"It is always tough in America to be a centrist," says Al From, chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
From should know.
He and Bruce Reed, the DLC's president, recently wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post urging Democrats looking for victory in the 2006 and 2008 elections to embrace Clintonism. The pair described that philosophy as "a tough minded attempt to modernize liberalism and solve the nation's problems."
But much of the energy in the Democratic party is not coming from centrist forces like the DLC, but rather from a strong, anti-war, liberal wing. When asked about that phenomenon, From said, "We live in a period when political passions are higher, the amount of civility in politics, at least in Washington, is diminished, and that tends to drive people on the extremes who make the most noise.... It is a very simple factor. If the Democrats want to win the White House in 2008, we are going to have to expand the reach of this party. We are going to have to win in areas where the Republicans won last time. That's pretty simple and it is hard to see [how] narrowing our approach will improve that."
From took a swipe at liberal bloggers who have been critical of the Iraq war stance taken by the standard bearer for Clintonism – New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton.
"Energy is always good for a political party," From said. "But so is taking positions that have a broad appeal to the country. The vitriol, the tone, the vindictiveness of some of the blogoshphere I don't think is very helpful. Because this is a country that has big problems. And to the degree the blogosphere on both sides tends to polarize the debate ... that is not good. But the energy is important and we will see over the long haul what the impact is."
Not surprisingly, From and Reed say prospects for Democrats in the 2006 election are promising. "Out in the heartland where we are going, ordinary people are tired of Rove-ism – partisan politics for no purpose – and they are hungry for a national government that can do something right and that can help them solve their problems," Reed said.
The trip to the heartland that Reed refers to is the DLC's "National Conversation" – or annual meeting – which will be held in Denver from July 22-24. The session is billed as an opportunity for Democrats to talk about "Ideas for Governing."
One wildcard – one of many – in the outlook for the 2006 Congressional election is the current crisis in the Middle East. "The crisis in the Middle East is an extraordinarily important crisis because of the circumstances of two terrorist groups who have worked within the democratic system to get elected to parliaments, and in Hamas's case to be the dominant party in the government, but still maintain their own militia and their own armies with the help of Iran and Syria," From said. "That is a pretty serious thing.... I can't tell you how it is going to impact this election but I know it is ... I think this is about as serious a crisis as we have had in a long time."
Al From helped found the DLC in 1985 with the stated goal of reconnecting Democrats with "mainstream values and economic aspirations and to reinvigorate progressive politics with a new generation of ideas."
Prior to that he was executive director of the House Democratic Caucus. He has also served as the staff director of the Senate Committee on Inter-governmental relations and as an economic advisor to Jimmy Carter. He has a master in journalism from Northwestern.
Bruce Reed has degrees from Princeton and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. In addition to serving on the DLC staff, Mr. Reed was chief speechwriter for Al Gore, deputy campaign manager for policy of the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign, and chief domestic policy advisor and Domestic Policy Council director in the Clinton White House.