A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The People Who Are The Real Problem

For the Democratic Party Tom DeLay is not the real problem, Dennis Hastert is not the real problem, Bill Frist is not the real problem, Dick Cheney is not the real problem, George Bush is not the real problem, and the entire Republican congressional majority is not the real problem. Whatever these men may have done to further their collective agenda, an objective appraisal of the first 100 days of George Bush’s second term would recognize that all of them have rather frequently shot themselves in the foot.

Occasionally, they have even shot themselves in the foot while they had their foot in their mouth.

Here are the people who are the real problem. They are members of the House of Representatives:

Allen Boyd (D-FL), Jim Costa (D-CA), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), John Tanner (D-TN), Gene Taylor (D-MS), Marion Berry (D-AR), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Ben Chandler (D-KY), Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN), Tim Holden (D-PA), Mike Ross (D-AR), David Scott (D-GA), Dan Boren (D-OK), Lincoln Davis (D-TN), Jim Matheson (D-UT), Charles Melancon (D-LA), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Bud Cramer (D-AL)

They go by the name of the Blue Dog Democrats, a private caucus which they and other Representatives have formed. If it were me, I would suggest that they have the wrong color in their name. These 19 men are the majority in that caucus, which consists of 35 Democratic Representatives in total.

Let’s take a minute to look at why they are the real problem.

The Republicans have a clear majority in both the Senate and the House. They also, particularly in the House, have extremely tight party discipline. What this means is very simple: anything they are seriously intent on passing into law they will pass into law, no matter what it is, no matter whether a majority of people approve of it, and no matter what any Democrat says or does about it short of a Senate fillibuster.

This is precisely what happened in the case of the Terri Schiavo debacle.

In addition, the Schiavo affair made perfectly clear that the Republican Party is being held hostage by its overtly extremist, evangelically oriented, minority, and anything proposed by any progressive Democrat, or any so-called “centrist” Democrat, will not even get heard unless this extremist Republican faction approves of it. Under these conditions, any pretense of “bipartisanship” is impossible. It has simply been replaced with, “My way or the highway.”

Let's bring in Andrew Sullivan here:

The Schiavo case woke a lot of people up. I was already an insomniac on these issues. Maybe I'd be more effective a blogger if I pretended that none of this was troubling, or avoided the gay issue and focused on others. But I'm genuinely troubled by all of it, and by what is happening to the conservative tradition. I'd like to think that a qualified doctor like Bill Frist could say on television that tears cannot transmit HIV. But he could not - because the sectarian base he needs to run for president would not allow it. I'm sorry but that's nuts.

Yeah, that really is nuts.

With such circumstances, the only thing the Democratic Party has to offer is a clear, consistent, disciplined, and public alternative to this Republican evangelical extremism.

We Democrats actually do have the basis for this. It has been convincingly articulated by Chris Bowers of My DD. It consists of ten bills and/or issues of the 109th Congress that explicitly differentiate where the two parties generally stand.

All these bills were drafted by the Republicans, all of them were overwhelmingly supported by House Republicans (96.1%, on average, voted “yes”), all of them were overwhelmingly rejected by House Democrats (82.5%, also on average, voted “no”). Here they are:

Real ID Act

Class Action Fairness Act

Job Training Improvement Act

Congressional Budget for Fiscal Year 2006

Schiavo legislation

Death Tax Repeal Permanency Act

Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act

Energy Policy Act of 2005

Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act

Finally, the Bush Privitazation Scheme for Social Security issue, whose general lineup of supporters and opponents can be assembled from the Fainthearted Faction and Conscience Caucus as collected by TPM.

The 19 Blue Dog Democrats above opposed the general Democratic stance on these ten issues from 50% to 90% of the time!

This is why they are the problem. Their feckless and intransigent lack of party discipline is what is preventing the Democratic Party from offering a credible alternative to Republican government.

The list of 19 Blue Dog Democrats above is in the rank order of the degree to which they sustained party and Democratic Caucus discipline, ranging from only 50% of the time (Allen Boyd, FL) to as little as 10% of the time (Bud Cramer, AL).

In fact, the general degree of Blue Dog Democrat support for the Party’s position on these issues was only 54.3%!

To see how extraordinary and depressing this is you have only to make a list of segments of the House Democratic Caucus and present their degree of party loyalty and support.

This list includes the noisily “centrist” segment known as the Democratic Leadership Council, or DLC, who seem to like nothing better than publicly trashing progressive organizations such as MoveOn.org, which gains them precisely nothing but the enmity of fellow Democrats. Or at least nothing beyond self-inflation, and self-aggrandizement.

