July 29, 2008


Let's give "Blue Dogs" the boot: Pushing conservative Democrats out of Congress could help the party stand up to the GOP. (Glenn Greenwald, 7/28/08, Salon)

On key issue after key issue, it is the Bush White House and Republican caucus that have received virtually everything they wanted from Congress, while the base of the Democratic Party has received virtually nothing other than disappointment and an overt repudiation of its agenda. Since the American people gave them control of Congress, the Democrats in Congress have given the country the following:

Unlimited and unconditional funding for the Iraq war. Vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and retroactive amnesty for their telecom donors -- measures the administration tried, but failed, to obtain from the GOP Congress. The ability to ignore congressional subpoenas with utter impunity. A resolution formally decreeing parts of the Iranian government to be a "terrorist organization." A failure to outlaw waterboarding, to apply the torture ban to the CIA, to restore the habeas corpus rights abolished by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, to impose the requirement of congressional approval before President Bush can attack Iran. Confirmation of highly controversial Bush nominees, including Michael Mukasey as attorney general even after he embraced the most radical Bush theories of executive power and repeatedly refused to say that waterboarding was torture.

Other than (arguably) the resignation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and a very modest increase in the minimum wage (enacted in the first month after Democrats took control of Congress), one is hard-pressed to identify a single event or issue since November 2006 that would have been meaningfully different had the GOP retained control of Congress. The Congress of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi has been every bit as passive, impotent and complicit as the Congress of Bill Frist and Denny Hastert was. Worse, in contrast to the Frist/Hastert-led Congress, which at least had the excuse that it enabled a wartime president from its own party while he enjoyed high approval ratings, the Reid/Pelosi Congress has capitulated to every presidential whim despite an "opposition party" president who is now one of the most unpopular in modern American history. It's difficult to imagine how even Reid and Pelosi themselves could contest the claim that the Democratic-led Congress, from the perspective of Democratic voters, has been a profound failure.

With those depressing facts assembled, the only question worth asking among those who are so dissatisfied with congressional Democrats is this: What can be done to change this conduct? As proved by the 2006 midterm elections -- which the Democrats dominated in a historically lopsided manner -- mindlessly electing more Democrats to Congress will not improve anything. Such uncritical support for the party is actually likely to have the opposite effect. It's axiomatic that rewarding politicians -- which is what will happen if congressional Democrats end up with more seats and greater control after 2008 than they had after 2006 -- only ensures that they will continue the same behavior. If, after spending two years accommodating one extremist policy after the next favored by the right, congressional Democrats become further entrenched in their power by winning even more seats, what would one expect them to do other than conclude that this approach works and therefore continue to pursue it?

If simply voting for more Democrats will achieve nothing in the way of meaningful change, what, if anything, will? At minimum, two steps are required to begin to influence Democratic leaders to change course: 1) Impose a real political price that they must pay when they capitulate to -- or actively embrace -- the right's agenda and ignore the political values of their base, and 2) decrease the power and influence of the conservative "Blue Dog" contingent within the Democratic caucus, who have proved excessively willing to accommodate the excesses of the Bush administration, by selecting their members for defeat and removing them from office. And that means running progressive challengers against them in primaries, or targeting them with critical ads, even if doing so, in isolated cases, risks the loss of a Democratic seat in Congress.

...but at least they get the big offices and good committee jobs. If they stop running rightwing whackos like Jim Webb and Heath Shuler they lose on all the issues and get treated like they did Gerald Ford and Bob Michel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 29, 2008 8:49 AM

So which disgruntled group will do the most damage to their side - the "true progressives" as exemplified by the Messrs. Greenwald(s) or the "true conservatives"?

Posted by: Mikey at July 29, 2008 11:50 AM

Mikey: There are far fewer "true progressives" so theoretically they should be able to do less damage, but they paradoxically have far more influence on the nomination process for the Dems (through all the caucuses & superdelegates), so they have more power to screw things up.

Posted by: b at July 29, 2008 12:14 PM

The Dems are waiting for their Obamessiah to move to the White House to save them. Mr. Greenwald seems to believe there will be a President McCain to contend with.

Posted by: ic at July 29, 2008 12:44 PM

Bah. Greenwalds are nothing but predictable.

Democrats who unseated Republicans in 2006 did so in Districts that had had Republican representation (well, d'oh!) and were therefore at least somewhat conservative. Therefore those Democrats were far to the right of what Greenwalds would be happy with, and the results of the present Congress confirm that.

The same thing will happen this fall. Any new Democrats elected will be conservative Democrats, because they will be elected from districts that now have Republican Representatives and are therefore at least somewhat conservative. A vote for a Democrat is not automatically a vote for the nutroots, no matter how much Greenwalds wish it were.


Posted by: Ric Locke at July 29, 2008 2:41 PM
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