by BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon
Despite the labels hung on him from all sides, Barack Obama has been, either determinedly reluctant, or notoriously slippery about defining himself. But early this month, according to a story in Politico, in a relaxed meeting with right wing congressional Democrats, the president let slip his mask, if only for an unscripted moment. “I am a New Democrat,” declared President Obama, firmly identifying himself with the brand and philosophy, though not necessarily with the organization of the Democratic Leadership Council.
President Obama Declares His DLC Allegiance: Says "I Am A New Democrat"
by BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon
According to a well-sourced, but largely unnoticed story in story in Politico early this month, Barack Obama declared in a private meeting with a group of rightwing House Democrats that he was "a New Democrat," volunteraily assuming the discredited brand of the deeply corrupt Democratic Leadership Council.
Back in 1984 and 1988 the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns scared the living daylights out of the white Democratic Party establishment. What frightened the good old white boys in charge of the Democratic Party most wasn't Jackson's poetic oratory or the color of his face. It was the middle and end of the Reagan era, and tens of millions of Americans, including white ones, were ready and eager for a deep and thoroughgoing change in the nation's politics. Jackson might well have been the nation's first black president. But Rev. Jackson did something that the first black president did not do.
Unlike the man who became the nation's first black presidentf a quarter century later, Jackson brought more to the table with him than the symbolic presence of the nation's poor and disenfranchised. Jackson took the relentless media spotlight that follows presidential candidates to farms and factories and housing projects and directly articulated the concerns, the demands of millions of ordinary people people in the Democratic Party's base. A bigger threat to party bosses than a Democratic base mobilized behind its own will, a base that believed it had the right to craft and pursue its own policy objectives and that holds the candidates they voted for responsible for, is hard to imagine. The mostly white bosses of the Democratic party a quarter century ago and today, prefer a Democratic base that votes, and then goes away after the elections, one that allows them to do the talking instead of speaking and moving for itself, a Democratic base that will not and cannot hold its elected representatives to any standard of articulating and carrying out the people's will for peace abroad and economic justice at home.
The threat to Democratic party leaders faded after the '84 and '88 elections, when Jackson demobilized his people into the existing structures of the Democratic party. But the lesson was not lost on Democratic Party leaders. In the wake of the small-d democratic upsurge of the 1980s they cemented their hold on the Democratic Pary by founding the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC assured them access to the same sources of corporate funding as Republicans, and on the same basis. As long as Democrats carried the water of big insurance, big pharma, the airlines, the energy companies and Wall Street, as long as DLC-funded candidates could speak for the party's base rather than allowing that base to speak for itself, and as along as the Democratic base was sent home between elections, Democrats would be assured a steady stream of corporate funding.
In a generation, the nation's elite educational institutions along with think tanks from the Manhattan Institute to the Rand Institute, and funding from corporate foundations, would incubate a new generation of “black leaders,” the Cory Bookers, the Artur Davises, and finally Barack Obama. While paying expert lip service to the tradition of African American struggle for human rights and economic justice, the new-style leaders declare themselves “pragmatic, not dogmatic,” and actively oppose the interests of the constituents that make their careers possible.
The so-called New Democrats with whom Barack Obama identifies are, next to the House Blue Dogs, the most rightwing of Democratic reps in Congress, with considerable overlap between the two groups. In fact, several House New Democrats are also Blue Dogs. New Democrats supported the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and continual increases in the military budget. They all supported the bailout, and uphold No Child Left Behind and favor the gradual dismantling and privatization of public education in the US which NCLB set in motion. New Democrats are tepid at best on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers across the country the legal standing workers have in many other advanced industrial countries to fight for wage and benefit increases and respect and dignity on the job.
And despite the fact that single payer health care would create 2.6 million new jobs and cover all the uninsured while costing no more than the present and profoundly broken health care system, New Democrats prefer a healthy private insurance sector to a healthy population. They know that families who do not fear losing their precious medical benefits will be less afraid to organize and strike and fight for better wages and conditions. New Democrats favor throwing trillions at banks to “revive” the economy, but are willing to cut or gut Social Security. All these policy positions, and the New Democrat label itself are the heritage of the Democratic Leadership Council, with which Obama was briefly affiliated early in his career, but forced to disavow. Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a leading New Democrat in the Congress, has always been a stalwart of the Democratic Leadership Council. Emmanuel used corporate campaign cash to run pro-war Democrats against antiwar Democrats in 2006 and 2008.
As potent as the DLC-New Democrat brand is, it is also poisonous. As a candidate for the Democratic nomination to the US Senate in 2003, Obama urgently needed to lock down the progressive, black and antiwar vote in his home state of Illinois, and was compelled to renounce the Democratic Leadership Council. That was then. This is now. Perhaps the president feels himself untouchable and unaccountable now that he is safely in the White Hose. Maybe he was just relaxed. Whatever the case, the truth of where his political allegiance lies is no longer a matter of conjecture.
The Democratic Leadership Council has always been “Republicans-lite,” a pack of corporate funded Trojan Horses inside the Democratic Party responsible to their funders, and not to the Democratic Party's base. Now President Obama has assumed his place, as the leader of that pack.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta. Email him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com