As Chris Bowers trenchantly points out, "More than anything else, this study has revealed to me that the DLC is hyper-disorganized and does not seem to have either a clear policy thread or a noticeable amount of influence among its membership."

Here are the numbers:

The overtly “liberal” Progressive Caucus-- 97.3%

Democrats who are not members of the DLC-- 83.3%

House Democrats in General-- 82.5%

The “centrist” DLC Members-- 79.0%

Blue Dog Democrats—54.3%

Non-Blue Dog Democrats: 88.3%

Now what did the Blue Dogs gain from this? Good question. At least five of these issues and the bills about them—class action suits, death tax repeal, bankruptcy, energy policy, and Social Security—have or had considerable corporate lobbying money and muscle behind the Republican proposals.

Perhaps if we really wanted to know why the Blue Dog Democrats supported these five proposals, we should inquire more closely into who funded their campaigns.

Perhaps, also, the other, generally divisive, social issues might have more support for the Republican alternatives in the Blue Dogs’ specific districts. But even given this level of “social conservatism” among constituents, it would have been perfectly possible for any or all of these 19 men to at least give token support to the party position, even if only by abstaining when the issue made no real difference to their constituent relations.

Beyond this the Blue Dogs gained absolutely nothing. There is no reason for the other party to do them any favors whatever in terms of legislative perks or protocol. The Republican majority does not need them. Period.

In other words, it would have been perfectly possible for these 19 men to have supported the Democratic Party well over 50% of the time, with no genuine effect on the outcome of the votes, but with considerable effect on the solidarity and coherence of the party.

I can only assume that the Blue Dog Democrats really do not support the Democratic Party’s message.

Whatever the Blue Dogs gained, every other Democrat clearly lost by their feckless lack of party discipline. The figures above unquestionably show that there is a core of Democratic Party politics, and a coherent message the Democratic Party has to offer the voters of this country.

And there is quite extensive general agreement even between the “liberals” of the Progressive Caucus and the “centrists” of the Democratic Leadership Council about what that core and message is.

The Blue Dogs are simply not part of that core and coherent message.

These are their names and websites:

Rep. Joe Baca (CA), Rep. John Barrow (GA), Rep. Marion Berry (AR), Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA), Rep. Dan Boren (OK), Rep. Leonard Boswell (IA), Rep. Allen Boyd (FL), Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA), Rep. Ed Case (HI), Rep. Ben Chandler (KY), Rep. Jim Cooper (TN), Rep. Jim Costa (CA), Rep. Robert E. “Bud” Cramer (AL), Rep. Lincoln Davis (TN), Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (TN), Rep. Jane Harman (CA), Rep. Stephanie Herseth (SD), Rep. Tim Holden (PA), Rep. Steve Israel (NY), Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC), Rep. Jim Matheson (UT), Rep. Charles Melancon (LA), Rep. Mike Michaud (ME), Rep. Dennis Moore (KS), Rep. Collin Peterson (MN), Rep. Earl Pomeroy (ND), Rep. Mike Ross (AR), Rep. John Salazar (CO), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (CA), Rep. David Scott (GA), Rep. John Tanner (TN), Rep. Ellen Tauscher (CA), Rep. Gene Taylor (MS), Rep. Mike Thompson (CA)

If you’re a Democrat, read this blog, and have a little extra time, you might drop each of these Representatives a polite e-mail (be more polite to them than I have in this post) asking why they have not consistently supported the core of the Democratic agenda, or why they caucus with those who do not support the core of the Democratic agenda.

You would be doing all of us a favor if you did. For even the voters of the other party would benefit from a clear and consistent Democratic agenda, if only to clarify the reasons they reject it.


Anonymous Daryl said...

Dude, the problem is the special interest groups and the Blue Dogs are the answer. End of story.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Daryl said...

Funny that you don't understand the history of the name. The term "blue Dog" doesn't come from blue as in blue state, it comes from blue as in being chocked by special interest groups infiltrating the Democratic Party until you turn blue. So that's where it comes from, just to let you know.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

You mean special interest groups like the banks and credit card companies (bankruptcy bill)?

The companies whose only restraint was the threat of class action suits (class action "fairness")?

Virtually any CEO in this country worth millions (inheritance tax elimination)?

And the international petroleum companies (energy policy act)?

Get a clue, Darryl.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Oh, yes, and then there are the brokerage firms who will be handling the Social Security "personal accounts". We musn't forget about them either, right?

6:34 AM  

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