Al From's worst nightmare is John Edwards in the White House.
It's already bad enough that Edwards is driving much of the policy debate, pushing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama towards a more progressive agenda.
But if Edwards were to win the Democratic nomination and ride his populist message to the presidency, his campaign would betray the false premise of From's Democratic Leadership Council: that only centrist, pro-business Democrats can win.
In late November, From made his case against John Edwards and populism:
The Clinton-New Democrat formula is the only formula with a track record of winning both the nomination and the general election. The track record in recent elections shows that the populist formula doesn't really deliver the very voters it's aimed at - white male, working-class voters - probably because they are the most skeptical of government delivering on its promises.
The Edwards campaign is this year's attempt to restore the populist constituency in the Democratic Party. Certainly, his rhetoric is a test of the populist message.
Key voters in recent elections have been moderates, independents, and middle-income families. We lost them in 2004, won them in 2006. And, it's not clear that the populist message wins them over.
The implication of From's argument is logical fallacy. President Clinton won as a New Democrat, but that does not mean his formula is the only one than can win. Moreover, From's characterization of populism as a strategy to win white male, working class voters is a strawman. Populism, especially Edwards' brand, offers a coherent message about corporate greed and excess. It is designed to win a majority of the electorate -- an accomplishment President Clinton cannot claim.
From's assertion about Kerry losing moderates and independents is of questionable relevance. It also isn't reality-based. Kerry won amongst both independents and moderates. His claim about middle-income families is murkier; it depends whether you define middle-income relative to Americans in general, or relative to American voters in particular.
None of this is meant to malign President Clinton's political skills. He won two three-way contests, both by healthy margins, and nearly claimed a majority in 1996.
Clinton's victories did not remake the electoral universe for Democrats, however. They certainly didn't prove anything about the prospects for populism in 2008. Indeed, in 1992, Ross Perot won 19% of the vote as a third-party candidate with a populist message. We will never know if Clinton could have won over enough Perotistas with a different message to win a majority of the vote.
We do know that if Clinton had been able to win a majority, he would have been in a better position to govern.
Whatever the case, it's clear that Clinton's campaign wasn't a reaction against populism. Despite their liberal histories, the Democrats who lost before him didn't have populist platforms. Mondale ran on balancing the budget. Dukakis ran on competence over ideology. They were both demolished.
Indeed, in 2000, Gore offered a partisan version of populism and not only beat George W. Bush in the popular vote, but also won a higher percentage of the voting age population than did Clinton in either 1992 or 1996.
Unfortunately, in retrospect, members of the United States Supreme Court circa 2000 don't appear to have been populists.
Gore was of course pilloried by his former friends in the DLC for his winning strategy, chief among them Hillary Clinton's guru, Mark Penn.
Mr. Penn branded Mr. Gore's campaign one of "lost opportunity," saying Mr. Gore reverted to an old-style populism that alienated independent suburban white men. He did well among upper-income women, Mr. Penn said, largely because he supported abortion rights. But, he said, Mr. Gore "abandoned the fight for smaller government," losing "new economy" men who favored "smaller government, fiscal discipline and personal responsibility."
I'd like to remind Mark Penn: Gore won.
Were it not for SCOTUS, we would not be discussing this topic today.
There's no question any Democratic nominee must have a coherent message. Edwards brand of populism offers just that, and in 2008 it seems to be the right one.
Based on all public polls since July 1 featuring all three candidates tested against the same Republicans, John Edwards is clearly the most electable Democrat.
Even against the Republican's best candidate, Edwards leads the Democratic field.
Something wonderful is happening in 2008: our party's most progressive candidate is also the most electable.
If he wins the nomination, he'll win the presidency.
A John Edwards victory in November would literally destroy the entire rationale for the Democratic Leadership Council's existence.
This fact is clearly not lost on Al From, who capped off his argument with a scathingly negative personal attack:
Edwards personal actions - the $400 haircuts, the big house, and running a campaign much different than four years ago - also undercut his populist message
Call it the JedReport Rule: the first person to seriously bring up John Edwards' haircut or his residence automatically loses the debate.
Just a few days ago, From continued his campaign against John Edwards.
By Ariel Alexovich
As would be expected, the two gentlemen from the Democratic Leadership Council on a conference call today told reporters they’re very confident in their party’s chances of reclaiming the White House, they’re happy that substantive issues are being discussed...
And then Al From, the D.L.C. founder, said he was "very happy about the two candidates" Americans are considering.
Only two candidates?
But what about John Edwards? He beat Mrs. Clinton in Iowa, as one reporter pointed out, but Mr. From still doesn’t think Mr. Edwards is viable.
From went on to misrepresent Edwards and launch another personal attack: he trotted out the notion that Edwards is a pessimist, not an optimist.
Edwards may be pessimistic that Bushonomics and crony capitalism will lead us to a better place, but don't most Americans agree with him?
It's obvious that Edwards is fundamentally optimistic that America can build a better future for itself.
Call it the second JedReport Rule: anyone who claims John Edwards is an enternal pessimist is full of crap.
Recently, I've documented how the corporate media is excluding John Edwards from its campaign coverage.
Part of the blame for this goes to corporate Democrats like Al From and Mark Penn have waged a war all year against John Edwards, pushing negative personal attacks and openly writing off Edwards' viability.
Al From can survive a loss by Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. He'll thrive if they win. But he will be utterly devastated if John Edwards wins.
And that's one more good reason to fight for John Edwards.