The Democratic Leadership Council, the lost-inside-the-Beltway group that last fall championed the disastrous Democratic strategy of cozying up to the Bush Administration on military issues while offering murky alternatives to GOP domestic policies, is now proffering advice to the party’s 2004 presidential contenders. An early-April memo from its Washington command-and-control center sternly warned that “antiwar Democrats do not have the right to claim, as [former Vermont Governor Howard] Dean often does, that opposing the war is a matter of fidelity to Democratic tradition, or that antiwar Democrats represent ‘the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.'”
To hear the corporate-friendly, right-leaning DLC tell it, “there’s an enduring tradition of Democratic support for the principled use of force,” which includes support for the United Nations but that also preserves “America’s right to enforce international law against Iraq alone if necessary.” The DLC–which counts two presidential contenders who backed George W. Bush on Iraq, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt, as former chairs–complains that antiwar Democrats suffer from a “tendency to interpret any military conflict through the nostalgic lens of the political struggle against the war in Vietnam.” The campaign of the most outspoken war foe among the Democratic contenders, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, is dismissed as the “Unclaimed Freight Outlet of Democratic politics, retailing every failed or outdated lefty idea with a fierce and touching passion.”
The DLCers are echoing a common view among Democratic strategists who don’t get out much. The quivering crowd of Washington insiders who maneuvered their party out of contention in last fall’s Congressional contests continues to preach a caution-over-conscience line exemplified by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Martin Frost, who scolded House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for attempting to soften pro-Bush posturing in the House’s “support the troops” resolution. “We should not equivocate in our support,” Frost grumbled.
Frost and others who cling to the tired fantasy that Democrats will find a road to the White House that leads through the prowar states of the Old South may actually believe the DLC spin that says candidates who make antiwar statements speak only to “a persistent if small faction in the party.” But Democrats who are spending time with the people who will decide the party’s nomination know that there’s nothing “small” about the antiwar faction. The liberal party activists and African-Americans who form two of the most powerful voting blocs in critical caucus and primary states have remained, according to polls, steadfast in their opposition to Bush’s military adventurism. When North Carolina Senator John Edwards defended his support for the war before a crowd of 300 Iowa Democrats in early April, only two people clapped.