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Monday, Jan. 29, 2001 at 10:56 PM
Following the DLC game plan, Gore ran away from key Democratic issues in an attempt to woo "moderate swing voters" with meaningless platitudes about "fighting for America's families" and "continuing our historic prosperity," while his poll numbers continued to sag. It was only when the Gore campaign finally started hitting progressive notes in the final weeks of the campaign that he finally recovered in the polls. The lesson: Democrats still do better running as Democrats than as pseudo-Republicans.
Corporate-Controlled "Democratic Leadership Council" Urges Democratic Party to Repeat Failed DLC Strategy of Chasing "Moderate Swing Voters."
According to a recently-released "analysis" by the big-business-funded Democratic Leadership Committee (the DLC), Al Gore lost the election because he failed to capture enough moderate voters. The DLC game plan, unchanged from the late 1980s, is for Democrats to present as conservative an image as possible, in order to diffuse Republican criticism and capture the "vital center" of American politics. The DLC points to the Clinton/Gore victories in 1992 and 1996 as prime examples of its success.
But if this is the game plan, how could Gore have failed? After all, he spent most of the campaign (and indeed much of the last 8 years) catering to the moderate/conservative voters that the DLC favors. This year "soccer moms" were out of fashion, but "white male gun-owners" were rediscovered and declared to be the key swing vote by Gore's DLC advisors. Simply pander to them, the DLC strategists said, and you'll pick up the votes you want in the "center," while the progressive wing of the party will "hold their noses" and vote for the Democratic ticket out of fear of the Republicans. So he kept quiet on gun control, touted his support for the death penalty, and selected Joe Lieberman, the DLC's number one supporter in the Senate, as his running mate.
According to the DLC's own logic, Gore should have won this past election by a landslide.
But the situation is simply not the same as it was 8 years ago: First of all, in 1992 Clinton and Gore, despite being confirmed "moderates," at least made a point of speaking to issues like the need for universal health care, stricter enforcement of environmental laws and campaign finance reform -- winning progressive votes and the chance to show us that they would fight to keep their promises.
But after winning power, Clinton and Gore failed on virtually every important progressive promise after the election -- such as human rights, health care, money in politics, and a new, responsible approach to the environment. By 1996, most progressives saw through Clinton -- but without an alternative, most continued to vote for the lesser-of-two-evils, or not vote at all.
But now the situation has changed: Voters do have an alternative, in the form of the Green Party. If the Republican-defined "center" is where the Democrats aim for new votes, they will have to continue to abandon progressive principles and sell their constituents out on key Democratic issues. If this is the strategy of the Democratic leadership, they face the dilemma of losing one or more voters to the Greens for every one they gain from a "Reagan Democrat" (or whatever the pundits are calling them nowadays).
In short, the electoral math has changed dramatically and the same old formula of "taken-for-granted-progressives + pandered-to-conservatives = victory" no longer adds up (so maybe Gore did have a "fuzzy math" problem after all).
That's why the DLC strategy didn't work this year, and it still won't work in 2004 or 2008. Just take a look at what happened this summer, as the Gore campaign kept hiding from many of the issues that motivate the activist wing of the party, which does much of the real work in election campaigns. Despite the rash of school shootings, Gore pretty much ignored the issue (don't want to offend those gun nuts!). Despite the grassroots support evident in the surge of progressive organizing since Seattle, Gore never said how he would address the social and environmental costs of unfettered global trade.
Despite his boast that he would "stack up his environmental record against anyone's," Gore demonstrated little attention or vision, and even less action, toward his supposedly deeply held interest in protecting the biosphere. Despite eight years of "leadership," Gore could point to surprisingly few environmental accomplishments, whereas the Greens had no trouble turning up dozens of examples of broken promises and dirty deals.
At the Democratic Convention, Gore put his progressive face back on for a few hours, and actually addressed his own base of support for the first time in months. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but for the next several weeks he got a very significant boost in the polls, putting him well ahead of a struggling Bush.
But for several months between the Convention and the last few weeks of the campaign, Gore tacked hard to the right. Following the DLC game plan, Gore ran away from key Democratic issues in an attempt to woo "moderate swing voters" with meaningless platitudes about "fighting for America's families" and "continuing our historic prosperity," while his poll numbers continued to sag. It was only when the Gore campaign finally started hitting progressive notes in the final weeks of the campaign that he finally recovered in the polls. The lesson: Democrats still do better running as Democrats than as pseudo-Republicans.
In considering the consequences of following the DLC strategy, the Democratic Party's leaders should bear in mind that the 3% of the voters that actually cast their ballots for Nader and LaDuke are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many voters the Democratic Party stands to lose if they follow the advice of the DLC. There's no way to know exactly how many Green-leaning Democrats Gore managed to win back with his "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" propaganda, but there were an unusually high number of undecided progressive voters late in the campaign who seemed to feed Gore's final surge.
While difficult to measure, the latent Green vote is obviously larger than the final vote tally would suggest, it may already account for as much as 10-15% of those who eventually cast their ballots for Gore. There is no guarantee that all of these potential defectors will stick with the Democrats next time around -- especially if the Democrats, by hewing to the right, add fuel to the Greens' argument that the Democrats are selling out their constituents and cozying up to the big-business donors that fund both parties.
Even at 3%, Green voters number in the millions, and Gore won the popular vote by only about 400,000 voters -- not enough, as it turned out, for a decisive victory in the electoral college. That's why the DLC advice that the Democrats should ignore the left, though it may have benefited Clinton in the past, helped sink Gore in the recent past. And despite the DLC's recent attempts at spin control, it will continue to be bad advice for the Democratic Party in the long term.
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