Rebooting the Democrats


BOSTON—There were few cameras and no crowds this morning on the third floor of the Westin Copley Hotel when the Democratic Leadership Council—the “New Democrats,” as they call themselves on the DLC website—gathered to set forth plans for restarting the digital economy.

The New Dem policy wonks—not Ted Kennedy or any of the old-fashioned FDR Dems—are running the show here. It’s what the DLC people say that counts, not the rhetoric on the convention floor.

Generally speaking, these people are fiscal conservatives with liberal social values. They want work, not welfare; economic growth and opportunity, not redistribution.

They are for so-called free trade, less worried about outsourcing jobs, and more concerned with the steadily sinking caliber of education, which they think will prevent the U.S. workforce from keeping up with the rest of the world. They want to assure minority kids—Latinos, especially—the educational tools to make it up the ladder. In their view, the free market is not driven so much by old-fashioned industrial growth as by making sure that every kid has broadband access, which they see as a conveyor belt that will help in the “unlocking” and transporting of the brain power that is the most important asset of the new economy.

It’s not that the New Dems refuse to admit things are not so great. Nancy Mills, who directs the AFL-CIO’s Working for America Institute, pointed out to them this morning that there was a time when, say, GM paid a salary in the $50,000-plus range, providing health insurance and retirement plans—all because of the power of unions to bargain. Now, Wal-Mart typically offers a salary of $18,000 with no retirement plan and with health benefits priced so high that half its 1.3 million workers can’t afford to buy them. Just how broadband access is going to reverse this is unclear.

Mills suggested helping the economy grow by helping low-paid workers get the right to form unions, which then could push corporations to grant not just higher pay, but higher benefits. The Clinton Dems, however, were never big on unions.

The DLC sees Clinton as the giant who remade the party in the early ’90s. For this campaign, they have welcomed Kerry as one of their own—after he made the smart decision to run with John Edwards, a Southern centrist and one of their own.

Clinton says in his new book that he patterned his 1992 campaign in the mold of the first New Democrat, whom he contends was Bobby Kennedy. “By embracing ideas and values that were both liberal and conservative,” Clinton writes, “it made voters who had not supported Democratic presidential candidates in years listen to our message.” The DLC views the party’s liberal wing, such as it may be, as a bunch of decrepit old hacks still clinging to “ineffective if well-intentioned liberalism.” They hope the old Dems will get with the message, go digital, and get a life.