Chapter 2

Home Front

This essay is a review of:

The New Democrats and the Return to Power

by Al From

Reconstructed Democratic Heritage
by Bryan Lee

The cause and effect of change has been apparent in the development of the United States. The medium of success was always embedded in one simple concept- progress. In order to make progress, one needs to adapt to the shifting trends in the modern society. Reflecting this ideology in his work, The New Democrats and the Return to Power, Al From shares his experience working in the Democratic Leadership Council and rectifying the broken American government. His extraordinary rhetoric thoroughly projects the problems of his party and the solutions to the complications. From, in his elaborate description of the rise of the New Democrats in the 1980’s, accentuates the importance of change and the art of adaptation. Beginning with the description of the 1980 election, Al From details his excursion in the political field that molded the nation itself. The Election of 1980 was a landslide victory for the Republican Party: “The Democrats spent the 1980s wandering in the political wilderness.”1 In response to this constant defeat, Al From asserts that there needed to be a clear change in the policies of the Democratic Party; However, actualizing the thought was a challenge: “After 1988, some Democrats urged that party to reaffirm its commitment to New Deal liberalism while others argued that it should turn to the right.”2 Upon the gradual weakening of the Democratic Party, an internal schism could not be eschewed, further stressing the need for a New Democrat: “The New Democrat Philosophy is built on basic understanding that John Kennedy had taught: opportunity and responsibility must go together.”3 Formulating the possible foundations of the New Democratic policies, From highlights the significance of providing opportunity and expecting civic responsibility. After defining the basic blueprint of the New Democrats, From introduces the intellectual and political roots of the soon to be Democratic Leadership Council. The first coordinated effort of the New Democrat movement began in the House Democratic Caucus proximately after the 1980 Republican landslide. Gillis Long, the chairman of the HDC and the godfather of the New Democratic movement, set the stages for the New Democrats to express their policies and beliefs. The formation of the Democratic Leadership Council was stimulated by the Mondale election debacle in 1984. In response to the quagmire faced by the Democratic Party, introspective New Democrats, Chuck Robb and Al From, note the “six lessons” learned from their past defeat. After its establishment in 1985, the DLC continued to push for the approval of their policies: “From day one, the clear mission of the DLC was to forge a forward-looking national agenda that would make Democrats competitive again in national elections.”4 Hoping to win the attention of the public, the DLC actively visited numerous states introducing their forward-looking agenda. Consequently, the “Texas Blitz” and the “Change and Hope Tour” served as crucial turning points in the history of the DLC. Further aiding the DLC in1986, Chuck Robb particularly stressed that the nation collectively had “to end the conspiracy of silence that has inhibited frank public discussion of the new obstacles to black progress.”5 One of the crucial steps that the DLC took in order to receive the nationwide recognition was creating an illusion of power. The Super Tuesday Summit in 1988 brought them the political attention and connection that it needed. After the 1988 presidential election, it was not difficult to conclude that the policies of the Democratic Party were not winning the hearts of the public: “If the Democrats wanted to begin winning national elections again, we needed to stand for ideas and beliefs that the American people would support.”6 The Democrats had to escape from the myths presented by Bill Galston- the myth of mobilization, myth of Liberal Fundamentalism, and the myth of Congressional Bastion. The Democratic Party had to modernize and reestablish its sense of national purpose. In 1989, upon the recruitment of Bill Clinton, the DLC began a new course. Under the guidance of Al From and Bill Clinton, the Democratic Leadership Council carried on its duty in reinventing the American government. In 1990, the DLC experienced a significant turning point in New Orleans: “The theme for the DLC’s 1990 New Orleans Conference was ‘A Turning Point for Democrats’- and it was that for the DLC, as well.”7 The New Orleans Conference served as a stepping stone for the DLC to redefine the Democratic Party. As the DLC began to receive immense spotlight from the press, the critics began to express their disapproval. Addressing the critics and the inevitable internal discord, Al From stressed that he was not looking for unity under one party but for a new agenda, emphatically asserting that the Democratic Coma was baseless: “We’re not out to save the Democratic Party. We’re out to save the United States.”8 Articulating the desire to transform America, From and Clinton presented the New Choice Resolutions. Under the newly drafted resolution, the DLC was now ready to test its message and messenger. In 1991, the Mainstream Democrats became known as the New Democrats. After the Cleveland Speech, Clinton was hot property. The supporters of old orthodoxy, Jesse Johnson and Mario Cuomo, denounced Clinton and the DLC’s progressive center-left policies; however, Clinton regardless began his pre-campaign, amplifying support for him and the DLC. Clinton, to earn his victory in the Election of 1992, had to become an insurgent candidate. Underscoring the importance of economic growth and opportunity, Clinton accepted Democratic nomination in the name of the forgotten middle class. Clinton’s passion and effective rhetoric won the hearts of the constituents, bestowing Bill Clinton the honor to become the 42nd president of the United States; however, the DLC and Clinton faced a new obstacle. Now Clinton only had a few months to prepare for a smooth transition into his presidency. Unfortunately, President Clinton was caught in different controversial issues regarding gay personnel service and other hot topics. For Clinton to restore his reputation, he needed to thoroughly prove that his policies were absolutely different from those of the Old Democrats: “As we enter a new era we need a new set of understandings, not just with our government, but even more important, with one another as Americans… I call it a New Covenant.”9 President Clinton soon had to prepare for the Election of 1996. In order to be reelected, Clinton had to show his strength as a president and bring change to the nation: “restoring the American dream, repairing the social fabric and getting government under control.”10 With another turning point in 1995 State of the Union Address, Bill Clinton was reelected. Serving as the president, Clinton ended ineffective welfare programs and established AmeriCorps. Clearly, the DLC and Bill Clinton not only restored the Democratic Party’s confidence but also promoted modernizing center-left politics around the globe.

Al From builds up his fundamental publication under one recurring ideology: defining the difference between the New Democrats and the Old Democrats. The undertones of From’s message call for renovation and reconstruction of the American government. Bill Galston, another seminal figure in the establishment of the DLC, upon the uninterrupted defeat of the Democrats in presidential elections professed that “If we do not listen, and learn, and change, we will keep on losing.”11 The eloquence portrayed throughout the piece firmly pronounces the value and necessity of clearly characterizing the intended degree of change. For instance, in the summer of 1989, Al From, Bill Galston, and Elaine Kamarck came together to expand on the DLC’s analysis of the stalemate of the Democratic Party in bestowing victory to the candidates. In their study, they criticize the Democratic Party’s attitude of condoning reality: “The Democrats, they wrote, ‘have manufactured excuses for their presidential disasters- excuses built on faulty data and false assumptions, excuses designed to avoid tough questions.”12 Beginning with what is known as the reality therapy, the leaders of the New Democratic movement started to meticulously stress the urgency of reform in the Democratic Party. Moreover, Al From notes that dissemblance among the Democrats is the key to presidential victories. During Bill Clinton’s pre-campaign and first presidency, From soundly insists that Clinton had to show his difference from the old Democratic Party through his policies and presence: “The purpose of this strategy is to keep that second big promise: to show by your policies and actions that you are a different kind of Democrat who is not beholden to the status quo.”13 Undoubtedly, From and the DLC acknowledged the benefits and the necessity of diversity in the revival of the Democratic Party. Before becoming an integral part of the Democratic Party, Al From began his political career working for Sargent Shriver immediately after graduating from Northwestern University. He aided Shriver on his War on Poverty, was an executive director of the House Democratic Caucus and served as a deputy advisor on inflation. The Washington Magazine dubbed From a legislative genius for his work in directing the U.S. Senate Committee on Intergovernmental relations. The culmination of his expertise led to the creation of the DLC under an indispensable philosophy: “…opportunity, responsibility, and community.”14 After President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal liberalism, the Republicans dominated the presidential elections. Furthermore, Ronald Reagan’s policies were also readily effective to defeat the Democrats in the 1980’s elections. Rather overtly, the Democratic Party was on its steepest downturn in the 1980’s: “… it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the American people weren’t buying what the Democrats were selling.”15 In response to the critical dilemma faced by the Democrats, Al From and other keen minds founded the DLC. Thus, the overall milieu of the 1980’s ultimately shaped the creation of DLC and the revival of the Democratic Party.

Although there are some critics of Al From’s publication The New Democrats and the Return to Power, ultimately there are numerous ovations given to the DLC’s work. Specifically, a review done by Phillip A. Wallach details the efficacy of From’s chronicle of the DLC. Wallach especially denotes the patience and capability of Al From in successfully reinventing the Democratic Party: “One lesson in particular stands out: institutional change is a long slog, requiring a combination of fertile political conditions and reformers well prepared to seize their moment.”16 Distinctly, Wallach appreciates From’s astute intellect to put his full effort in at the right moment, maximizing his opportunity. Reflecting From’s thesis in his publication, Wallach depicts the necessity of change. In reviewing the effectiveness of the book itself, Matt Stroller denotes the honesty and objectivity conveyed throughout the book: “Unlike most political biopics… this book seems to be written by a man who cares more about ideas than personalities.”17 Stroller accentuates a notable quality of From’s chronicle of the DLC. Therefore, both Wallach and Stroller appreciate From’s effort in presenting the DLC impartially. Strategically detailing the history of the DLC, Al From successfully ingrains his intended message of reinventing the government and promoting change in the thoughts of the readers. From carefully formulates an emotional catharsis for the Democrats by enumerating their hardships in the beginning and bestowing an international legacy in the end. Utilizing introspective diction, From denotes the vigilant character of the New Democrats: “‘For too long, we have ignored our fundamental problem…rather than facing reality, we have embraced the politics of evasion.”18 Discernibly, the entire publication is dedicated to explain the core motifs behind both trivial and pivotal decisions of the DLC. Although From remains relatively objective throughout the piece, it is inevitable for him to be completely free of bias. As any political adversaries may do, From regularly denounces the Republican policies and its gradual and subtle internal schism. Despite the minute lacking of unequivocal judgement based on differences in belief, Al From thoroughly delineates the excursion of the New Democrats. After the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, the DLC’s philosophy began to garner attention around the globe. Soon the DLC’s Third Way reforms were taking place in different countries such as Britain, Germany, and Chile. Performing similar duties as the New Democrats, New Labour and New Middle were established in respective countries, executing necessary political reform movements: “…eventually involve more than a dozen leaders of center-left governments from around the world, all of whom committed, in varying degrees, to our Third Way reforms.”19 The Clinton Revolution was an integral success not only for Americans but also for those around the globe. It allowed those who followed the agenda of the revolution to compromise the difference between liberalism and conservatism. In regards to the rapidly shifting society, Al From asserts the importance of following the trend and once again the art of adaptation.

Any student of history must consider the role of the Democratic Leadership Council in American politics. There is an undeniable significance to the DLC and its contributions and how it has framed America’s stance in the world. Ultimately the Democratic Leadership Council restored the confidence of the Democratic Party and promoted a healthy mode of change, ameliorating the United States as a whole.

1. From, Al. The New Democrats and the Return to Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.5.

2. From, Al. 14.

3. From, Al. 15.

4. From, Al. 58.

5. From, Al. 73.

6. From, Al. 101.

7. From, Al. 117.

8. From, Al. 148.

9. From, Al. 213.

10. From, Al. 217.

11. From, Al. 104.

12. From, Al. 108.

13. From, Al. 189.

14. From, Al. 98.

15. From, Al. 101.

16. Wallach, Phillip A. “Book Review of Al From’s Reflections
on the Creation and Rise of the DLC.” The Brookings Institution. The Brookings Institution, 05 Dec. 2013. Web. 23 May 2016.

17. Stroller, Matt. “It’s Al From’s Democratic Party: We Just Live Here.”Medium. A Medium Corporation, 06 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 May 2016.

18. From, Al. 103.

19. From, Al. 239.