Following President Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election in 1984, moderate Democrats sought ways to push their party away from doctrinaire liberalism and toward the political center. Party loyalist Al From organized wealthy benefactors in a series of private retreats, then tapped them for donations with which to found the Democratic Leadership Council—dedicated to supporting more moderate so-called “New Democrats.” The DLC functioned as an alternative and rival to the Democratic National Committee, causing controversy within party ranks but also preparing the way for future victories.
In 1989, the DLC formed a nonprofit research arm, the Progressive Policy Institute, to operate as a think tank for centrist Democrats. Wall Street magnate Michael Steinhardt served as PPI’s board chairman, pledging hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organization. By 1992, this “pint-sized think tank” with a budget of just $700,000 had become the primary idea-generator for Bill Clinton’s campaign for President. Once in the White House, Clinton staffed his administration with numerous alumni of the Democratic Leadership Council and the Progressive Policy Institute, looking to them for ideas on trade promotion, welfare reform, and streamlining government. By 2001, the DLC and PPI had a combined budget of $7 million.
With the resurgence of liberalism inside the Democratic party during the first decade of the twenty-first century, the DLC and PPI struggled to remain relevant. In 2011 the DLC formally dissolved and donated its archive to the Clinton Foundation. The Progressive Policy Institute continues to seek policies it views as centrist and sensible.
- Kenneth Baer, Reinventing Democrats (University of Kansas Press, 2000)
- Critical review in American Prospect, prospect.org/article/how-dlc-does-it