June 15th, 2009
11:14 AM ET
9 years ago

From: Democrats owe their majority to moderates

(CNN) - He's considered the father of moderate Democratic organizations. And the Democratic Leadership Council that Al From helped found has a number of progeny, including its own Progressive Policy Institute think tank.

After 25 years, CEO From is stepping down from a political apparatus he helped build out of the ashes of the 1984 presidential re-election landslide of Ronald Reagan. A party operative on Capitol Hill, From was approached by Democratic moderates, including Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Their aim was to steer the party toward a middle course and help elect a Democrat to the White House in 1988. Early on, the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton hitched his wagon to the DLC, gaining the national party prominence that would help him clinch the nomination in 1992.

"The key to our revival [as a party was] to figure out what you're going to stand for…and make sure it's things that connect with a majority of Americans," From says in an interview with CNN Radio.

At its founding, From says the DLC took "fundamental first principles of the Democratic Party: Jackson's credo of 'Opportunity for All; Kennedy's ethic of civic responsibility; Truman's tough-minded internationalism; Roosevelt's innovation; Johnson's quest for social justice." He calls it a "modern political philosophy for progressive governance. It wasn't just a compromise between liberalism and conservatism."

From detests the descriptive "triangulation" label that was put on Bill Clinton's style of governing - the notion of Democrats and Republicans going at each other on Capitol Hill while the president eventually steps in to make compromises. He prefers the term "Third Way" which he describes as "the modernization of liberalism."

He means Clintonian achievements "like a balanced budget. We did things like reform the welfare system. We changed the policing system" with funding for more officers on the street to get tough on crime. These were hardly considered bedrock Democratic ideals.

In today's nation of soaring deficits and government control over several industries, From hopes Democrats will be mindful of overreaching.

"Moderate Democrats are the key to the success of this administration; they're the key in Congress, particularly in the Senate," From argues, quickly adding, "They belong in the Democratic Party." It's a warning, of sorts to the party to "make sure that it doesn't forget some of the important lessons that we learned when we had to rebuild the party" in 1985.

From also calls for "growing the private economy" and "shap[ing] a health care plan that both gets costs down and expands coverage. That's not an impossibility, but moderate Democrats are going to be the key voters in a battle like that."

At the same time, some liberal blogs have criticized the DLC and moderate legislators who are balking at the notion of a "public option" as part of health care reform. The limited specifics of what President Obama wants in a reform package has left the hard slogging to compromise up to congressional negotiators. From worries the party might fracture over the issue.

"There's no advantage in the liberal blogs going after moderate Democrats," he says, launching into a generic defense of middle-of-the-road positions by the DLC that have often irked more-liberal Democrats.

"Moderate Democrats are the Democrats who give the Democratic Party the majority. This is basically a pretty centrist country," he says. "One of the interesting things that's happened over the last, really, four or five decades, in American politics, is that there has been very little change in the ideological makeup of the country…and the party that does the best in holding the moderates in bringing them in, welcoming them, is the party that is majority."

From says he understands a bit how Republicans feel right now; it was just as Democrats (with the exception of control in the House) wandered after the 1984 election. And he worries that groups pulling the Democratic Party leftward - organizations that consider the DLC too vanilla, such as Center for American Progress, MoveOn.org and Campaign for America's Future - might expect too much from President Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill. It could be a fragile majority, he warns, if government grows too pervasive.

"So there's no advantage to liberal Democrats to drive the moderates out of the party, unless they want to go back to the 1980s." Returning to the hot topic this week, health care reform, From calls for "a practical solution.

"This will have to be compromised."

From now plans to write a book, and take on political consulting work.

Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Pat F

    Good for you, From. The extreme left of the party has hijacked it.

    June 15, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  2. My brain got baked in Phoenix

    I told you Clinton was nothing more than a handwashed republican.He sold us down the river on NAFTA,outsourced our jobs to India and China,and insourced jobs via H1N1.

