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Monday, May 19, 2008

A Majority Of Better Democrats

by digby

There has been a lot of chatter over the week-end about the apparently startling notion that Democrats winning in conservative districts might produce more conservative Democrats. I posted about it here. Matt Stoller wrote about it here, Jason Rosenbaum, here. It's an interesting dilemma for progressives in the Democratic Party which is, as far as I can tell, encouraging all the candidates to run on a vague "change" agenda rather than explicit progressive policies. So, you get a bigger majority, but it's less clear what it's going to do. I guess we'll see.

Chris Hayes at The Nation reported back from a Grover Norquist lecture at the New America Foundation,where Grover claimed that topics such as fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction may poll well but they are not "vote movers:"

Same with the growth of government under Bush. Since each constituency in the Republican coalition has gotten what it wants on its "vote-moving issues" (judges, assault weapons, tax cuts), they tolerate increased spending even if they don't like it. "Thank you very much for my vote-moving issue and grumble, gumble, you spend too much," they say according to Norquist. But "'spend too much' doesn't make people walk out of the room, it doesn't make people throw heavy objects."


The worst example of mistaking preference for intensity is on the issue of "fiscal responsibility." Tune into CSPAN at random and you're likely to hear a Democrat railing against fiscal irresponsibility and the budget deficit. The worst offenders are the Blue Dog caucus of Democrats from conservative districts who are positively obsessed, with a kind of monomaniacal zeal, on balancing the budget and matching revenue to expenditures. So much so, in fact, that they're now threatening to block Jim Webb's excellent G.I. Bill because its expenses aren't adequately off-set.

This is asinine. The notion that it will somehow be politically beneficial to go back to a conservative district and crow about killing a bill to give educational benefits to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is loony. And the notion that voters will base their vote on fiscal rectitude is ungrounded both empirically and experientially. Can someone name the last time a member of congress was voted out of office because the deficit was too large? I understand that Democrats in conservative districts will vote differently than those from, say, Manhattan or Oakland. But the Blue Dog caucus has chosen an inexplicably stupid issue to plant their flag on. And their obstinacy is going to cause massive headaches should there be a Democrat in the White House come January.

Norquist left out one side of the equation. Budget deficits and fiscal responsibility may not be issues that elect Republicans but he and the rest will use it as a potent weapon against any kind of progressive agenda. It doesn't work in the affirmative in the sense of "look at me, I'm fiscally responsible," but it does work in the negative, "look at him, he's a tax and spend liberal."

These Blue Dogs think they are innoculating themselves against GOP attacks. But they are actually being Grover's tools. He doesn't care if they get re-elected or not. Why should he? If they vote with the Republicans, he gets the same result.

Republicans know very well how to set the agenda from the minority. In fact, at certain times they prefer it. There is more freedom in it and it suits their temperaments as the victimized minority. Until the Democrats figure out that they are being manipulated, the Republicans will continue to get away with it.

And it doesn't look as if they are getting any smarter:

With House Democrats increasingly looking to conservative candidates to grow their majority, members of the fiscally austere Blue Dog Coalition are signaling they will lift their year-old admission cap to accommodate an influx of like-minded freshmen.

The group last February took the unusual step of restricting its membership rolls to 20 percent of the size of the full Democratic Caucus to guard against growing unwieldy.

But with the special election victories this month of two Blue Dog-backed candidates — Don Cazayoux (La.) and Travis Childers (Miss.) — and a host of once-long-shot Democratic candidates running in GOP strongholds now looking more competitive, the coalition's leaders said they are likely to re-evaluate the cap after the November elections.

"When we passed the rule, we never dreamed we'd be in the position we're in today," said Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), the coalition's communications chairman, referring to the bylaw change Blue Dogs adopted to cap growth. "We in no way want to limit the membership of those who share our principles."

It's great that these candidates are rehabilitating the Democratic name in some places, but I suspect that has more to do with discontent with the Republicans than anything else. These Blue Pups are only running on one Democratic "vote-moving" issue --- throw the GOP bums out --- and that's obviously a one time deal.

Stoller wondered in his piece on the subject if we should have some sort of Progressive Emily's List. We actually have one already, as Matt mentions in his piece. It's called Blue America and up to this point it's been funded entirely by blog readers. If there are any progressive donors out there who would like to help us elect progressive Democrats I'm sure BA would love to take their money and their expertise. In the meantime, we'll keep plugging along. From where I sit, there really isn't a huge upside to having a large majority that consists of a substantial number of Grover Norquist's neutered Blue Dogs voting with the Republicans. We need more progressive Democrats to really make a difference.