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.