    June 15, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Reoublicans can learn something from Mr. From. But even with Mr. From's assistance, the GOP is in danger of becoming non existant because of people like that racist jerk in Sout Carolina.

    June 15, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  4. Mississippi Mike

    Yeah, they do. Too bad the Dem's decision makers are radical socialists that have no idea what the people who voted for them want to see happen. As with any radical government, they'll fall fast and hard. For reference, please reference the rise and fall of Jimmy Carter.

    June 15, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. GI Joe

    Our jobs were insourced via the H1N1 (Swine Flu Virus)?.

    What a scarey republican non-thinker we have in Phoenix (with his/her brain baked). HA. Bet he listens to Cheney and Limbaugh.

    June 15, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  6. Obama Victim

    and as they move further and faster to the left.....they will lose the moderates...............can you say "1 and gone'???

    June 15, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  7. The Original No Incumbents 2010

    The Democrats owe their majority to George W. Bush and all the other Republicans that moved to the left , because they thought it might get them elected. When you look at the lay out of the land and (sorry CNN) which news cast has the highest ratings, it does appear that republicans ARE indeed out of touch with main stream America.
    Seems to me the more the republican party moves to the left the further out of touch they move with America. If it walks like a liberal, talks like a liberal and votes like a liberal, you may as well vote for someone that at least calls themselves a liberal.

    June 15, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. dontreadonme

    This will be the fall of the current dem party. They are losing more moderates every day and their far left agenda will cause them a great deal of pain.

    By the way that jerk in SC is a "former" low ranking Repub and holds no official office.
    Thanks for sensationalizing that story CNN.

    June 15, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. Ray from Nashville

    If you follow presidential elections, you'll note that both parties owe their elections to us moderates in the middle. Clinton ran as a centrist (and brain in Phoenix, I agree with you), Bush and Gore both came to the middle, Obama came to the middle and McCain tried to come to the middle. The fact is that the radical fringes that claim to be the core of both the Democrat and Republican parties don't have the numbers by themselves to pull off an election victory. Look at Bob Dole and the '96 election. The GOP went to the right and took a beating. The election of 2012 looks right now to be shaping up like a repeat of '96, with the far right dominating the Republican party and its platform. Hard core conservative strategists keep repeating that the country is right of center, but the evidence shows that it is not that far right of center. I think those of us in the center should flex our political muscle and take the best part of what both parties are offering and make America great again.

    June 15, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  10. Kim

    Republicans will not have a come back because the American people are tired of their underhanded remarks.They don't have a plan of their own so they criticize the other party.

    June 15, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  11. phoenix86

    The democrats will be out of power in 2 – 4 years. Moderate republicans will then take over. The nation is more independent than democrat or republican, but independents want less government, less taxes and more individual liberties. Obama has shown that he and the dems are hostile to Independents.

    One and done.

    June 15, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  12. Fair is Fair

    @ Dutch:

    The jerk in SC is a fool and does not speak for the GOP. To accuse all the GOP of racism because of 1 idiot's stupidity would make that guilt by association. That being the case, are all democrats klansmen because Robert Byrd once was? Of course not.

    Unfortunately, there still is racism in this country, and sadly, there probably always will be. It's ugly and it's something ALL of us should
    hope and pray goes the way of the dinosaur.

    June 15, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  13. Greg Ballantyne

    The Democratic Party is more centrist today than it has EVER BEEN. All you idiots complaining about "far left hijacking' are swimming in the tiny puddle that has shrunk down so far that even Rush Limbaugh can be a big fish in it. Listen to Mike Murphy, for the GOP the Ice Age cometh.......

    June 15, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  14. Randolph Carter

    That's why I call myself a "lesser of two evils democrat." Have a nice day!

