The future of the Democratic Party

by Beacon Staff • October 18, 2006

When Thompson uttered those words, the conservative movement was just getting started on what would be a 30-year-long push to the right.,e 1972 presidential election, he called John Mitchell, President Richard Nixon's former attorney general, a "prophet" for saying, "This country is moving so far to the right that you won't recognize it."

When Thompson uttered those words, the conservative movement was just getting started on what would be a 30-year-long push to the right. Since then, conservatives have opened countless think tanks media outlets, groomed conservative leaders and made liberalism-once the dominant political and intellectual force in America-a dirty word.

Thompson was around long enough to see the fruits of this conservative effort.

"Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush," he wrote in Rolling Stone in 2004. "Where is Richard Nixon when you need him?"

Thompson was correct. Conservatives have pushed this country so far to the extreme right, the left has no choice but to push back.

But sadly, while conservatives have pushed the country to the right, powerful forces in the Democratic Party have helped them do it.

In 1984, Al From and Will Marshall started the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group of conservative Democrats that aimed to find the "vital center."

The DLC and other "New Democrats" champion a concept called triangulation, or the Third Way. The idea is that the right and left can and should find common ground and meet in the middle-hence the triangle.

This strategy has failed miserably. It has left us with what we have now: Republicans controlling all branches of government as well as the parameters of political debate.

Democrats, so often scared of appearing too liberal, have cowered under Republican pressure. Many of them have legitimized unthinkable Republican laws by voting to legalize torture (Military Commissions Act), suspend habeas corpus rights (the Patriot Act) and invade countries that never attacked us (the Iraq War Resolution).

Worse, as these New Democrats have tried to triangulate, the Republicans have not. In order for the Third Way theory to work, the parties must meet in the middle. But in practice, both parties have moved to the right, taking the so-called center along with them.

Moreover, while this twisted dance has taken place, Americans have suffered. The middle class is shrinking, union membership is down, tuition prices are skyrocketing past the rate of inflation, wages in some sectors are stagnant, civil liberties are being taken away, and we are stuck in a misguided war while those who dissent have their patriotism challenged.

And some Democrats think we need to continue down the road of triangulation?

The good news is the American public, disgusted by the state of American discourse, is moving to the left and the DLC is dying a slow death. When the DLC included Sen. Barack Obama as one of its "100 New Democrats to Watch," he asked the group to take his name off the list. "I don't know who nominated me for the DLC list of 100 rising stars, nor did I expend any effort to be included on the list," he told Black Commentator Magazine. "I certainly did not view such inclusion as an endorsement on my part of the DLC platform."

"The DLC needed Obama a lot more than Obama needed the DLC," wrote The Nation's Ari Berman.

Politicians now see the benefit of embracing progressivism.

For example, John Edwards and John Kerry both publicly broke ranks with the DLC by calling for a withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Iraq and admitting their votes the war were mistakes. When Sen. Russ Feingold moved to censure President Bush, a move opposed by Lieberman/DLC types, many established Democrats predicted it would hurt him politically. On the contrary, Feingold's popularity soared after the push for censure.

More Democrats should realize that opposing the extremists who run our government is not in itself an act of extremism.

Triangulation has run its course and it has failed. Democrats must now turn to its populist roots if they wish to win elections and, more importantly, win back their credibility.