Hillary sways to the center

The New York senator signs on to her party's centrist wing.

Published July 26, 2005 3:54PM (EDT)

Hillary Clinton, as far as we know, is still just a first-term Senator from New York who will face her first re-election bid next year. But calling Hillary Clinton a senator is like calling a Fig Newton a cookie -- technically, the name's right, but nobody thinks of her that way. When Clinton does something, anything -- for instance, when she eventually makes clear what she thinks about Judge John Roberts, which she has not yet done -- we think of it not as a move by the junior Senator from New York but as the bellwether direction for her whole party. That's why Clinton's speech in Ohio last night is getting a lot of attention -- some positive, some negative -- this morning.

Clinton spoke at the Democratic Leadership Council's summer meeting in Columbus, an appearance that was itself portentous. The DLC is the party's centrist, moderate wing; it reached its zenith with Bill Clinton's election and presidency, but in the Democratic losses since has fallen into disrepute, and is struggling against more liberal forces (MoveOn.org, DailyKos, etc.) Last night, then, Hillary -- who as the Los Angeles Times notes was "once considered a champion of the party's left" -- came out as a solid DLCer. She accepted the job to head the DLC's "American Dream Initiative," an effort to define an agenda for the future of the party.

Though she didn't describe the agenda, Clinton said she would focus on healthcare, economic policy, and domestic security. During her years in the Senate Clinton has artfully -- and, to some, scarily -- maneuvered to the center on many issues, whether big (abortion, national security) or small ("Grand Theft Auto"), and the agenda she draws up for the DLC will likely echo that moderate stance. Clinton called, however, for a truce between various factions in the party, for unity among liberals and moderates. "We Democrats have not yet succeeded in isolating and defeating the far right, in part because we have allowed ourselves to be split between left, right and center," she said. Also: "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."

But today the folks who've been central to those battles didn't appear ready to heed Clinton's advice. People who've been fighting the DLC were particularly upset at Clinton's new role with the group. "The fact is, the Democratic Party has to make a choice: is it going to continue to follow the DLC, be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corporate America, and lose elections for the infinite future?" David Sirota, the political consultant and popular liberal blogger, asked the L.A. Times. "Or is it going to go back to its roots of really representing the middle class and standing up for ordinary people's economic rights?"

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who runs DailyKos, is similarly unhappy. In a post this morning he compiles the various insults the DLC has leveled his way, and criticizes Clinton for participating. Of her effort to come up with a new agenda for Democrats, Kos says, "Well, that effort is dead on arrival. The DLC is not a credible vehicle for such an effort. Period." He adds: "It's truly disappointing that this is the crap Hillary has signed on to. More of the failed corporatist bullshit that has cost our party so dearly the last decade and a half."

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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