    June 15, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  15. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    @ Fair is Fair

    Point taken. I can't accuse the entire republican party of being racist. But let's call a spade a spade. There are more moderates moving to the democratic party because of the hateful and divisiveness of the extreme right of the republican party. If I were a republican, I would be considering leaving the party due to all the negativity coming from out of the party.

    June 15, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  16. Diane Dagenais Turbide

    Nobody likes to live on the far left or far right.

    June 15, 2009 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  17. Lori asks the GOP why Sotomayor is a 'racist' by SC GOP state activist Rusty DePass isn't?

    Let's be honest here. The Republicans will have a VERY difficult time being re-elected into majority status ever again. Why? The demographics are against the Republican party. African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women voters and youth voters although they differ on the ideological spectrum, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat. FACT. The Democrats contain moderates, conservatives and liberal politicans and followers but the Republican party stifles any opinion that is liberal or moderate. And even as a moderate in the Republican party you CANNOT be pro-choice, anti-gun rights or pro-gay marriage whether you're a follower or a politican. As a Democrat, I see people of all different ethnicities, beliefs and ideologies and they embrace everyone. In the world of politics, the Dems are the lesser of two evils.

    June 15, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  18. Kevin Denver Colorado

    All I can say is just wait......... we finally have an intelligent president we can be proud of ......... a necessary first step to be sure.

    June 15, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  19. southerncousin

    Dutch/BadNewsVA@You must not be reading these posts. Go back and look at the crap that was written by the libs about Sarah Palins daughter and Letterman. Talk about hatefullness. I still have not received any good explanation as to why this is different than what Imus said and where is the Reverand Al on this one? Sorry Dutch, I'm sure you are of the its okay to hate and demean republicans bunch.

    June 15, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  20. ghost

    No news here. Lifelong repubs and dems will tote the party line as long as the candidate doesn't stry too far off the reservation.

    What I would like to see is some real work being done towards any solution. I may not agree with your plan, but if the majority feel that's the way to go, why not do what you can to make it happen as opposed to just being grumpy bout it?

    June 15, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  21. Fair is Fair

    @ Dutch:

    I would venture to say that there are as many moderate democrats leaving their party as a result of the far left as there are moderate republicans leaving their party as a result of the far right. Quite honestly, the former is simply not given as much air time as the later, and hence one doesn't hear much of it.

    The bottom line is that extremism, whether from the left or from the right, is bad for the vast majority who simply lean one way or the other.

    June 15, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  22. ghost

    Southern, you have to be kidding me. Letterman made fun of Ms. Palin, who has been speaking in public engagements since the election. Sorry, but that makes you late night comedy fodder. Imus made derrogatory statements that had a racial tone to them. And before you start, I had no problem with it. But you can't say whatevery you think and not have to suffer the consequences. Kinda like the cat from Grey's Anatomy. But I guess you have no thoughts on him, though.

    And please tell me you aren't bringing up with folk say on these blogs as proof of hatefulness. We just say thru about a year or so of extremely hateful comments from conservatives. Just go watch Right America Wrong and you'll see how compassionate conservatives are.

    June 15, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  23. Neutralizer

    I used to be a Democrat but extreme left hijacked the party. I no longer support the party, but people like BILL AYERS (domestic terrorist) a good friend of Obama and Wright (mentor of Obama – a father figure for him) destroyed what ONCE a good party. New poll done by gallup this year, over 40% of Americans are now conservatives, over 30% are moderates and only 26 % are liberals.

    The Democratic Party was DESTROYED by the LIBTARDS, EXTREME LEFT. Senator Jim Webb is a moderate Democrat, I think many democraps next year running for re-election will LOSE.

    June 15, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  24. Fair is Fair

    @ ghost:

    Hope all is well, my friend. Our forefathers warned us about party politics. We are now seeing why. Anyone who blindly follows the mantra of one party or the other is also to blame. Both parties have been hijacked by their respective fringe wings. As a result, the vast majority somewhere in the middle are those who get the shaft. Sigh....

    June 15, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |