Daily Archives: February 11, 2011

Progressives don’t much regret the passing of the Democratic Leadership Council. They thought DLC stood for Democrats for the Leisure Class. For good or ill, its imprint on US politics would be hard to deny, as alumnus Ed Kilgore (Requiem for the DLC) and Ron Brownstein (DLC, RIP) explain. Brownstein:

Even many Democrats have forgotten how deep an electoral hole the party faced as the DLC emerged. The party lost five of six presidential elections from 1968 through 1988, averaging only 43 percent of the vote. In the three elections from 1980 through 1988, Democrats won a smaller share of the available Electoral College votes than in any three-election sequence since the formation of the modern party system in 1828. Commentators spoke about a “Republican lock” on the Electoral College that would perpetually deny Democrats the White House…

Drawing heavily on DLC thinking, [Bill] Clinton argued that economic policy should prioritize growth over redistribution; that social policy should link opportunity and personal responsibility (most notably by requiring welfare recipients to work but providing them education and child care); and that fiscal discipline was compatible with government activism. Challenging his party’s retreat from global engagement since Vietnam, Clinton embraced both free trade and a robust U.S. international role. Rejecting “false choices” of the Left and Right, he insisted on a “third way” between them. The DLC “made a major contribution to breaking out of the old Right-Left debate and formulating the debate the way it should be—as tomorrow versus yesterday,” Clinton said in an interview.

Kilgore and Brownstein both argue that the DLC was, in part, a victim of its own success: having moved the Democratic party to the centre, its work was done. I don’t know about that. The party’s base is still unsure whether to praise Clinton or bury him. (It depends who they are talking to.) And I would not say that Brownstein’s list of DLC positions–prioritize growth over redistribution; link opportunity and personal responsibility; govern with fiscal discipline–are the animating ideas of the party in Congress today. If they are, there is an unsolved messaging problem.

Third Way and other outfits are there to take up the running, says Kilgore–and good luck to them, I say–but are they as influential? They are not. That’s partly because (some of) the DLC’s work is done, but partly also because fewer politicians in the middle are receptive to the DLC’s message. Brownstein makes the key point:

After Clinton left office, the DLC struggled. Much of its influence depended on finding unexplored points of potential agreement between the parties. But as Washington grew more polarized under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, the audience for such bridge-building diminished.

Democrats have moved a little to the left, post-Clinton, and Republicans a lot to the right. If the New Democrats had succeeded in the US the way New Labour succeeded in Britain, they would not only have stayed firmly centrist, they would have pulled the conservative opposition closer to them in the middle. The DLC’s work is unfinished.

John Gapper’s column on the AOL/HuffPo incident argues that Huffington and her partners have made out like bandits. HuffPo occupies a media middle ground that is financially doomed, he says. There are plenty of readers in the middle–HuffPo proves that beyond a doubt–but there isn’t much money.

HuffPo has no subscription revenues and there is a vast gulf between the advertising yields from readers amassed through swimsuit photos and search optimisation, and those who pay for their information. The barriers to entry in aggregation are very low and the web is flooded with cheap inventory…

Free news aggregators are being pushed downmarket in a race for page views while specialist providers seek their refuge upmarket. The middle ground, where the New York Times and the Washington Post lived comfortably in the print era, is a digital chasm because the cost of becoming a “premium content company” is so high.

Ms Huffington’s creation has been trying to straddle this gap cheaply by combining essays on fiscal policy with more sensational fare. Even for her, however, that is a stretch too far. She is intelligent enough to know it. Which is why she and her investors took AOL’s cash.

Sounds right. Even if Gapper is wrong, 10 times 2010 revenues, almost entirely in cash, was pretty good going. Warmest congratulations to Mrs Huffington on that account–also for gathering hundreds, or is it thousands, of unpaid bloggers, bundling them together (in a liberal-leaning publication) and selling them for $315m.

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Samuel Johnson said that. “Where there’s blockheads, there’s brass.” I said that.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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