Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Denver Nuggets

Just returned very early this morning from the DLC's annual meeting in Denver, exhausted but happy at how the event turned out. As I noted in yesterday's brief post, the National Conversation had a record turnout of state and local elected officials, which should help, among anybody paying attention, rebut the "DC Establishment" stereotype about the DLC. As always, it was refreshing to spend some time among electeds who are actually trying to solve problems; congressional Dems, for all their virtues, have no power to do that. And Monday's public event, including the rollout of Hillary Clinton's American Dream Initiative, was quite coherent and upbeat. Lord knows there were plenty of reporters in Denver who would have loved to ignore what was actually going on at the DLC meeting and instead written about intra-party fights, and plenty of bloggers and other DLC-detractors who would have loved to pile on. But they weren't given a hook for it, and I'm relieved and grateful for that.

Tom Vilsack's and Hillary Clinton's speeches in Denver are already available on the DLC web site, and they are well worth reading. Vilsack offered a good quick summary of what the DLC is about these days. And Clinton combined an effective critique of Bush domestic policies with a very focused and specific set of counter-policies that would get the country back to what it was accomplishing when her husband was in office: expanding the middle class and dealing with supposedly intractable social and economic problems. Vilsack mentioned, as he always does, his efforts to build bridges between the DLC and the labor movement, which will begin to bear fruit in a visible way in a few weeks (stay tuned). And Clinton's economic/social agenda managed to attract praise from none other than Bob Borosage of Campaign for America's Future, who pioneered DLC-bashing long before it was cool.

Last time I checked, the DLC event had not attracted much attention in the progressive blogosphere. Sure, Markos of DKos dismissed the whole deal as irrelevant in a throwaway line in a broader post on Bill Clinton's Lieberman appearance in Connecticut yesterday; but he would have done so even if we had revealed the cure for the common cold. That's his story and he's going to stick to it.

Chris Bowers of MyDD, with whom I sometimes have a friendly sparring-partner relationship, did a long post cherry-picking press reports on the Denver event in order to argue that the DLC was focused on poll-driven political arguments for doing this or that.

I would agree with Chris if that was what had really happened. But here's the thing: this was the most wonkified DLC gathering I can remember. The whole event was organized around a collection of 22 essays on national security; a book on state and local policies to deal with globalization; and a big and specific agenda (the aforementioned American Dream Initiative) on middle-class opportunity. I was there the whole time, and didn't hear any polling data. Yes, there was one session focused on a DLC paper about electoral and demographic trends. But that's the kind of stuff Chris normally loves; it's pure data and political analysis. He singles out for particular opprobrium the discussion of faith and politics he read about; presumably this refers to the workshop on this subject I moderated in Denver. But having been there and all, I can assure him that the main thrust of the discussion was "authenticity" in connecting progressive principles with faith traditions. And my own remarks focused on the misreading of public opinion research that leads some Democrats to say damaging things about religion and politics.

I can understand the lefty impulse to describe any DLC event as revolving around poll-driven injunctions to Democrats to abandon their principles and drift to the center and right. But it's still a little odd to get bashed within the poll-and-elections-obsessed blogosphere for simply acknowledging a political dimension to the question of how progressives should pursue their values and policy goals. You can't take the politics out of politics, no matter how you want to prettify it. But anybody who was actually in Denver will agree that the big message was that Democrats need principled big ideas to take full advantage of the ongoing disaster of Republican misgovernment.
-- Posted at 4:10 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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