Thursday, May 29, 2003

The Nation - Why The DLC is Wrong

Borosage -- Progressives would profit more by studying the way the New Right responded to life in the political wilderness. In the mid-1970s, Richard Nixon was exiled in disgrace and Democrats controlled everything--the presidency, both houses of Congress and the judiciary. The liberal era that conservatives had hoped to end seemed to have new life. At that moment, New Right strategists made two major decisions: to build an independent capacity to drive their message, their values and their movement into the political debate and to take over the Republican Party from green-eyeshade moderates and make it their vehicle. The New Right scorned the Republican DLCs of the time and instead built an independent, cause-based political movement.

New Right donors--Coors, Mellon Scaife, Richardson and others--didn't pour their money into places like the American Enterprise Institute, the established voice of corporate America. Instead they funded the openly right-wing Heritage Foundation, which redbaited liberal leaders; championed Star Wars, supply-side economics and school vouchers; and assailed welfare, abortion rights and affirmative action. Heritage minted not new policy ideas but timely political ammunition--message, propaganda lines, factoids--to arm New Right legislators and activists, and it aggressively promoted its advocates on op-ed pages and talk shows.

Rather than invest primarily in the Republican Party, the New Right backed the Moral Majority, galvanizing the emerging right-wing evangelical movement under the leadership of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others to preach family values and opposition to abortion. It built its own network of independent PACs, led by the National Conservative Political Action Committee. Aided by Richard Viguerie's innovative direct-mail operation, it forged an independent capacity to recruit and train candidates who shared its values. For the most part, New Right adherents rejected third-party politics as likely to prolong liberal dominance and made the GOP their vehicle, with Ronald Reagan as their champion.

The result not only transformed the Republican Party, it helped produce a sea change in American politics, driving the debate to the right and creating the basis for the conservative era that has defined the past twenty years of American politics. And trimmers like the DLC drifted further and further to the right in an elusive search for the "center" of American politics.

Today, conservatism is failing to meet the challenges facing the country: global stagnation and instability, inequality, corporate corruption, pressures on families, America terrorized. And the excesses of the self-described "movement conservatives" who dominate this Administration are generating an impassioned response from the besieged--the women's, civil rights, antiwar, environmental and union movements.

In Congress, progressive leaders, including Dick Durbin and Jon Corzine in the Senate and Jan Schakowsky and George Miller in the House, have launched independent efforts to take off the gloves and challenge the extremism and the corruption of this Administration. Backed by a coordinated message, aggressive communications strategies and targeted issue campaigns, they will help generate the "echo effect" so vital to driving an argument through the noise of the media.

"Real issues" about "real people" are at stake, as the DLC's memo so helpfully informs us. But movement conservatives won't be dislodged by the DLC's politics of pander and positioning. Instead we need to return to a politics of passion and principle that asserts our values, our ideas and our energy, and develop the independent capacity to drive our causes into the political debate and the electoral arena.

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