Looking out over Washington, DC, from his plush office, Al From is once again foaming at the mouth. The CEO of the corporate-sponsored Democratic Leadership Council and his wealthy cronies are in their regular postelection attack mode. Despite wins by economic populists in red states like Colorado and Montana this year, the DLC is claiming like a broken record that progressive policies are hurting the Democratic Party.
From's group is funded by huge contributions from multinationals like Philip Morris, Texaco, Enron and Merck, which have all, at one point or another, slathered the DLC with cash. Those resources have been used to push a nakedly corporate agenda under the guise of "centrism" while allowing the DLC to parrot GOP criticism of populist Democrats as far-left extremists. Worse, the mainstream media follow suit, characterizing progressive positions on everything from trade to healthcare to taxes as ultra-liberal. As the AP recently claimed, "party liberals argue that the party must energize its base by moving to the left" while "the DLC and other centrist groups argue that the party must court moderates and find a way to compete in the Midwest and South."
Is this really true? Is a corporate agenda really "centrism"? Or is it only "centrist" among Washington's media elite, influence peddlers and out-of-touch political class?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "centrism" as "the political philosophy of avoiding the extremes of right and left by taking a moderate position." So to find out what is really "mainstream," the best place to look is public polling data.
Let's start with economic policy. The DLC and the press claim Democrats who attack President Bush and the Republicans for siding with the superwealthy are waging "class warfare," which they claim will hurt Democrats at the ballot box. Yet almost every major poll shows Americans already essentially believe Republicans are waging a class war on behalf of the rich--they are simply waiting for a national party to give voice to the issue. In March 2004, for example, a Washington Post poll found a whopping 67 percent of Americans believe the Bush Administration favors large corporations over the middle class.
The "centrists" tell Democrats not to hammer corporations for their misbehavior and not to push for a serious crackdown on corporate excess, for fear the party will be hurt by an "anti-business" image. Yet such a posture, pioneered by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, is mainstream: A 2002 Washington Post poll taken during the height of the corporate accounting scandals found that 88 percent of Americans distrust corporate executives, 90 percent want new corporate regulations/tougher enforcement of existing laws and more than half think the Bush Administration is "not tough enough" in fighting corporate crime.
On taxes, self-described "centrists" like Senator Joe Lieberman, a senior DLC leader, attacked proposals to repeal the Bush tax cuts to pay down the deficit. Yet even the DLC's pollster found in 2001 that a majority of Americans support such a policy, and that a strong plurality of voters would actually be more likely to vote for a Democrat who endorsed this proposal. Lieberman caricatured those in favor of repeal as extreme, claiming a repeal would alienate millions of voters who supposedly feel the tax cut helped them. Yet a September 2004 CBS News poll found that 72 percent of Americans say they have either not been affected by the Bush tax cuts or that their taxes have actually gone up.