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New Democrats, also known as centrist Democrats, Clinton Democrats, or moderate Democrats, are a moderate ideological faction within the Democratic Party in the United States. As the Third Way faction of the party, they support cultural liberalism but take fiscally moderate or conservative stances. New Democrats dominated the party from the late-1980s through the mid-2010s, although they still wield noticeable power within the party structure. Their organizations include the New Democrat Network, the New Democrat Coalition, and The NewDEAL.
After the landslide electoral defeats to the Republican Party led by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, a group of prominent Democrats began to believe their party was out of touch and in need of a radical shift in economic policy and ideas of governance. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was founded in 1985 by Al From and a group of like-minded politicians and strategists. They advocated a political Third Way as an antidote to the electoral successes of Reaganism.
The landslide 1984 presidential election defeat spurred centrist Democrats to action, and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was formed. The DLC, an unofficial party organization, played a critical role in moving the Democratic Party's policies to the center of the American political spectrum. Prominent Democratic politicians such as Senators Al Gore and Joe Biden (both future Vice Presidents) participated in DLC affairs prior to their candidacies for the 1988 Democratic Party nomination.
However, the DLC did not want the Democratic Party to be "simply posturing in the middle". The DLC instead framed its ideas as "progressive" and as a "Third Way" to address the problems of its era. Examples of the DLC's policy initiatives can be found in The New American Choice Resolutions.
Although the label New Democrat was briefly used by a progressive reformist group including Gary Hart and Eugene McCarthy in 1989, the term became more widely associated with the New Orleans Declaration and policies of the DLC which in 1990 renamed its bi-monthly magazine from The Mainstream Democrat to The New Democrat. When then-Governor Bill Clinton stepped down as DLC chairman to run for the presidency in the 1992 presidential election, he presented himself as a New Democrat.
The first wave New Democrats from the 1980s to 1990s were very similar to Southern and Western Blue Dog Democrats. Al From, the founder of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and its leader until 2009, had been a staffer for Gillis Long, a Democratic representative from Louisiana. Among the presidents of the DLC were Al Gore, Senator from Tennessee, and Bill Clinton, Governor of Arkansas. The first wave New Democrats sought the votes of White working-class Reagan Democrats.
In the 1990s, the New Democrat movement shifted away from the South and West and moved to the Northeast. At the 1992 United States presidential election, Bill Clinton was elected as the 42nd President of the United States, ending twelve years of Republican dominance.
Presidency of Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton is the Democratic politician most identified with the New Democrats due to his promise of welfare reform in the 1992 presidential campaign and its subsequent enactment, his 1992 promise of a middle class tax cut, and his 1993 expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. New Democrat and Third Way successes under Clinton, and the writings of Anthony Giddens, are often regarded to have inspired Tony Blair in the United Kingdom and his policies within the Labour Party.
Bill Clinton presented himself as a centrist candidate to draw white, middle-class voters who had left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party. In 1990, Bill Clinton became the DLC chair. Under his leadership, the DLC founded two-dozen chapters and created a base of support. Clinton, running as a New Democrat, won the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.
Legislation signed into law with bipartisan support under President Clinton includes:
- The North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
- The Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on openly gay people serving in the Armed Forces (repealed in 2010).
- The Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages (ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015).
- The Religious Freedom Restoration Act federal religious discrimination statute.
- The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, sometimes referred to as the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill.
During the administration of Bill Clinton, New Democrats were responsible for passing the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. It raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of taxpayers, while cutting taxes on 15 million low-income families and making tax cuts available to 90% of small businesses. Additionally, it mandated that the budget be balanced over a number of years through the implementation of spending restraints. The top marginal tax rate was raised from 31% to 40% under the Clinton administration. Clinton's promise of welfare reform was passed in the form of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996.
Presidency of Barack Obama
In March 2009, Barack Obama, said in a meeting with the New Democrat Coalition that he was a "New Democrat" and a "pro-growth Democrat", that he "supports free and fair trade", and that he was "very concerned about a return to protectionism".
Throughout the Obama administration, a "free and fair trade" attitude was espoused, including in a 2015 trade report entitled The Economic Benefits of U.S. Trade that noted that free trade "help[s] developing countries lift people out of poverty" and "expand[s] markets for U.S. exports".
Elected to public office
- Dianne Feinstein
- Tom Carper
- Bill Nelson (former)
- Debbie Stabenow
- Kyrsten Sinema
- Maria Cantwell
- Joe Manchin
- Amy Klobuchar
- Hillary Clinton (former)
House of Representatives
- Jim Himes
- Pete Aguilar
- Ami Bera
- Don Beyer
- Lois Capps
- Tony Cardenas
- André Carson
- Joaquin Castro
- Gerry Connolly
- Jim Cooper
- Joe Courtney
- Susan Davis
- John Delaney (Former)
- Suzan DelBene
- Eliot L. Engel
- Elizabeth Esty
- Lizzie Fletcher
- Bill Foster
- Gwen Graham
- Denny Heck
- Brad Ashford
- Derek Kilmer
- Ron Kind
- Ann Kirkpatrick
- Anne Kuster
- Rick Larsen
- Sean Patrick Maloney
- Gregory Meeks
- Seth Moulton
- Patrick Murphy
- Scott H. Peters
- Ed Perlmutter
- Pedro Pierluisi
- Mike Quigley
- Kathleen Rice
- Cedric Richmond
- Loretta Sanchez (Former)
- Adam Schiff
- David Scott
- Kurt Schrader
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz
- Terri Sewell
- Adam Smith
- Juan Vargas
- Filemon Vela Jr.
- Norma Torres
- Vicente Gonzalez
- Beto O'Rourke (Former)
- Coalition for a Democratic Majority
- Democratic Leadership Council
- Moderate Dems Working Group
- Senate Centrist Coalition
Columnist Michael Lind argued that neoliberalism for New Democrats was the "highest stage" of left liberalism. The counterculture youth of the 1960s became more fiscally conservative in the 1970s and 1980s but retained their cultural liberalism. Many leading New Democrats, including Bill Clinton, started out in the George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party and gradually moved toward the right on economic and military policy. According to historian Walter Scheidel, both major political parties shifted towards promoting free-market capitalism in the 1970s, with Republicans moving further to the political right than Democrats to the political left. He noted that Democrats played a significant role in the financial deregulation of the 1990s. Anthropologist Jason Hickel contended that the neoliberal policies of the Reagan era were carried forward by the Clinton administration, forming a new economic consensus which crossed party lines.
New Democrats have faced criticism from those further to the left. In a 2017 BBC interview, Noam Chomsky said that "the Democrats gave up on the working class forty years ago". Political analyst Thomas Frank asserted that the Democratic Party began to represent the interests of the professional class rather than the working class.
- Blue Dog Coalition
- Congressional Progressive Caucus
- Democratic Leadership Council
- Democratic Party (United States)
- Factions in the Democratic Party (United States)
- Labor Right
- New Democrat Coalition
- New Labour
- Radical centrism
- Third Way
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That would bring the caucus’ total to 96 members, or about 40 percent of the House Democratic Caucus ― by far the largest bloc in the party.
- Wayne LeMieux, The Democrats' New Path, 2006, ISBN 978-1-4196-3872-5
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- 1994 State of the Union Address Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
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review of Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century