Conservative DLC Biggest Loser in 2002 Election
Between The Lines
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A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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for release Nov. 18, 2002
Conservative Democratic Leadership Council Biggest Loser in 2002 Election
*Democrats who sided with Bush's tax and Iraq war policies lose seats in House and Senate
Interview with Manning Marable, professor of history and political science at Columbia University, conducted by Scott Harris.
When all the votes were cast and counted in the Nov. 5th congressional mid-term election, the Democratic Party made history. Bucking the decades-long trend of political parties in opposition to a first-term president gaining congressional seats, the Democrats instead lost control of the U.S. Senate and saw their membership decline by five in the House. Without a clear message and with many Democratic candidates allying themselves with key Bush administration positions on war with Iraq and tax cuts, political observers were not surprised at the party's losses.
The Republicans, now in effective control of all three branches of government -- executive, legislative and judicial -- will be in position to fully control the agenda in Washington. The GOP has signaled that in the years ahead, their program will include making permanent, large tax cuts for the wealthiest sector of society; authorizing oil exploration in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge; and the appointment of Supreme Court and federal judges pledged to weaken reproductive rights, civil rights and consumer protection law.
Although the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the popularity of a "wartime" president were said to be factors in the Democrat's failures, the party's move to the right was also a critical issue in the view of many progressive activists. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Manning Marable, professor of history and political science at Columbia University. Marable, a supporter of the Green Party's Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, examines the 2002 election results and what the Democrats must do to rebuild their party.
Dr. Manning Marable: If one goes back in U.S. political history, the last time that a sitting president's party gained both seats in the House and in the Senate in the off-year election two years after his election, or re-election occurred in 1934 with Franklin Roosevelt. For a Republican, it only occurred most recently in 1902 with Teddy Roosevelt. It's been 100 years since a Republican sitting president had gains in both the House and Senate two years after his original election. So clearly something went terribly wrong.
Now, when we say that the Republicans' gains were unprecedented, we have to really put that into brackets because at a national level the electorate was largely divided. I believe that if you count all of the House of Representatives votes -- Democrat vs. Republican nationwide -- only about 50,000 total votes separated the Republicans from the Democrats out of 70 million or 80 million votes cast.
The other thing that's striking is the vast majority of American adults did not vote. The turnout was about 39 percent of the registered voters. But since only about 75 or 80 percent of all Americans who are over the age of 18 are registered to vote, you're really talking about less than one third of the total adult population voting, and of that only about 16 or 17 percent voted for Republicans. So this so-called crashing mandate is only one out of six voters. That's not very much.
I think out the real loser in this election was the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC was formed about 15 years ago by Al From and a group of centrist Democrats led at the time by an obscure Arkansas governor named William Jefferson Clinton, along with a group of other Democrats, including Al Gore and Richard Gephardt in the House from St. Louis. They believed that there had to be a kind of centrist mode between the Reagan Republicans and the traditional liberal Mondale-McGovern Democrats. They espoused a strategy of triangulation, separating themselves from the traditional liberalism of the Democratic party and the Reaganite Republicanism that was then ruling Washington, D.C. at the White House. The strategy, however, proved very problematic because the Democrats who lost in the 2002 off-year elections generally tended to be those who had either embraced Bush's massive tax cut for the wealthy -- the $1.35 trillion slash of the taxes -- versus those Democrats ! who won that generally tended to vote against that tax cut, and/or the Democrats who also endorsed the invasion, basically the use of military force against Iraq. More conservative Democrats tended to lose; the more progressive and liberal Democrats Nov. 5th tended to win.
Between The Lines: Dr. Marable, you spoke a moment ago about the Democratic Leadership Council which has steadily moved the Democratic party to the right over the years with their triangulation policy that Bill Clinton and his advisors made famous -- or infamous. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Clinton, Gore, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman -- all these people seem fairly well entrenched. Is there going to be some kind of groundswell or a cry for change within the Democratic party and will California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the new minority leader in the House of Representatives, be part of that insurrection?
Manning Marable: You have to keep in mind that if you look at the congressional Democrats, there are only a little over 200 Democrats who are in the House. The Congressional Black caucus is nearly 40 people, so one out of every five or six Democrats in the House of Representatives is an African American. So that by itself shifts the ideological and political weight of the Democratic caucus in the House to the left, because African Americans generally support progressive and left of center politics. Always have throughout the 20th century, and probably always will. So it's not surprising that Pelosi was able to get a lock between labor, liberals, African American and Latino representatives in Congress.
The real question though, is what do left of center, progressive and liberal people do about a political system where over 90 percent of the candidates who have the most money, regardless of partisan affiliation and ideology, win in any congressional or senatorial race? So with "winner-take-all," with money dominating the electoral political process, it is very difficult for a progressive or left of center point of view to really have an impact upon the political discourse or decision-making apparatus in our so-called democracy.
The only alternative for us is really mobilizing and organizing the vast majority of American people who do not share the interests of the "Enron Republicans," that can pursue a vision of small "d" democracy that can push the Democratic party to the left and hopefully, politically create an alternative to it, to its left. Note the challenges ahead: this will not be an easy period for us.
Manning Marable is the author of "The Great Wells of Democracy," published by Basic Books. Visit Dr. Marable's Web site at www.manningmarable.net
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Nov. 22, 2002
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