I am amazed at how often the adjective “dog” has been applied by politicians to other politicians. Obviously this is not because a dog is loyal, but because the word serves as a wonderful handle by which you may grab and manipulate numerous other adjectives. There is “dirty dog”, “low down dog”(often also “low down and dirty dog”) an “attack dog”, a “currish dog” and the ever popular “Hound Dog”, as applied to Bill Clinton. And for some reason, the term “Blue” also springs up with amazing continuity in American political history. We’ve had every thing from the Blue Goose, the bullet proof podium used by Clinton and Gore, to the Blue Slips used by the Senate Judiciary Committee to record their votes for judicial appointments, and the blue sky laws which are designed to protect suckers from con artists. The laws which make pyramid schemes and three card Monte illegal are blue sky laws.
During the War of 1812 a Virginia newspaper editor referred to his fellow editors in Connecticut as “Dirty dog Blue Light Federalist”. The blue part of the insult referred to blue Royal Navy signal lanterns supposedly seen flashing to conspirators ashore just before New London was captured and burned. British ships were raiding the American coast with impunity the summer of 1814 and the assumption was there must be traitors aiding the enemy.
New England was strongly Federalist territory. Democratic Republican President James Madison’s blockade and then “his” war were devastating to North East shipping and banking interests, which were politically largely Federalist. There was even talk of New England seceding from the union. A convention was held to discuss the issue in Hartford in December 1814, but Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and word of the Peace Settlement signed in Europe cut the legs out of the argument. But even then the convention revealed the secession talk had been the product of a handful of hotheads. The truth was there had been no conspiracy, no matter what Virginia newspaper editors might suspect. The tiny republic simply didn’t have the resources to defend its enormous coastline against the greatest navy in the world.
Recent politics has seen the rise of Blue Dog Democrats. They are usually southerners. They are always economic conservatives if social moderates. In order to increase their influence in the Democratic party and in Congress they formed a loose coalition, meeting regularly to discuss issues and plan strategy, often in the offices of fellow Southern Democrats, many of which are adorned by the paintings of the Cajun artist George Rodrigues. A continuing theme of Mr. Rodrigues’ is the Louisiana myth of the Loup-garou – or a werewolf dog. The Loup-garou appears in many Rodrigues’ paintings of politicians, always in a blue tint to indicate he prowls by night – thus the group’s name – Blue Dog Democrats. Since Republican dominance of Congress this group has often been the swing votes, although not often credited as such in the news media, which prefers the simplistic Republican image that all Democrats are liberals.
Interestingly, the Blue Dog Democrats were preceded by Yellow Dog Democrats from the New Deal Coalition days of the thirties, forties, and even into the fifties. The term indicated a politician who would even vote for a yellow dog if it were running as a Democrat.
In the 1880’s and 90’s such Democratic loyalist were also refereed to as Copper collar Democrats. The style in men’s shirts of the day was high starched collars, and if you weren’t wealthy enough to have your shirt laundered and starched fresh each day you could buy cardboard collars that could be thrown away once they were soiled. But the cardboard collars were much stiffer than starched cloth ones, and often prevented the wearer from turning his head and seeing anything not directly in front of him. A copper collar would, of course, have been even stiffer. So a copper collared Democrat wouldn’t or couldn’t consider any other argument or viewpoint except that endorsed by the party leadership.
So perhaps we should be calling Republican loyalist, Karl Rove talking point mouth pieces and Joe Lieberman, as copper collared Republicans.