Who knew that a call for unity within the Democratic Party could cause such a stir? We sort of thought the idea that the Democrats couldn’t win the White House without engaging both the far left, the center-left and the center itself was pretty much demonstrated by one Ralph Nader back in 2000. But when Hillary Clinton proposed a truce within the Democratic Party earlier this week at the annual summer meeting for the Democratic Leadership Council — the centrist group that helped propel Bill into the White House and just named Hillary to head up an initiative to define a more positive party agenda — her words were met with online derision.
Let’s take a quick look at what Clinton said in her speech that so riled the masses (as quoted by the Los Angeles Times): “‘Now, I know the DLC has taken some shots from some within our party, and that it has returned fire too,’ she told the gathering in Columbus. ‘Well, I think it’s high time for a cease-fire — time for all Democrats to work together based on the fundamental values we all share.’”
Clinton went on to describe “what the country might look like — on issues from health care to domestic security — to a similar gathering in Ohio 15 years from now.” And then, from the mouth of a woman just nominated to come up with a positive Democratic agenda, there was the anti-Republican rhetoric that has become unavoidable at such events: “‘After more than four years of Republican control, our government has not only gone off track, it has reversed course. They turned our bridge to the 21st century into a tunnel back to the 19th century,’ she said in a reference to the central metaphor of her husband’s 1996 reelection campaign.”
So what exactly triggered the firestorm in the blogosphere? Was it Clinton’s choice to dredge up an old metaphor in order to put down Republicans? No, not that. It was her call for “all Democrats to work together.” The nerve!
The Washington Post gave an overview of bloggers’ reactions to the speech. Daily Kos, for example, wrote: “The poor, poor DLC forced to ‘return fire’? Please. The DLC has always been at the forefront of intra-party mud-slinging. They’re just finally being called on it, and suddenly it’s time for peace?”
Daily Kos also questions the potential for the DLC to produce a positive party platform: “[Hillary] plans on working with the DLC to come up with some common party message, yadda yadda yadda. Well, that effort is dead on arrival. The DLC is not a credible vehicle for such an effort. Period.”
Jesse at Pandagon also heaps scorn on the speech: “A Hillary Clinton-DLC campaign in 2008 would essentially be the apex of the DLC death wish that’s consumed far too much of the party since Clinton’s victory in 1992,” he writes. “Take the most famous Democrat in America, and run her as a DLC candidate. Mix that with years of campaigning against her as a dangerous left-wing liberal, and the continual failure of political concession as political definition, and Hillary’s poised for a fantastic flameout against someone who’s likely coming off the Republican B-team.”
(We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: They’re so cute when they fall on their swords.)
But Ezra Klein takes a more optimistic view, and doubts that Hillary’s most recent move is really as disastrous as some are making it seem: “She’s not straying on CAFTA, she didn’t vote for the bankruptcy bill, and so we needn’t worry that her appearance in Ohio is evidence that she’s selling out our issues.”
In fact, Klein thinks Hillary’s stress on unification is on target. “The better [Democratic candidates] are at bridging the party’s essential divide, the more unified we’ll be, and the more unified we are, the better we’ll do. And all of us — DLC and netroots — want the Democratic Party to do better.”
Over at the QandO blog, McQ also agrees with the message behind Hillary’s speech: “Look, if the Dems are going to have any chance in ‘08, they are going to have to settle their internal dissonance. They are going to have to come up with a unified strategy and a candidate who is capable of carrying it through.”
But McQ doubts that Hillary is the woman to carry out the plan. “[B]ased on the reaction to Clinton’s speech, she may not be as strong a candidate for that position as many on the left would like to believe. When you have old lefty war-horses like Jesse Jackson in full-bore criticism (although not of Clinton personally, but certainly of the organization within the party she now represents), you’re not in the strongest position.”