It’s kind of amazing that the New York Times can write an article about Heath Shuler and the Blue Dogs without ever trying to analyze why so many of them lost. Shuler actually won reelection, but he doesn’t seem to know why.

“It’s no different than me as a quarterback,” he said in an interview here on Thursday. “I didn’t play very good. So what they’d do? They benched me.”

The Redskins in this instance are the Democrats in Congress. The dismal season is the trouncing they received at the polls two weeks ago. And the quarterback is Nancy Pelosi, the soon-to-be former speaker of the House.

First of all, this metaphor is wrong. The Redskins in this instance
are the voters who put Shuler in the minority. The Democrats didn’t bench Shuler. Also, it’s not Pelosi who is the quarterback. In both cases, the quarterback is Shuler. But nevermind the retarded analogies, the problem is that the article lets this stand:

The Democrats’ achievements in the last Congress, Mr. Shuler said, are unpopular with the public because the party’s leadership has been too reflexively partisan. He says a more moderate approach is needed.

“It’s my guys that worked probably harder than any group in Washington, did all the right things, voted the right way and still got beat for the simple fact that you’ve got the far edges running the Congress,” he said.

That’s not what happened. Heath Shuler and the Blue Dogs did things to make sure that the Democrats’ achievements were unpopular in their districts. The first thing they did was water down many of the more popular aspects of the reforms so that true-blue Democrats would be less than enthusiastic about them. Did this matter in Shuler’s district?

This month, the district’s voters defeated two incumbent Democratic state senators, but chose, by a margin of nearly nine points, to keep Mr. Shuler…

…Echoing the debate among Democrats nationwide, some of the more liberal voters in North Carolina’s 11th District have been turned off by Mr. Shuler’s voting record, going so far as to support a primary challenger this year. Some local party officials said his vote against the health care overhaul dampened turnout, hurting other Democrats on the ballot…

…Republicans gained control of the legislature for the first time since a brief period in the 1890s.

Shuler’s actions depressed Democratic turnout and had disastrous results for the party and for himself.

It also means that Republicans will hold the pencil when districts are redrawn next year…

…When the new district lines are drawn, said Larry Ford, chairman of the Republican Party in Rutherford County, “Heath Shuler is toast.”

Watering down legislation that they didn’t subsequently vote for was only part of the problem. They also didn’t defend the legislation. And they didn’t point out that the Democrats went it alone because they had no alternative; instead they blamed the Democrats for governing from the far wing of the party, thus validating their opponent’s talking points.

Shuler probably won because he’s famous for being a star quarterback at Tennessee and the first pick in the NFL draft, because he’s likable and he serves his district well, and because he was well-financed. But he didn’t win because he helped make the Republicans’ argument for them.

I’ve gone over this before, but most Blue Dogs lost because they chose the worst of both worlds. They took away parts of the Democrats’ agenda that people supported, like giving them an alternative to for-profit health insurance and a financial bill that
really put the screws to Wall Street, and they supported the unpopular stuff like the bank and auto bailouts. Shuler was smart enough (politically) to vote against TARP and against the Stimulus Bill, while voting for Cap & Trade and Wall Street reform. But Blue Dogs who took a less populist approach and had less fame and charisma were not able to survive.

In the end, though, Blue Dogs lost because money couldn’t save them this time.

“The biggest factor this year was money,” said Chris McClure, a former executive director of the state Republican Party. “Republicans and conservative groups really organized well and were able to put more races in play.”

And that is the real story of the 2010 elections. Blue Dogs have traditionally won by voting in such a business-friendly way that they can swamp their opponents with corporate cash. This year, Karl Rove made sure their opponents were competitive. So, without a huge cash advantage, they had to run on their records. And their records sucked, because they wouldn’t defend the good their party had done, and they actually bad-mouthed what their party had done. If I’m a socially conservative person of modest means, the only way I’m voting for the Democrat is if it’s clear to me that he or she is going to side with me against the fat cats who ruined the economy.

Shuler seemed to get that, so he’s serving another term. But Shuler doesn’t seem to know the reason why he’s serving another term. And he’s only serving one more term, because his own foolishness contributed to the Republicans winning the legislature in North Carolina. When they draw up the new maps, there won’t be a district left that Shuler can win.

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