Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's call for an ideological cease-fire in the Democratic Party drew an angry reaction yesterday from liberal bloggers and others on the left, who accused her of siding with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) in a long-running dispute over the future of the party.
Long a revered figure by many in the party's liberal wing, Clinton (D-N.Y.) unexpectedly found herself under attack after calling Monday for a cease-fire among the party's quarreling factions and for agreeing to assume the leadership of a DLC-sponsored initiative aimed at developing a more positive policy agenda for the party.
The reaction highlighted the dilemma Democratic politicians face trying to satisfy energized activists on the left -- many of whom are hungering for party leaders to advance a more full-throated agenda and more aggressively confront President Bush -- while also cultivating the moderate Democrats and independents whose support is crucial to winning elections. The challenge has become more acute because of the power and importance grass-roots activists, symbolized by groups such as MoveOn.org and liberal bloggers, have assumed since the 2004 election.
The most pointed critique of Clinton came in one of the most influential blogs on the left, Daily Kos out of Berkeley, Calif., which called Clinton's speech "truly disappointing" and said she should not provide cover for an organization that often has instigated conflict within the party.
"If she wanted to give a speech to a centrist organization truly interested in bringing the various factions of the party together, she could've worked with NDN," the blog said in a reference to the New Democrat Network, with which Daily Kos's Markos Moulitsas is associated. "Instead, she plans on working with the DLC to come up with some common party message yadda yadda yadda. Well, that effort is dead on arrival. The DLC is not a credible vehicle for such an effort. Period."
Other blogs noted that the day Clinton was calling for a truce, one DLC-sponsored blog was writing disparagingly of liberals. Marshall Wittman wrote from the DLC meeting in Columbus, "While someone from the daily kosy (misspelling intended) confines of Beserkely might utter ominous McCarthyite warnings about the 'enemy within,' here in Columbus constructive committed crusaders for progressivism are discussing ways to win back the hearts of the heartland."
Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future, said Clinton had badly miscalculated the current politics inside the Democratic Party and argued that she could pay a price for her DLC association if she runs for president in 2008.
"There has been an activist resurgence in the Democratic Party in recent years, and Hillary risks ensuring that there's a candidate to her left appealing to those activists who don't much like the DLC," he said.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson tried to deflect the criticism. "Her point was simply to say that the goals and issues that divide us are less consequential than are the ones we share in common, and that unity is needed in the face of our shared challenge," Wolfson said.
John D. Podesta, who was White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said he interpreted Clinton's remarks as critical of those on both sides -- centrists as much as liberals -- who would devote more energy to internal party battles than to confronting the right. But he said Clinton may have underestimated the bad feelings within the party. "I think she was trying to push the DLC back a little bit, but she walked into a crossfire maybe she should have realized was out there," he said.
Meanwhile, Jesse L. Jackson reopened his decades-old battle with the DLC by accusing the group of fronting for corporate interests while ignoring labor and civil rights leaders. "The DLC embraces CAFTA and sells admission to its conference to corporate lobbyists," he said in a speech to the AFL-CIO convention in Chicago.