Blue Dogism Slipping Under The Waves?
Yesterday I got a message from a friend in Ohio that that state's Democratic Party, headed by a sleazy and corrupt lobbyist and hack Chris Redfern-- whose heavy handed interference and mindboggling incompetence is virtually just handing the state back to the Republicans-- has removed the Coussoule campaign's access to the state's voter data base, the only way the Ohio Democratic Party has even remotely helped Coussoule's campaign. Redfern and his whole corrupt, conservative establishment is circling the toilet but he apparently thinks his lobbying business will benefit by his having helped John Boehner win another term and, perhaps, the Speakership.
In yesterday's Charlotte Observer, North Carolina's #1 newspaper, there was a glowing endorsement of Elaine Marshall's Senate scrappy insurgent campaign. The endorsement was a slap in the face not just to reactionary corporate shill and incumbent Richard Burr, but also to his pal, sleazy New Jersey ward-heeler and failed DSCC chair Robert Menendez. Marshall, they enthused, "dove into this year's Senate race without Democratic Party backing, yet beat the party's hand-picked choice in the primary. 'I don't have to vote with the Senate leadership,' she told us. 'I wasn't their pick'."
Not only was she not their pick, when North Carolina Democrats let Menendez know what he could do with his pick-- and handed the progressive, activist Marshall a decisive win against the corporate-oriented slug-- Menendez took his toys and ran back to Washington. He had forced Marshall to spend almost a million dollars to win a primary fight he insisted on-- even after she won the first round-- and since then has studiously, many would say vindictively, ignored North Carolina, easily the Democrats' best chance of picking up a GOP-held seat in the entire country.
From the time he handed Scott Brown Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, right through all his wrong-headed primary meddling, Menendez's place in history has been assured: the worst DSCC Chair ever. He has been the driving force in making John Cornyn look astute and in turning a filibuster-proof Democratic majority into a hodge podge that may or may not be able to cling to a bare majority. Out of touch, self-serving political hacks like Menendez and Redfern are managing to emphasize that the Democratic Party, despite the disciples of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at the grassroots level is anything but a peoples' party.
Yesterday a friend of mine, Ari Berman, author of the brilliant new book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, published an incisive OdEd in the NY Times about the damage Blue Dogs and ConservaDems have done to the Democratic Party and, thereby, to the one hope that working families have for a fair shake in this country. And it isn't only Blue Dogs and ConservaDems, but the political bosses like Redfern, Menendez and, of course, Rahm Emanuel, whose milieu they swim in.
Berman asks how Obama's breathtaking victory just two years ago could have turned to such bitter ashes today. "One important explanation," he begins, "is that divisions inside the Democratic coalition, which held together during the 2008 campaign, have come spilling out into the open. Conservative Democrats have opposed key elements of the president’s agenda, while liberal Democrats have howled that their majority is being hijacked by a rogue group of predominantly white men from small rural states. President Obama himself appears caught in the middle, unable to satisfy the many factions inside his party’s big tent." Even inside the DCCC, which should be theoretically controlled by Pelosi and her sluggish assistant, Chris Van Hollen, a rogue bunch of Emanuel leftovers, basically Jon Vogel and John Lapp-- each of whom has ownership stakes in outside consulting firms (which we'll be discussing at greater length on November 3)-- has taken it upon themselves, for curious reasons (more on... November 3), to bolster the campaigns of violently anti-Obama, anti-family reactionaries like Bobby Bright (see the Blue America response in the video above, which is running as an ad in the Democratic-leaning counties of his Alabama district), Travis Childers, Baron Hill, Ann Kirkpatrick, Harry Mitchell, Joe Donnelly, and Frank Kratovil, while ignoring not just progressive challengers, but even tried and true progressive incumbents like Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, Mary Jo Kilroy and Carol Shea Porter.
Conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives-- whose election in 2006 and 2008 enabled Nancy Pelosi to preside over a supermajority (there are 255 Democrats and 178 Republicans)-- increasingly question whether she should relinquish her position as speaker. Representative Heath Shuler of western North Carolina, a leader of the restive Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats, has even hinted that he may run for her job. Representative Shuler is an unlikely candidate for leader of the party-- a devout Southern Baptist who voted against the stimulus, the bank and auto bailouts and health care reform. Yet he’s exactly the kind of Democrat that the party worked very hard to recruit for public office.
