After George H.W. Bush was elected president in November 1988, centrist Democrats gathered to commiserate over losing five of the six presidential elections since 1968.
They agreed their party was rejected at the polls because it had drifted too far to the left since the “McGovernites” had taken control of the mechanics of the National Democratic Party in 1972.
To win back middle-class voters, Democrats, led by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, founded in 1985 the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). These “New Democrats,” as they called themselves, declared that their mission was “to expand economic opportunity not government.”
The rise and fall of the DLC is aptly described in Prof. Lily Geismer’s new book, Left Behind: The Democrat’s Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality.
While Geismer is critical of the DLC and clearly sides with the far-left wing of the Democratic Party, her book gives a good overview of the policies and programs the DLC promoted.
The “New Democrats,” aka neo-liberals, went against the grain of the “Great Society” mentality of the 1960s that caused, for example, welfare rolls in New York City to skyrocket from 393,000 in 1963 to 1.2 million in 1973.
To help eliminate welfare dependency, the DLC argued that “economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone” and the “free market, regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.”
And when DLC chairman, Bill Clinton, was elected president in 1992, the neo-liberals had the chance to implement their platform fueled by the ethos “doing good by doing well.”
Many of Clinton’s policies were dedicated to strengthening the two-parent family and to cracking down on crime in Democratic-led inner cities.
In 1994, Clinton persuaded Congress to pass the Violent Crime Control Law Enforcement Act drafted by Sen. Joe Biden.
The law’s provision, Geismer reports, “included expanded use of the death penalty; life sentences for non-violent offenders; … elimination of federal funding for inmate education; truth-in-sentencing provisions…; funds to place one hundred thousand more police on the streets; and $10 billion for new prison construction.”
Clinton’s other major achievement was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that he designed with GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and signed into law on August 22, 1996.
The Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform provisions required recipients to look for jobs and limited lifetime benefits to a maximum of five years.
The DLC argued correctly that the new welfare system would change “from one that creates dependence to one that creates opportunity and promotes responsibility.”
During his tenure, Clinton also promoted policies that had market-based solutions, including privatization of government services, and empowerment zones. He shied away from long-time Democratic Party special interests (i.e., labor unions) and listened to new entrepreneurs, particularly those located in Silicon Valley.
Clinton infuriated the teacher unions for favoring government-funded independent charter schools that “drew on market-oriented techniques of competition and data-based accountability” which would help students, particularly minority ones who were often falling behind in floundering inner-city public schools.
Not every Democrat was pleased with the neo-liberal anti-redistribution government assistance programs. And the leader of the opposition was the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Chicago.
Jackson portrayed himself as the heir of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. He not only opposed the DLC, which he defined as “Democrats for the leisure class,” but called for the reduction of military spending and increased spending on social welfare programs, drug treatment, public housing, education, etc.
Jackson also supported “a moratorium on family farm foreclosures, civil rights legislation to protect the LGBTQ community, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, a workers’ bill of rights, and ending the war on drugs.”
He denounced the DLC’s commitment to “equal opportunity, not equal outcomes” and opposed Clinton’s Welfare Program complaining it assumed “a deficiency in Black and poor people.”
In November 1996, the American people rewarded Clinton’s “middle way” approach to governing by renewing his lease on the White House. He was the first Democrat to be elected to a second term since FDR in 1936.
Clinton’s pro-growth economic policies extended Reagan’s economic boom for another decade, and balanced the federal budget for the first time since the late 1960s.
But, the Jackson wing of the Democratic Party refused to go away. In the 21st century, a new generation of far-left activists, led by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and AOC’s “Congressional Squad,” have taken control of the party, just as the “McGovernites” did in the early 1970s.
Like their forebears, the AOC leftists are pushing the political envelope too far and are alienating a large portion of working-class folks of every ethnic background.
If present polling numbers hold up until November, Jesse Jackson’s heirs will take a drubbing in the November elections similar to the shellacking the McGovernites received at the hands of voters during the Nixon and Reagan eras.
And that would be a good thing!
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.