- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

The Democratic Leadership Council’s fierce attack on liberal activists triggered a counterattack Friday from a major left-wing group that said the council is waging an ideological war that will hurt the party’s chances in next year’s elections.

“The DLC is playing with fire in trying to foment a war between the different factions in the Democratic Party that is counterproductive,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, an influential liberal advocacy group. “They are clearly playing a destructive role.”

“The DLC should cool it on trying to tell Democratic voters who is legitimate and who is not legitimate. Democrats don’t want to be lectured to by the DLC. They don’t want to be told that a candidate is excluded from consideration just because he or she criticized American foreign policy,” Mr. Hickey said.

He said that the party’s liberal activists are going to be more active than ever in the 2004 election cycle, and that the Campaign for America’s Future will hold a three-day meeting of two dozen special interest groups next month in a major show of force. It is being billed as the “largest gathering of progressive advocates in the last 20 years.”

Most of the Democratic presidential candidates are expected to attend.

“The liberal activists are back, and they are going to get their pound of flesh after taking a step back and going along for eight years under Bill Clinton’s triangulation. Every one of these interest groups will have a candidate forum. It will be pander-monium,” said Brian Lunde, former executive director of the Democratic National Committee who helped elect President Bush in 2000.

In a five-page memo released at a news conference Thursday, the centrist DLC fired off a blistering salvo against the party’s liberal activist wing, charging that the liberal wing is “defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist interest group liberalism at home.”

“Not only is the activist wing out of line with Democratic tradition, but it is badly out of touch with the Democratic rank and file,” said DLC founder Al From and President Bruce Reed in a memo widely circulated Friday among party leaders.

The memo pointed to a 1996 poll by The Washington Post that found that Democratic convention delegates were far more liberal than Democratic voters.

“On every social and economic issue, registered Democrats’ views were closer to those of all registered voters than to those of Democratic delegates,” the DLC said.

Most of the DLC’s offensive was aimed at liberal, special-interest groups such as the National Organization for Women, People for the American Way, labor unions and other leftist activist organizations that can activate large numbers of campaign workers and influence the outcome of key presidential caucuses and primaries.

Mr. Reed said the memo was an “alarm bell” to warn Democrats that they will repeat the party’s losses in 1972, 1984 and 1988 if they do not choose a candidate in 2004 who is somewhere in the political middle. The DLC also criticized two of its presidential candidates: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for being two liberal on national security and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri for proposing a health care plan they said was too big, too costly and unworkable.

DLC supporters, however, sought to play down any division the memo might cause, saying both wings of the party are engaged in the usual pre-primary battles and that Democrats will reach out to a larger electorate in the general election.

“I’m a DLC member and they have a point of view, most of which I agree with, but is it going to lead to a split within our party? I don’t think so,” said Arizona Democratic Chairman Jim Pederson.

“We have the ability to accommodate diversity in our party. Right now the candidates are appealing to the Democrats’ base, but they are eventually going to have to appeal to the country as a whole,” he said.

Democratic strategist Phil Noble, chairman of the South Carolina DLC, said he agrees with the DLC memo. “I think many Beltway interest groups in the Democratic Party constituency are further to the left than most Democrats in the country,” he said.

“In the short run, fighting isn’t particularly helpful to an organization, but in the long run this is what political parties do.”

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