Put The Blue Dogs Down
Ari Berman has written an important op-ed in the NY Times today called "Boot the Blue Dogs" that everyone who rads this blog should read. It fairly describes the logic on which many of us in the Netroots are operating --- namely, that in a polarized time and an ever more parliamentary style of government, philosophical cohesion matters.
Margaret Johnson, a former party chairwoman in Polk County, N.C., helped elect Representative Shuler but now believes the party would be better off without him. “I’d rather have a real Republican than a fake Democrat,” she said. “A real Republican motivates us to work. A fake Democrat de-motivates us.”
Ms. Johnson is right: Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It’s a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. “Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done,” he said. Since the passage of health care reform, few major bills have passed the Senate. Although the Democrats have a 59-vote majority, party leaders can barely find the votes for something as benign as extending unemployment benefits.
A smaller majority, minus the intraparty feuding, could benefit Democrats in two ways: first, it could enable them to devise cleaner pieces of legislation, without blatantly trading pork for votes as they did with the deals that helped sour the public on the health care bill. (As a corollary, the narrative of “Democratic infighting” would also diminish.)
Second, in the Senate, having a majority of 52 rather than 59 or 60 would force Democrats to confront the Republicans’ incessant misuse of the filibuster to require that any piece of legislation garner a minimum of 60 votes to become law. Since President Obama’s election, more than 420 bills have cleared the House but have sat dormant in the Senate. It’s easy to forget that George W. Bush passed his controversial 2003 tax cut legislation with only 50 votes, plus Vice President Dick Cheney’s. Eternal gridlock is not inevitable unless Democrats allow it to be.
Republicans have become obsessed with ideological purity, and as a consequence they will likely squander a few winnable races in places like Delaware. But Democrats aren’t ideological enough. Their conservative contingent has so blurred what it means to be a Democrat that the party itself can barely find its way. Polls show that, despite their best efforts to distance themselves from Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, a number of Blue Dog Democrats are likely to be defeated this November. Their conservative voting records have deflated Democratic activists but have done nothing to win Republican support.
Democrats can either accept that they are in a new political age or they can keep spending their money to elect saboteurs who will destroy any chance of enacting policies that work and then help the Republicans blame the party for their failure.
The Republicans signaled from the beginning what they were going to do. It wasn't a secret:
January 16, 2009:
RUSH: I got a request here from a major American print publication. "Dear Rush: For the Obama [Immaculate] Inauguration we are asking a handful of very prominent politicians, statesmen, scholars, businessmen, commentators, and economists to write 400 words on their hope for the Obama presidency. We would love to include you. If you could send us 400 words on your hope for the Obama presidency, we need it by Monday night, that would be ideal." Now, we're caught in this trap again. The premise is, what is your "hope." My hope, and please understand me when I say this. I disagree fervently with the people on our side of the aisle who have caved and who say, "Well, I hope he succeeds. We've got to give him a chance." Why? They didn't give Bush a chance in 2000. Before he was inaugurated the search-and-destroy mission had begun. I'm not talking about search-and-destroy, but I've been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don't want them to succeed.
If I wanted Obama to succeed, I'd be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. Look, what he's talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work. So I'm thinking of replying to the guy, "Okay, I'll send you a response, but I don't need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails." (interruption) What are you laughing at? See, here's the point. Everybody thinks it's outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, "Oh, you can't do that." Why not? Why is it any different, what's new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don't care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it.
You'll recall that everyone tut-tutted and clutched their pearls over that statement. You'll also recall that any Republican who was stupid enough to publicly disagree with that statement was summarily summoned to the woodshed:
Responding to President Barack Obama’s recommendation to Republican congressional leaders last week that they not follow Limbaugh’s lead, Limbaugh said on his show that Obama is “obviously more frightened of me than he is Mitch McConnell. He’s more frightened of me than he is of, say, John Boehner, which doesn’t say much about our party.”
Gingrey came to his leaders’ defense.
“I think that our leadership, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are taking the right approach,” Gingrey said.
“I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn’t be or wouldn’t be good leaders, they’re not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell,” Gingrey said.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) apologized Wednesday to “my fellow conservatives” for comments critical of talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh – saying he sees “eye-to-eye” with Limbaugh and that his remarks defending House Republican leadership came across more harshly than intended.
He also took issue with a headline on a Politico story about his comments, saying he never told Limbaugh to “back off,” as the headline read.
“I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives—that was not my intent,” Gingrey said in a statement. “I am also sorry to see that my comments in defense of our Republican Leadership read much harsher than they actually were intended, but I recognize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments.”
Gingrey said he issued the statement because of a high volume of calls and correspondence to his office after the Politico article and wanted to speak directly to “grassroots conservatives. Let me assure you, I am one of you. I believe I was sent to Washington to fight for and defend our traditional values of smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense, and the lives of the unborn.”
“As long as I am in the Congress, I will continue to fight for and defend our sacred values. I have actively opposed every bailout, every rebate check, every so called “stimulus.” And on so many of these things, I see eye-to-eye with Rush Limbaugh.”
This election will undoubtedly validate that point of view. (All you have to do is listen to Orrin Hatch do his Jim DeMint impression to see how it will go.) Those of us who take the right seriously instead of pooh-poohing them as a sideshow knew very well that this would be the outcome and understood that it wasn't a posture. (At the very least, the immigration battle under Bush should have awakened the establishment and it didn't.)
The Democrats can continue to pretend that having a coalition of liberals and conservatives will somehow show them to be the superior, thoughtful people they believe themselves to be or they can adapt to the existing political environment.
If progressives survive and Blue Dogs lose in this election, we may have a chance to see if they can do it.
Update: I just watched the Florida Senate debate and listening to Charlie Christ and it's clear if he wins he will be a complete pushover for the right wing. I realize that he's got to make this endless pitch for lukewarm water because he's running as an independent and he may be very marginally better than Rubio on certain issues. But in the end, he's going to be their pawn. The Republicans know exactly how to massage the egos (and threaten the vanity) of these "independent" Fauntleroys.