The Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist organization whose mission for over two decades was to support moderate Democratic candidates, has announced that it is suspending its operations due to a lack of funds.

The DLC was founded in the 1980s by Al From and Bruce Reed based on the belief that Democratic politicians needed to move toward the center in order to increase their electability. The organization was elevated to prominence by President Bill Clinton, who once served as its chairman, and served as the seedbed for many of his policies.

The DLC has been in decline in recent years, with its operating budget shrinking by $1.1 million between 2004 and 2008. Over the last few months, its full-time staff has been significantly reduced. From retired in 2009, and Reed has moved on to serve as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden. Despite these inroads into the White House, the DLC was viewed with suspicion by the Obama administration, which made raising money increasingly challenging, according to Politico’s Ben Smith.

Some, like Andrew Malcolm of the Los Angeles Times, see the DLC’s end as a sign that the political center is dead, while others in the commentariat regard the success of the DLC’s heir apparent, Third Way, as proof that the middle is alive and well in the Democratic Party. Matt Bennett, vice president of public affairs for Third Way, says that the DLC was one of the most important influences on policy in the last quarter century, and will be remembered as such.

“The DLC leaves behind a thriving legacy in moderate Democratic policy-making and politics,” Bennett told C&E. “Third Way is proud to follow in their footsteps and take up the mantle for a new generation of moderates.”

Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, which was founded as an offshoot of the DLC, says he is not worried about the post-DLC state of centrism. “When we started the DLC in 1985, there wasn’t much on the center” he says. “Now you have a crowded center. There is no problem for centrism in a country that is essentially centrist. The Democratic Party is a coalition party with progressives, moderates and even a smattering of conservatives, but moderates still dominate.”

Some suggest that the DLC was simply a victim of its own success; having helped pave the way for business-friendly donors to back Democratic representatives directly, they argue, its fund-raising apparatus quickly faltered.

Meanwhile, upon hearing the news of its demise, many in the liberal blogosphere chose not to praise the DLC but to bury it. Alex Pareene at Salon.com accused the organization of abandoning the Democratic Party’s core voting blocs in order to “modernize its donor list.” A blog post at DailyKos.com said of the shuttering at the DLC, “There is a god.”

The legacy of the DLC lives on, however, in the halls of power. With Reed’s move to Biden’s office as chief of staff, and President Obama’s new choice of William Daley as his new chief of staff, many suggest that the White House is making a deliberate, ostentatious move toward the center. 

As Marc Ambinder observes in a thoughtful eulogy for the DLC in National Journal, the Democratic Party may have shifted ideologically toward the netroots, but its best chance for electoral success remains in the center. “The group may be going away,” writes Ambinder, “but debates about its ideas will dominate politics for a long time to come.”

 

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com