As Meteor Blades explains, more than half of the Blue Dogs lost their seats or were not replaced (if they retired) last night. Meanwhile, only four Progressives lost their seats and one of them was replaced by a Democrat who will probably caucus with the Progressives. We picked up a seat in Hawai’i that will probably add to the Progressive Caucus. So, I think that we’ll probably see a loss of two seats in the Progressive Caucus after an absolute bloodletting for the Democratic Party as a whole.
Now, there are two ways of looking at this. One is that progressive policies are not viable in areas of the country that don’t have substantial racial, ethnic, and religious diversity. The other view is that the Blue Dogs failed to stand up for this Congress’s accomplishments and actually made matters worse by standing in the way of things like the public option which actually was the most popular element of the health care reforms.
I don’t actually think this is the most important debate for Democrats to have. When polls indicate that the people were simply misinformed about on all the major issues (were taxes raised or lowered, is the economy growing, are we gaining or losing jobs), it seems obvious that our first order of business is figuring out to communicate more effectively.
Regaining control of the House is going to require that we win back a lot of the seats previously controlled by the Blue Dogs. These are seats where we just saw unprecedented white flight from the Democratic Party. We have to figure out how to recruit candidates who can win those voters back, and we have to discover how to communicate in those districts so that people are better informed about the basic facts about what’s going on in this country.
Now, there isn’t some obvious message from last night that the answer is to be more progressive. Tom Perriello and Alan Grayson lost just like Bobby Bright and Walt Minnick lost. It didn’t matter whether the candidate was brazenly populist or unapologetically liberal, or whether they said they wouldn’t vote for Pelosi as Speaker. Nothing worked in these districts.
In my opinion, the racialized politics of the last two years worked against us. And these districts are not going to change all that much demographically over the next two years. So, we have a problem as far as taking back the House goes.
As for the president, he doesn’t have any choice but to move a bit to the center. It’s a simple matter of congressional arithmetic. What’s important is that he sets the right priorities and makes a stand on certain core principles. It was an easier shift for Bill Clinton to tack to the middle in 1995 because he was a centrist by instinct. Obama’s remaining agenda doesn’t line up nicely with what the Republicans want to do. But one thing Obama should emulate from Clinton’s experience is taking credit for whatever passes and denying credit to the Republicans.
I’m pretty sure a government shutdown crisis will unfold around the budget, just as it did in 1995. I think the crisis will unfold a little differently this time though because I don’t see how a budget will even get to the president’s desk. The Senate and House are not going to be able to agree on anything. So, basically, the Democrats in the Senate are going to have to sit down with the president and decide what their bottom line is, and they’ll have to make sure that that bottom line is very popular with the electorate. And we’ll fight our battle there.