They said Bernie Sanders is too extreme to win the Democratic nomination.
But that doesn’t seem right; extreme compared to whom?
In his use of the federal government to solve problems, Sen. Sanders doesn’t have any idea that would have sounded extreme coming from the mouth of Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt. Or, heck, even Otto Von Bismarck (in 1883, he signed a landmark law that guaranteed health insurance to all German workers).
Bernie Sanders is only too extreme for the current Democratic Party: one of the most conservative forces in American politics.
How did it get this way? How did the party of labor and Henry Wallace become the party of free trade, private prisons, and hawkish Russia policy? It was the Democratic Leadership Council. “Crashing the Party” tells the important story of how a handful of rich white guys transformed the Democratic Party.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan won 49 states against Walter Mondale. In 1985, a group of mostly young, mostly southern Democrats (like Chuck Robb of Virginia, Sam Nunn of Georgia, and Dick Gephardt of Missouri) founded the Democratic Leadership Council.
“The Democrats were eager to give away eggs, but we had forgotten about the Golden Goose,” a DLC founder explains. The Golden Goose is the economy. The Democratic Leadership Council preached private sector growth as its ultimate goal. And the way to get there was free trade, deregulation, and a total abandonment of unions. The DLC turned against the welfare state, saying that their goal was equality of opportunity, not equality of results.
“Crashing the Party” is based on a book by DLC co-founder Al From and Mr. From is also the star of the documentary. Accordingly, the movie is an upbeat story of DLC triumph.
However, the documentary does feature one dissenting voice: long-time nemesis Jesse Jackson. Mr. Jackson’s criticisms of the Democratic Leadership Council are scathing. He called the DLC “Democrats for the Leisure Class.” He also asked pointedly: “if you falsely claim to have created equality of opportunity but a group of people are still poor, what does that say about those poor people?”
By the late 1980s, the GOP had conquered foreign policy. The vast majority trusted Reagan and viewed the Democrats as weak. The DLC recruited the toughest hawks in the Party and consciously turned the Democratic Party into the consistent enemy of isolationism and peace.
“Crashing the Party” doesn’t tell us about this, but the DLC systemically attacked any Democrat who stood up against military interventionism. Al From personally worked to defame and destroy Howard Dean in 2004 because Gov. Dean was the most prominent anti-Iraq War Democrat.
In 1988, George Bush defeated old-school Democrat Michael Dukakis in part by painting Governor Dukakis as soft on crime. The DLC vowed to never let that happen again.
From here on in, the Democratic Party was going to “punish crime, not explain it away.” The culmination of this new attitude was the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, which had the clear intended goal of putting millions more non-white men behind bars. Before long, the only major political groups decrying the prison industrial complex were right-wing organizations like the Koch Brothers Foundation.
“Crashing the Party” concludes on a triumphant note in 1992, when DLC Chairman Bill Clinton won the Presidency. The film also rightly includes Barak Obama as a DLC-friendly New Democrat.
The film claims that the DLC led the once hapless Democratic Party to 16 years of success and leadership. However, it can also be argued that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama were simply great candidates – eloquent, likable, and charismatic. They would have won their elections no matter and could have run as liberals.
In that light, the Democratic Leadership Council didn’t lead its party to victory. It simply transformed the party of labor and peace into one of the most conservative forces in American politics.