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Labeling the Cabinet

I'm a big fan of Chris Bowers, and am sympathetic to the goals of the OpenLeft site, which seeks greater ideological clarity (and accountability) within the Democratic Party. But his latest effort--building on another OpenLeft post by Matt Stoller--to conduct an ideological assessment of the Obama Cabinet by way of connections, direct or indirect, with the Democratic Leadership Council, is, I believe, something of a waste of time.

As a former DLC policy director for quite a few years, I can speak with some authority in saying that the Democratic elected officials who have been involved in that organization are an ideologically diverse bunch; conversely, there are Democrats with no history of involvement in the DLC who probably agree with Al From or Bruce Reed more often than not. It's not a membership group; it has no membership cards or creeds anyone has to swear to; and particularly at the state level, which is the DLC's center-of-gravity these days, people participate because it's an ideas-oriented center-left group that takes state and local government issues seriously.

More importantly, the factional stereotypes of this or that grouping of Democrats formed in the 1990s or even in 2004 are increasingly misleading and/or irrelevant. Is "DLCer" Tom Daschle really antagonistic to an aggressive push for universal health care? Will "non-DLCer" Eric Holder pursue an agenda at the Justice Department that's different from what "DLCers" Artur Davis or Tim Kaine would have pursued as AG? Is "non-DLCer" Steven Chu distinguishable on energy policy from DLCers--or the DLC itself--on the need for a radical reorientation to deal with climate change? And are there any signs that the "DLCers" on Obama's economic team have any less sense of urgency about the need for a big, public-sector-investment-oriented stimulus package than the "non-DLCers" with whom they are closely working?

I think the obvious answers to these questions are negative. And the fact that the notably "non-DLC" politician Barack Obama has chosen a goodly number of "DLCers" for his administration is less an indication of ideological heresy than of the impressive convergence and (at least temporary) unity of the Democratic Party.

Intra-Democratic factions may reemerge, later if not sooner, and again, I don't blame Chris or Matt for trying to get a grip on the ideological character of the Obama administration. But there's no telling whether the factions of the future will be congruent with those of the past. Given the current circumstances, it's not a bad idea to begin with the assumption that Team Obama will reflect the common values and priorities of all "progressives" and "centrists," and bend us all to the urgent tasks at hand on which we generally do agree.