August 5, 2009

CNN's John King went out to Idaho's Benewah County last week -- which is a fairly typical logging area which lies within Rep. Walt Minnick's district -- and produced an interesting report that ran last weekend. It was especially interesting if you know this country, which I do. (Sorry, John, St. Maries is in northern Idaho, not western Idaho.)

It largely was a sympathetic report exploring the kinds of pressures a Blue Dog Democrat like Minnick faces in trying to represent a largely conservative constituency -- particularly on an explosive issue like health-care reform.

But it also revealed, I think, the flaw in the kind of thinking employed by Blue Dogs like Minnick when confronted with tough issues like health care. Rather than represent the people who actually campaigned for them and put them into office, they kowtow to what are perceived to be the majority conservative sentiments in their district and vote the Republican line.

In other words, they're trying to solidify their positions by selling out the very people who elected them, while pursuing the votes of people who will never vote for them.

The main report featured some quips from a threesome of Idahoans who sat down with King at a cafe in St. Maries, including a belligerent NRA type named Don Griesel, who explained to King that even though Minnick was voting his way, there was no way he would ever vote for him:

Griesel: If he doesn't change his party, there's no way I can vote Democrat. Because like right now they have control of the House and all, and that's what's killing America.

King did a separate segment featuring just his interview with these three, and it was actually rather good, because he managed to obtain three people who probably well represented the three main socio-political factions in the district: the thoughtful, common-sense Democrat who ardently supports health-care reform; the middle-of-the-road, mostly suburban Republican; and the bellicose, Limbaugh/Beck-loving gun nut/government hater.

Griesel even openly admits in this clip that the Blue Dogs are the only thing saving hard-core right-wingers like himself in the fight against health-care reform -- even though he'll never for them.

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.

And indeed, Randy Stapilus at Ridenbaugh Press observes that Minnick so far is voting more conservatively even than most Republicans:

But here’s the stunner: The most “conservative” member of the Northwest delegation turns out not to be a Republican at all, not Idaho’s Mike Simpson (281.0) or Washington’s Dave Reichert (263.0), Doc Hastings (312.0) or Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (341.5).

Rather, it is the only Democrat in the House to score more conservative than the “least conservative” Republican - Idaho’s Walt Minnick, at 359.5, which puts him just about in the middle of the House Republican caucus, and more “conservative” than, for example, Simpson. No other Democrat or Republican scores across the line at all.

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: You won't be able to count on a pathetic Republican opponent like Bill Sali every election.

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