go out of their way to attack or generally piss off the "base," I'd bet you'd pick (Zell aside) Lieberman and Biden. If you had to pick two Dems that represented the face of the DLC, you'd pick the same two. The DLC has a well-deserved reputation for shiving Dems who do not serve them. (That said, Kos is crazy if he thinks net-roots are anything but a small though important part of what we need for infrastructure; we need the people the DLC represents, if the not necessarily the DLC itself. His comments to the contrary are genuinely harmful.)

Finally, "triangulation" is nothing new; not as a word, not as a strategy. You could argue that FDR triangulated by steering the middle course between the hard left and the hard right of the country back in the day. What Morris invented was an excellent PR coup.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 23, 2005 12:48:45 PM

Oh, it's certainly true that the split is about Iraq, but that doesn't any more make the DLC an Iraq-centered organization than it makes the netroots a peace-centered group. Unless you think we're all here to oppose that conflict, which I can't imagine you do. But this is just the thing, it's what I mean by divisive: we're no better to them than they are to us. We can't countenance supporters of the war, they can't countenance those who opposed it.

But this post is about triangulation, as it's what the DLC is often accused of and not something they've ever actually advocated. They've got tons of policy proposals and ideas over there -- anyone who thinks they just want to chart a middle path simply hasn't read what the DLC actually proposes.

As for your point that they've gotten much of what they want, that's exactly right, which is why I called them a group teetering on the edge of obscurity. But they've watched Bush, same as us, systematically destroy much of what they've achieved, and as a result, their organization has turned almost as partisan as we are. Fundamentally, we're all on the same side here, if only in opposition.

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 23, 2005 1:08:42 PM

It is often impossible to separate an organization from its leaders. The DLC suffers from Al From-ism. In From's efforts to regain the fallen crown he had in 1990-1992, he has badly hurt the Dem party overall by attacking 'activists' - the very people fired up to help win the elections.

In a May 2003 memo, From and Bruce Reed said:
What activists like Dean call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is an aberration: the McGovern-Mondale wing, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home. That's the wing that lost 49 states in two elections, and transformed Democrats from a strong national party into a much weaker regional one.

In a very earthy commentary in March 2005, Steve Gilliard takes on From et.al.:

Ok, when you have a team, people bring different things to it, but the goal is to fucking win. You don't get anywhere by cutting down your fucking teammates. You don't like Mike Moore and Move On, you bitch about them in a private e-mail, you don't run to those fucking bitches at the WSJ and proclaim them the problem.

There is, with little doubt, a conflict between centrists and populists in the Democratic party. In both the Gore and Kerry campaigns, the candidates seemed to swerve back and forth between these two positions - as if they might only be binary choices.

In some instances, they are kind of binary: attitude toward corporations, or war/national security. We shouldn't deny that these divisions exist, but all out war between the factions doesn't help - particularly if the war is fought in the media.

Maybe you are right that the DLC doesn't triangulate in the stricter understanding of that term. But they do position themselves (in a looser, triangulating way) between the older, traditional, outright liberal Dem. party of old, and the Repubs. That the DLC ends up almost indistinguishable to the Repubs is viewed by the DLC as a virture, and a vice by the non-DLCers.

I'm closer to the Gilliard, Kos side of this 'conflict' than to the Al-Fromism end, if for no other reason than the DLC positions (and prominent members - like Lieberman) end up so often reinforcing and validating the BushCo/Repub agenda and methods.

In my mind, a third kind of triangulation is in order for the Dems - between the strictly populist, anti-war activist left and the more centrist, internationalist part of the Dem party. There are good ideas and people in both camps and the differences can be accommodated with good will and some effort.

The problem with From is that he wants to win his way, not cooperate. He wants to be the King. He is the (less effective) Rove of the Dem party, and his whineing and attacks against Dems are really bad news. He should retire from the scene.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 23, 2005 1:11:43 PM

I feel for your argument Ezra. No doubt the DLC vaults are full of thousands of well thought position papers and ideas, many of them potential winners.

But the DLC's public face, its willingness to be used as tools by the Republican Noise Machine, has destroyed any hope that that work will ever receive a fair hearing.

It sucks, but that is the realit we face. If the work in that vault is to ever get a fair hearing then it needs to be separated from the image that is the DLC.

I appreciate your desire to save the good work in that vault from the disparaging attacks on the DLC. But your fighting a lost cause. The Democratic base has been permanently poisoned on the DLC as a "leadership" organization. You will not win this fight.

If you truly want to salvage the work of the DLC from the mess they have themselves created then you need to leave the DLC behind. Dynamite the vault. Steal the papers. Re-release them under another title.

But stop trying to save the DLC from a grave it dug for itself. You will only cause lasting damage to yourself.

Posted by: Chris Andersen | Jul 23, 2005 7:15:12 PM

P.S. -- There is no "third way." Just new excuses for voting for one of the original two. Associate them with parties, if you like, but in the end, there's just "yea" and "nay." There may be third reasons. There may be third explanations. But there's no third way.

Posted by: Kagro X | Jul 23, 2005 7:55:16 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 17, 2007 2:41:05 AM

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