The Lessons Of 2010: Dems Need To Forgo The Blue Dog Short-cut. What We Need Are Genuine Common-Sense Liberals
Now that progressives have licked their wounds from the 2010 Elections -- especially the 60 House seats won by Republicans -- it's time to turn our attention to the real task at hand: Getting a large chunk of those seats back.
And if there's anything we should have learned from 2010, it's this: The Blue Dog short-cut -- that is, propping up conservatives who don't really believe in progressive values at all as Democrats, simply as an easy way to put swing districts into Democratic hands -- is a short-term winner and a long-term disaster.
This was really on display Friday on Sean Hannity's Fox News show when he interviewed outgoing Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a classic Conservadem who thinks President Obama pushed a "liberal" agenda too hard.
HANNITY: Well, look, I would argue and I have argued that Bill Clinton changed after '94 and the Republican Revolution. I contend, and my analysis of President Obama is that he is a rigid, left wing, radical ideologue.
And I've said it many times on the program. I've never seen any inclination in his adult professional life that he has a willingness to be pragmatic to move to the middle to change.
Do you see that in him? Because I don't see it.
BAYH: Well, I actually do, Sean. And I'm glad you're sitting down when I say this. Believe it or not there are some people out there in my party who are attacking the president for being insufficiently liberal.
They think he didn't go far enough. Believe it or not, they're out there because I hear from them, too.
This kind of idiocy is exactly the reason Democrats lost so badly in the House, and had to concede seats like Bayh's in the Senate. Because -- Bayh's protestations to the contrary -- it's been painfully evident to everyone except the Tea Parters, Fox Talkers and Blue Dogs (that is, blinkered conservative ideologues) that the path Obama has followed has been anything BUT that of a "rigid, left wing, radical ideologue".
As John Nichols says, Bayh was a big part of Democrats' problem -- and his willingness to be a tool for Hannity to bash Democrats only hints at how deep that problem is.
Think about the two chief initiatives for which guys like Hannity and Bayh regularly attack Obama: the stimulus, and health-care reform. In each of these instances, Obama actually undercut his own efforts, particularly with his base, by scaling back and moderating the policies -- often to the point that, as with the stimulus package, it ultimately came up short (at least from an economic recovery standpoint) because it was so "moderate." Indeed, Obama bent over so far backwards on health-care reform that he essentially presented a Republican plan -- which Republicans, of course, unanimously rejected.
That's because Republicans really don't care about the nation's well-being: they only care about how right-wing conservatives fare politically. It didn't matter WHAT path Obama followed policy-wise: they were determined to portray him as a "rigid, left-wing, radical ideologue" no matter what he did or said. A REAL Democrat, instead of a fake one like Evan Bayh, would have pointed this out.
The reason they were able to turn this around with such ease, though, has less to do with the electorate's actual sentiments, and much more to do with the kind of Democrats who helped sweep to victory in 2006 and 2008 -- particularly those in rural and suburban swing districts.
Those people were actually elected on the basis of voters' disgust with misbegotten conservative rule -- even though they themselves were fundamentally conservative. So, rather than go out and build on their victories as Democrats by elucidating common-sense explanations for Democratic policies, these politicos essentially went out and acted like Republicans Lite, trying to convince people who would never vote for them. Along the way, as we observed in Walt Minnick's case, they gutted the own original supporters -- the common-sense liberals who are also part and parcel of rural and suburban communities, if in the minority:
Perhaps more impressive, in a positive way, is Patricia Bauer, the psychologist and health-care professional who is like so many other Idaho Democrats I know: self-possessed, assured in her own good common sense, and dismayed at watching Walt Minnick betray her and the people like her who worked to elect him. ...
You get the feeling, watching people like Patricia Bauer, that a lot of these Blue Dogs, by pursuing this kind of "bipartisanship," are leaving behind the very people who put them into office while pursuing the chimera of conservative votes. Which means that come the next election, they'll find a lot of their old organization having peeled away lots of its original support and picking up very little new. Lots of luck with that.
Given the choice between Real Conservatives and Fake Conservatives, most voters are eventually going to go with the genuine article. It's not so much that they're all conservative, but rather, voters can't stand phonies who won't stand up for themselves or the principles they're supposed to represent.
Ari Melber had some thoughts along these lines too, examining the election results:
But there is surprising news for the Beltway: 11 of the 14 Wave Democrats who won backed health care -- a higher share than Democrats who lost wave districts. About 79 percent of Democratic victors in these tough areas took the tough vote with Obama. 71 percent of losing Democrats backed health care.
This data undercuts the idea that all Democrats in competitive areas have to oppose government, or Obama, to win.
At a minimum, it suggests they can win regardless. While one midterm does not make a trend, the results show that in these wave swing districts -- in contrast to McCain Country -- new Democrats can do better by standing strong than splitting differences.
This granularity is usually lost in our political narrative. That's because many commentators lump all swing districts together, though the numbers suggest subtle, diverging politics.
When Democrats go recruiting political candidates in the next go-round, they need to be much more thoughtful and selective. Going with unknown newcomers with little political experience is always a big risk, but it's much more harmful to go in the long run with well-connected businessmen who really are conservatives but are willing to don the Democratic name to win election -- which is what the vast majority of the Blue Dogs were.
The profile of the kind of candidate Democrats should be seeking as they work to return to full power in Congress should be someone modeled after a politician like Cecil Andrus rather than a Walt Minnick: A proud liberal who was skilled at explaining and standing up for liberal positions and policies to rural and suburban audiences because he understood that, at the bottom, these are common-sense positions -- and, if explained and marketed to voters that way, will win voters over to supporting Democratic positions instead of regurgitating Fox propaganda talking points, which is about all Republicans are capable of these days.
That way, when the Tea Partiers and Fox Talkers start mau-mauing them en masse, we won't have a bunch of Democrats who run and vote with Republicans and act and talk like them on the campaign trail. We need candidates who will stand strong with their own party and give voters something to actually believe in. Otherwise, it's just going to be lather, rinse, repeat.
[FWIW, a lot of what John Nichols wrote at The Nation back in 2004 still holds true today.]