Progressive Vs. Blue Dog Power

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 16:00

Elana Schor does some cool research on ideological caucuses in the House, and finds that the Blue Dogs receive more than nine times as much press as the Progressives:

Now, Nancy Pelosi and fellow leaders surely get the most press. But when I compared the two ideologically disparate Dem factions -- the conservative-leaning Blue Dogs and the Progressive Caucus -- the numbers were staggering. In the past 90 days, the Blue Dogs were mentioned 933 times in national press coverage according to Lexis-Nexis. The progressives were cited just 99 times.

This gap in media coverage is not due to numbers, as there are over 80 members of the Progressive Caucus now, compared to only 51 for Blue Dogs. The gap in coverage also isn't a matter of having more prominent members, as the progressive caucus has recently produced the Speaker of the House, ten of the twenty standing committee chairs, three Senators (Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and Tom Udall) and a regular presidential candidate (Dennis Kucinich). By comparison, no former Blue Dogs are in the House leadership, no former Blue Dogs have been elected to the Senate in 2006 or 2008, none have run for President, and only two are standing committee chairs. In terms of prominence and power, individually the members of the Progressive Caucus dwarf the members of the Blue Dog Coalition.

Given the far greater numbers, prominence and power of individual members of the Progressive Caucus, perhaps this can be chalked up to an issue of power achieved on the part of Progressives, versus power perceived by the Blue Dogs. However, I don't think it is either that simple or that rosy. While individual Blue Dogs are less numerous, less prominent and less powerful than individual members of the Progressive Caucus, the Blue Dog caucus as a network is significantly more powerful than the Progressive Caucus as a network. As I discuss in the extended entry, the causes of this are numerous, but they can be overcome.

Chris Bowers :: Progressive Vs. Blue Dog Power
Here are some reasons why the Blue Dog Coalition is more prominent than the Progressive Caucus:
  • Part of the Working Conservative Majority: During the past fourteen years, the Blue Dogs have been an integral part of the working conservative majority in Washington, D.C. Whether it was offering bi-partisan support to conservative legislation during the Republican trfiecta, threatening to break from Democratic opposition to Bush administration policy initiatives over the past two years, or always being available to provide "Democrats divided" narratives and various anti-progressive quotes for the political media, the Blue Dogs have been a part of the conservative governing coalition in Washington, D.C. for a long time now. As such, they have naturally developed a higher profile than the Progressive Caucus, which was regularly part of the opposition during this period.

  • Exclusive Membership: The Blue Dogs actually require people to submit applications for membership, something that the Progressive Caucus does not do. In some cases, such as Nancy Boyda, the Blue Dogs do actually reject applicants. By contrast, the only requirement to be a member of the Progressive Caucus is to say you want to join. Thus, the Progressive advantage in overall numbers is somewhat inflated. Further, the Blue Dogs can construct a more coherent network in terms of ideology (or at least in terms of identity).

  • Corporate Connections: Perhaps most importantly of all, being a Blue Dog immediately gives you access to a powerful network of staffers, lobbyists and media contacts on The Hill, whereas being a Progressive immediately gives you access to nothing. When you enter Congress as a freshman or as a new staffer, Blue Dogs can immediately connect you to a wide network of corporate lobbyists and PACs that provide you with a lot of money and a lot of legislative proposals. Further, when you are referred to policy-based staffers for your area of legislation, almost invariably those staffers are connected to these Blue Dog and New Democrat network. By way of contrast, when you enter Congress as a freshman Progressive, you are basically told "here is your desk." Your allies in the lobbying, staff, and media networks are few and far between. This disparity in terms of connections is the primary reason for the astonishing gap in media coverage of the two networks. In fact, there is such a direct connection between the two trends, that it is fair to say that the network connections available to Blue Dogs are also a roughly a 9-1 or 10-1 ratio.

Now, given their greater numbers, greater power, and greater prominence at the individual level, Progressives could potentially have a vastly more powerful, connected and prominent network than Blue Dogs.  The problem is basically one of building stronger networks, both internally within the caucus and with outside networks. While Progressives won't be treating with the massive corporate lobbying and PAC complex that is the constant, underlying bedrock of support for the Blue Dog network, increased internal organization of progressive members and staffers, combined with a radicalization of "non-partisan" progressive advocacy organization (unions already account for a lot of Democratic money, so there is a solid starting point), and a solution to what Matt called the Rootsgap in his farewell post, would provide the people, the money, and the media necessary to build a dominant network of power. It is a very difficult, but nonetheless achievable, task.

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the media covers conflict, even perceived or potential conflict. (see their obsession with Hillary vs Barack) (4.00 / 1)
And the blue dogs, being between Republicans and Democrats, are more often the big bargaining chip to war over. They're usually the central front in a legislative or ideological conflict.

If progressives caused more conflict, we'd get more coverage.

(Not saying that's a good thing.)

The most important comparison is if the conservative coalition gets more coverage than progressives do... and if that coverage is positive. If so, then we might be able to learn something.

Progressives suck at managing the media (0.00 / 0)
It doesn't help that the narrative on the left is one of war vs the media.

Simply put, progressives don't do the things they could to get more TV and media time.  That includes things like having an off-the-record dinner with non-progressive journalists and pundits.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

Frozen out (4.00 / 2)
I think there's another factor. "Serious" people in the media and elsewhere know that the people who matter are centrist like the Blue Dogs, and that the country is better off if the shrill and irrational and ideological DFHs in the Progressive Caucus are ignored.

Well (0.00 / 0)
a huge reason is that the Progressive Caucus is not well organized, has one staffer and doesn't get the press. For example, Blue Dogs have a communications director, the Progressives don't.

It's not really that Blue Dogs automatically have more power, it's that they are much, much better organized and more unified.

Also, Steny Hoyer is an aggressive advocate for Blue Dogs interests within the leadership, and Steny Hoyer, love him or hate him, is a very influential and effective guy liked by pretty much everyone in the caucus. Pelosi is a former progressive caucus member but not good at advocating for progressive caucus interests. I hope Beccerra can do a better job. Clyburn is a mainstream CBCer closer to the New Dems, Larson is a New Dem and the rest of the Democrats in leadership are mostly either Pelosi allies or New Dems.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power


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