In 2005, Howard Dean, who was then the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, carried out a campaign to elect as many Democrats as possible. In long-ignored red states, both Mr. Dean and Rahm Emanuel, then the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, backed conservative Democrats who broke with the party’s leadership on core issues like gun control and abortion rights. Mr. Shuler was one of Mr. Emanuel’s top recruits. The party leaders did not give much thought to how a Democratic majority that included such conservative members could ever effectively govern.
With President Obama in office, some notable beneficiaries of the Democrats’ 50-state strategy have been antagonizing the party from within-- causing legislative stalemate in Congress, especially in the Senate, and casting doubt on the long-term viability of a Democratic majority. As a result, the activists who were so inspired by Mr. Dean in 2006 and Mr. Obama in 2008 are now feeling buyer’s remorse.
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.
Far from hastening the dawn of a post-partisan utopia, President Obama’s election has led to near-absolute polarization. If Democrats alter their political strategy accordingly, they’ll be more united and more productive.
Although he was asked, for the sake of some semblance of party unity, to back off, what Berman is saying is very much what the dean of California's congressional delegation said this summer: the Democrats would be better off without the Blue Dogs.
“I think a lot of the House seats we’re going to lose are those who have been the toughest for the Democrats to pull into line-- the Democrats that have been the most difficult,” Waxman said.
Waxman, one of the Democratic Party’s stalwarts, is simply voicing publicly what many in his party have said privately as the reality of the looming November elections sets in. If Democrats retain a majority, it will be smaller but more cohesive.
As Waxman sees it, the fractious coalition of Democrats that House leaders have cobbled together to pass sweeping healthcare and energy bills is not markedly different from the bipartisanship of the past, when Democrats partnered with centrist and liberal Republicans, whom Waxman says are “practically nonexistent at the moment.”
“We’ve been trying to get the Democratic conservatives together with the rest of the Democratic Party, so in effect we’ve gotten bipartisan support among Democrats in the House,” the chairman said with a laugh. “Now we’ll have to work on genuine bipartisanship in the future.”
The Bobby Bright Blue America ads were paid for with a single contribution from a dedicated progressive who feels much the same way about this that Henry Waxman and Ari Berman feel. But if you'd like to chip in a little to hammer home the message... here's The Bobby Bright Page on ActBlue.
UPDATE: And Don't Forget The New Dem Coalition
They're a couple steps further away from the white sheets and hoods than the Blue Dogs, with this group of conservative Democrats has been nearly as lethal, especially when it comes to protecting their corporate benefactors. Sebastian Jones and Marcus Stern blew the whistle on these bad dogs at ProPublica today. Usually the ugly public faces of the New Dems have been Illinois corporate whores Rahm Emanuel and Melissa Bean but right now the chairman of the corporate Wall Street bagmen is Joseph Crowley, whose under investigation for collecting bribery checks. A congressional friend of mine told me the Democratic Caucus has decided to elevate him in the leadership-- and probably not in spite of all the bribes he takes but because of them! After all, they reason, how can the Democrats fight Boehner, Cantor, Ryan and that lot without people just an unsavory and criminally-minded?
In a review of data collected by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, ProPublica found that at least 16 other New Democrats also held fundraisers in the days leading up to the December vote on Wall Street reform. Several explicitly mentioned their membership in the New Democrat Coalition or their seat on the Financial Services Committee on invitations distributed to lobbyists.
Throughout their rise to power, the New Democrats have maintained that their pro-business positions are based not on the campaign contributions they receive but on their personal convictions, their experiences in the private sector, and on the politics of the affluent suburban districts many of them represent.
Staffers for the New Democrat Coalition refused to answer questions on the record, but the group's spokesperson, Natalie Thorpe, read a one-sentence statement over the phone: "The fundraising activities of the NewDemPAC are completely separate from the New Democrat Coalition and have no effect on the official work of the coalition or the positions taken by our members."
...The Blue Dogs took the lead in protecting business interests during healthcare reform. Although the Blue Dogs and the New Democrats have much in common, including 21 members and many of the same K Street backers, there are differences as well. Because of their generally Southern and rural constituencies, the Blue Dogs’ top concerns involve the national debt, energy legislation and social issues. The New Democrats represent suburban districts, some of them solidly Democratic, and are more interested in hi-tech industries, trade policy and finance.