Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Blue Dog Theory

Matt Bai finds that the theory in which Democrats blame the Blue Dogs...does not quite exactly hold up. Matt Bai wrote a brilliant book about the party a few years back. It's called The Argument. I used it as a source for my thesis paper earlier this summer and it's a book that I highly recommend that political junkies of both parties read when they have a chance. If you are in Louisville, the LFPL does have a few copies.
If there was any sliver of hope for moderate Democrats on a catastrophic midterm election night, it was their assumption that now, at least, the party’s leaders would have to focus on recapturing the political center. If nothing else, they reasoned, Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be forced to step aside as party leader, yielding control to Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland congressman who had been the Blue Dogs’ ally in party leadership.[...]

For the House Blue Dogs — Democrats who are more conservative than their party on fiscal policy and sometimes find themselves out of step with their more liberal colleagues on social issues — last week’s election was like a political Gettysburg, the carnage unfolding all around them. A caucus that comprised 54 Democrats was instantly reduced by half. The top two leaders of the Blue Dog caucus, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and Baron P. Hill of Indiana, were among those defeated.

A lot of Democrats took it for granted that these defeats marked a repudiation of the speaker and of the party’s liberal agenda. “This election was an old-fashioned whooping,” says Jim Matheson, the Utah Democrat who is next in line to head the Blue Dog Coalition. “You’ve got to shake up your leadership when that happens.”

That is not, however, how Ms. Pelosi’s liberal supporters see it. Even before the votes were cast, a counterargument was already taking hold — that it was the centrist Democrats, and not the liberals in Congress, who had imperiled the party’s majority.[...]

The theory here, embraced by a lot of the most prominent liberal bloggers and activists, is that centrist Democrats doomed the party when they blocked liberals in Congress from making good on President Obama’s promise of bold change. Specifically, they refused to adopt a more populist stance toward business and opposed greater stimulus spending and a government-run health care plan. As a result, the thinking goes, frustrated voters rejected the party for its timidity.

There are a few strange things about this argument, even beyond the contention that American voters — 41 percent of whom described themselves as “conservative” this year, compared with 32 percent in 2006 — somehow deem Congress to be insufficiently liberal.[....]

Similarly, it’s hard to imagine how Democrats in this last Congress could have assembled a majority and passed the president’s agenda — including what is arguably the most consequential social legislation since the Great Society — without having fielded victorious candidates in a lot of conservative districts in 2006 and 2008. In a memo just before the election, titled “Why Liberals Need Heath Shuler,” Jon Cowan and Anne Kim of the centrist group Third Way summed it up this way: “Call them ‘fake Democrats,’ but they delivered a real majority.”

In the end, perhaps this is why Ms. Pelosi won’t be so quick to marginalize the remaining Blue Dogs if she retains her role as leader — no matter what her liberal supporters would prefer. The departing speaker, as everyone knows, can count votes. And for Ms. Pelosi, now 70, to write off the conservative districts where Democrats just lost could well mean writing off her chance of becoming speaker again.
Here in Kentucky, Congressman Ben Chandler, a Blue Dog Democrat, just BARELY got re-elected to the House.

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