When Bill Clinton declared in 1996 that "the era of big government is over," Republicans felt that he was stealing their thunder. But in fact, it was the culmination of a decade-long struggle for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. This book tells how a group of New Democrats reformed their enfeebled party's agenda, moved it toward the center, and recaptured the White House with their first two-term president since FDR.
Reinventing Democrats is the story of the Democratic Leadership Council, an elite group of elected officials, benefactors, and strategists that let fresh air into the smoke-filled room of politics and changed the public philosophy of their party. Kenneth Baer tells who they are, where they came from, what they believe in, and how they helped elect Bill Clinton--the DLC's former chairman--to the presidency.
Drawing on DLC archives and interviews with party insiders, Baer chronicles the increasing influence of the DLC from 1985 to the present. He describes battles waged between New Democrats and party liberals after the failed candidacy of Walter Mondale, and he takes readers behind the scenes in Little Rock to tell how DLC director Al From encouraged Clinton's run for the White House. He then explains how the DLC reshaped the party's agenda into a "third way" that embraced positions such as welfare reform, a balanced budget, free trade, a tough stance on crime, and a strong defense.
In this revealing analysis of insider politics, Baer shows how a determined faction can consciously change a party's public philosophy, even without the impetus of a national crisis or electoral realignment. He also shows that the New Democrat stance exemplifies how ideas can work in sync with the political calendar to determine which specific policies find their way onto the national agenda.
If Clinton has achieved nothing else in his presidency, says Baer, he has moved his party to the center, where it stands a better chance to succeed--much to the dismay of conservatives, who feel victimized by the theft of many of their strongest issues. In a book that will engage any reader caught up in the fervor of an election year, Baer reveals the role of new ideas in shaping political stratagems and provides much food for thought concerning the future of the New Democratic philosophy, the Democratic party, and American party politics.