Cross-posted at Winning Progressive
We here at Winning Progressive are generally not ones to attack segments of the Democratic Party, or engage in the endless debates over whether someone is a “real” Democrat. Such debates distract us from the real threat that we need to challenge, namely the well-organized conservative Republicans who make even the most middle-of-the-road Democrats look wonderful in comparison. As such, if you are willing to put a “D” after your name, vote for Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, and not do anything illegal or corrupt, we are typically happy to support you in a general election.
Having said that, constructive criticism, debate, and reflection are critical to making the Democratic Party as effective as possible, especially in the wake of a major electoral defeat such as we suffered on Tuesday. Without such criticism, debate, and reflection, whatever flaws contributed to Tuesday’s election results are likely to continue sapping Democratic support in future elections. With that in mind, one bit of constructive criticism I have is that the Democrats keep failing short in their efforts to build a sustainable progressive majority because on a number of major issues, the Democrats follow the advice of Blue Dogs and centrists like Evan Bayh. And when this Blue Dog/centrist advice turns out to be wrong on a number of occasions, it hinders the ability of Democrats to win more votes moving forward. Examples of such Blue Dog/centrist hindrance are numerous, including:
1. The Iraq War: In 2003, Congress addressed the Iraq War, which progressives knew had disaster written all over it. Yet many Democratic House and Senate members voted to authorize the invasion, following the advice of centrists who claimed that such a vote was necessary to win over moderates. Of course, voters who decided who to support based on favoring the Iraq War continued to vote for the party that actively wanted that war, the Republicans, not the party whose members probably didn’t want the war but voted for it anyways out of political cowardice. And when the Iraq War proved to be the disaster that progressives predicted, many Democrats were unable to persuasively argue that they had better judgment on the issue because many of them had followed the advice of the Blue Dogs and centrists.
2. Deregulation: A similar example is with deregulation of our financial industry. Progressives continually warned that the deregulatory policies being pushed by Republicans in the 1990s and early 2000s would lead to a disaster. Yet Blue Dogs and centrists convinced many Democrats to support the deregulation as a way to show that they were "moderates." Then after the economy tanked due to the financial meltdown, Democrats were unable to reap political benefits on the issue because too many of them had gone along with deregulation.
3. The Economy: Now we’ve seen the same pattern on the economy in general. Progressives warned that the stimulus was too small, that aggressive action needed to be taken to save people’s homes, and that we should take action to require banks receiving the TARP bailout to start investing and agreeing to limits on the shady business practices that caused the meltdown. Instead, President Obama was too timid, following the advice of centrists like Summers and Geinthner, proposing a too small stimulus, and failing to address the mortgage crisis. And the result was a loss of more than 60 seats in the House and at least 6 seats in the Senate.
4. The Counter Example – Protecting Social Security: The flip side of this story is also telling. Fresh off re-election, President Bush in 2005 proposed to privatize Social Security. Blue Dogs and centrists immediately recommended that the Democrats be "moderate" and propose to meet the Republicans at some undisclosed middle ground. Fortunately, the Democrats in Congress ignored that advice and instead fought the Republican plan to privatize Social Security as the economically ridiculous plan that it is. As a result, President Bush’s proposal was defeated and the electoral tide began shifting toward the Democrats, culminating in the pick up of 33 seats in the House in 2006.
I have no problem with Blue Dogs and centrists voting against their party’s position on occasions when that is necessary in the district they represent. However, it is a far cry from such voting to the active efforts by the Blue Dogs to undermine the progressive wing of the Democratic Party by constantly questioning our political viability and feeding into Republican talking points about taxes, the deficit, etc. In addition, regardless of the Blue Dogs’ goals or motivations, it is important to keep in mind that their policy prescriptions have led Democrats to miss prime opportunities to do what is best of the country policy wise and what is politically best for the party.
In the wake of Tuesday’s elections, there is a growing debate within the Democratic Party and in the media to decide how the President and Democratic Congress members should react to the electoral results. Now is the time for you to help steer that debate in the progressive direction by identifying what progressives would do on the economy and by pointing out the number of times in the past that the Blue Dog/centrist point of view has led to missed opportunities and blown elections for the Democrats.
In order to impact this ongoing debate about the future of the Democratic Party, we need to take our message outside the progressive bubble. Put your Congressional representatives’ offices on speed dial, so that they hear from you on this issue. Contact the Democratic Party and the White House to let them know that you support aggressive governmental action on stimulus, banks, and mortgages rather than the Party going down the Blue Dog path. And write to your local newspaper about how boldness, not timidity, is the path forward for the Democrats.