End of the Democratic Leadership Committee follows its success over Democratic Party

Politico and other online political blogs reported Wednesday that the Democratic Leadership Committee, which swung the Democratic Party decisively into the center in the 80s, is closing it’s doors.

The DLC led a move by Democrats to compete with the GOP for donations from big business.  The new tactic proved successful, as the Democrats succeeded in soliciting massive corporate donations, particularly in the financial and banking sectors.  The process of the political change is discussed in A Dangerous Man, the documentary on the political evolution of Ralph Nader.

Chaired by Bill Clinton before he became President, the DLC was the most prominent of groups within the Democratic Party to adopt Republican methods of fundraising. Non-partisan citizens groups quickly found it more and more difficult to gain access to Democratic politicians.

I came to Washington over 40 years ago to help improve my country and, and started a lot of citizen groups who did that. That was a time you had a hearing in Congress, regulatory agencies would be more responsive. Around 1979, the doors started closing on the citizen groups. So my concern comes from, to give you statistics quickly, 58,000 workers who die every year from work-related diseases & traume; 65,000 people who die from air pollution; and all the fraud, waste and abuse that’s eating at the heart of the family budget. – Ralph Nader, Meet The Press, February 24, 2008. Source: http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ralph_Nader_Government_Reform.htm#Citizen_Empowerment

The long lasting results of this shift in the Democratic Party’s priorities can be seen in the financial crisis of 2008.  With the passage of the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, President Clinton and Congressional Democrats approved the removal of Depression-era financial controls which kept banks from speculating on mortgages.   The repeal of the act led to enormous donations to the Democratic Party from the financial sectors, ($71,204,764 for the 2008 Presidential election alone) and set the stage for the speculative housing bubble and the current financial crisis.

The dissolution of the DLC does not signal a change in Democratic Party policy.  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is a product of the financial sector and continues to pursue policies most acceptable to the commanding heights of the industry.  Meanwhile moderate critics of the financial sector like Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz are ignored within the administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Oil tank at night by Nate Beaty.

Heating oil tank at night. Flickr image by Nate Beaty. Reproduced under Creative Commons license.

So it should come as no surprise that President Obama made a “neighborly” speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday.  The President already pledged to push for further business deregulation in his State of the Union address.   The Washington Post noted that the Obama administration’s agenda over the next two years is going to

… be even more chamber-friendly than it was over the past two years. It will emphasize infrastructure investment, which the Chamber of Commerce supports, corporate tax reform, deficit reduction, education reform and some free trade agreements. No obvious points of contention there. The administration also just hired Bill Daley as chief of staff, a move the Chamber of Commerce applauded.

Source:  http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/02/why_obama_and_the_chamber_are.html?hpid=topnews

The national Chamber of Commerce, including the financial sector, will be ambivalent toward Obama so long as corporate profits continue to rise.  Low wages rand high unemployment are already a well known feature of the recent “economic recovery”.  The coming austerity budgets will hit working people hard, as they see public services sacrificed for tax rebates to business and service on state and national debt.

The practical example of this approach is clear.  The next Obama budget proposes halving the free heating oil program for the poor.  Obama’s cuts will save $2.5 billion dollars, but will force hundreds of thousands to choose between food and heat.  This proposal comes just a month after the President brokered a deal extending the Bush tax cuts for two more years.

The end of Democratic Leadership Committee signals the success of it’s project within the Democratic Party.  People who want to see government run in the public interest, and not for the convenience of corporations, will find both parties closed to them.  As bad as the situation will be, at least the corporate profits accompanied by austerity at the local state and national level is an opportunity for people to work locally on concrete campaigns.

One such campaign starting in South Carolina is the Ties That Bind Coalition, and it is circulating a petition for “fair budget solutions” and will hold a rally on March 12 at the State House in Columbia.   This is an initiative of South Carolina labor unions,  the SC Christian Action Council, SC Fair Share and other organizations, some affiliated with the SC Democratic Party.

It’s encouraging to see local Democrats acting against the legacy of the DLC.   We’re a long way from enacting even the moderate goals of this petition.  Changing the political debate in Columbia will require a real social justice movement, comprising not just repentant Democrats, but Greens and independents who are untied to the state and national Democratic Party.   People won’t work for a “Democratic” solution to the state’s budget, so long as Obama and Geithner are pushing austerity policies nationally.