Long-term trends show Democratic Party moving to the left

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Apr 08, 2010 at 14:38

Ryan Grim and Arhtur Delaney have a must-read article at the Huffington Post about the power struggle within the Democratic Party between progressive Dems and more centrist Dems. If long-term trends are any indication, this is a struggle that Progressives will eventually win.

DW-Nominate, the only ideological voting scorecard for members of all Congresses, all-time (1789--current), shows Democratic Senators moving, on average, decisively to the left over the past eighty years.  While the trend was particularly pronounced during the 1960's, according to their methodology it continues to this day.  In fact, hard as it may be to believe, the current Democratic Senate caucus (Lieberman and Sanders included), is ranked as the most left-leaning Democratic Senate caucus of all time.

First, here is the mean DW-nominate score for all Democratic Senators, by decade, starting with the 1931-1940 period.  The number in parenthesis is the total number of Democratic Senators during that decade:

Democratic Senators, mean DW-nominate score by decade, 1930-2010
Scale is  negative 1.000 to positive 1.000, with lower numbers indicating a more left-leaning economic voting record
1930's: -0.111 (334)
1940's: -0.096 (289)
1950's: -0.167 (269)
1960's: -0.271 (330)
1970's: -0.291 (299)
1980's: -0.303 (249)
1990's: -0.370 (248)
2000's: -0.394 (253)

Second, here is more recent detail on the trend, looking at each individual Congress (two-year period).  Once again, the number in parenthesis is the total number of Democratic Senators during that Congress (including Independents Jeffords, Lieberman and Sanders; also including Senators who did not serve an entire two-year term):

More recent detail, 1989-2010
101st: -0.319 (56)
102nd: -0.331 (58)
103rd: -0.341 (57)
104th: -0.357 (48)
105th: -0.381 (45)
106th: -0.373 (46)
107th: -0.378 (51)
108th: -0.378 (49)
109th: -0.402 (45)
110th: -0.405 (51)
111th:  -0.416 (60)

The trend through the decades, and over the last eleven Congress, is unmistakable: the party keeps moving to the left.  The main factor in this trend has been the long, slow defection of conservative, southern Democrats out of the party, and the influx of liberal Senators from the northeast and west coast.  It is also a reflection of ideological self-identification trends among the rank and file, as self-identified liberals are increasing as a percentage of the overall party:

For me, the lesson in these numbers is not that progressives should be satisfied with the current incarnation of the Democratic Party, or that we should take victory in the ongoing internal ideological struggle for granted.  Instead, I take it as a rejection of the notion that there was some idyllic time in the past when Democrats were a "true" left-wing party.  That time never existed.  For all the mythology about how great the party was under FDR or LBJ, the truth is that Democrats were more right-wing back then they are now.  This hits home even more when one realizes that the above numbers only measure ideology in terms of the economy, and do not take into account past internal party struggles on matters like civil right and the Vietnam War.

There was no glorious time in the past when Democrats were a "real progressive" party.  There has actually never been a more progressive Democratic Party than its current manifestation.  Whether that makes you excited, because the long-term trend shows we are winning, or depressed, because the most left-wing version of the party is not very left-wing, is probably a matter of individual orientation along the pessimism / optimistic linear binary.

Chris Bowers :: Long-term trends show Democratic Party moving to the left

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Some problems (4.00 / 4)
You really have to throw out the period before 1970, because the Solid South was mostly conservative.  We have a different party system bow.

Based on these numbers, the Obama-Lieberdem stranglehold might be a last gasp. Per Karp's "Indispensable Enemies" (and indispensable book that requires a critical reading) struggles for control of parties are just as important and bloody as struggles between the parties, and often the leaderships of the two parties collaborate to help each other maintain control. From this point of view the "centrist strategy" is not a way of getting a program through, or a way of winning elections, but a way for the leadership group to maintain control of the party.

(My understanding is that with the rise of Gingrich and DeLay, the Republicans stopped playing the collaborative game Karp talks about, and started trying to destroy as many Democrats and moderate Republicans as possible. Karp's way of looking at it, though, would be that they could only do what they did with the collaboration of the neocon and neoliberal DLC-Blue Dog Democrats, who between them have controlled the party since 1988.)

Yeah, (4.00 / 3)
I don't see this as particularly useful unless you somehow don't include the Dixiecrats.  But then, what to do with Mary Landrieu and the modern Southern Democrats?

[ Parent ]
Yes, but (4.00 / 5)
Yes, the move of conservative southern Democrats out of the party accounts for most of this shift. But that is largely the whole point I am making--the Democratic Party used to have a large, arch-conservative wing.  There wasn't some time when it was a left-wing paradise.

[ Parent ]
Well, the mirror image of that (4.00 / 7)
is that you used to be able to peel off a few Rockefeller republicans if you wanted to pass something like Medicare, that was overwhelmingly popular.  In the wake of the Reagan/Gingrich consolidations of the Republican machine, that's become impossible.  

It's really hard to see whether or not the legislative outlook has improved by just looking at partisan balances.  

[ Parent ]
that's more an indictment of the party system and relying on it than it is a cause for celebration of the democratic party (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
We need to be careful about terminology (4.00 / 4)

Many Southerners in FDR's coalition were not necessarily conservative on economic issues. See as exhibit one Huey Long but I could give others.

[ Parent ]
True, Democrats used to have a large conservative wing (0.00 / 0)
But the rest of the Party, outside of those annoying (mostly Southern) conservatives, were all hardcore New Deal liberals.

Now the Democratic Party is thoroughly dominated by Clintonian/DLC/Third Way/Obaman New Democrats, and the New Dealers are a dying breed.  THAT is what I, for one, am so concerned about in terms of the liberal integrity of the Democratic Party.

And if anything, the idea that a more conservative Democratic Party could get more liberal stuff passed back in the 1930s and 1960s than our vaunted "most liberal Democratic caucus ever!" can now, is a cause for real concern.  And depression.  And pessimism.

[ Parent ]
Keep in mind (0.00 / 0)
that the 1930's and 1960's Democratic party made up of racist, misogynist, xenophobic members too. Kennedy appointed one of the two SCOTUS justices to dissent on Roe v. Wade on the court...and he was otherwise a liberal. We couldn't get have the party to vote for something as simple as civil rights, that came largely on the back of Republican votes.

The more "conservative Democratic party" got liberal stuff passed back then not because there was no party unity, there wasn't, they got Republican votes, which doesn't happen now.

Somehow we got every single Democrat in the Senate to vote for a healthcare bill, even though it wasn't that liberal, BUT that cannot be said about the Senates in the 1930s and 1960s.  

[ Parent ]
Okay, sure, but what of it? (0.00 / 0)
60 Democrats + 0 Republicans passed a not liberal law now.  Some 30-40 Democrats + some 20 Republicans passed a much more liberal law then.  I'll take the latter any day of the week.

Not to mention that the Democratic Party seemed much more binary then.  You were either a New Deal liberal or a racist conservative bigot.  Obviously there were variations and shades of gray in between, but the point I'm making and lamenting is that the New Dealers had a place then.  Now the New Deal social democrat types are a small minority in a Democratic Party dominated by annoying Third Way New Democrats.  That's my big problem with this argument that the Democrats are more to the left than ever - it ignores the glaring fact that today's "liberals" are not the same kind of liberals that existed in the Party back then.

This is the "golden age" some liberals like myself might be accused of believing.  Obviously we're not idolizing an age when the freakin DW-nominate numbers were supposedly more to the left, or more to the right, or whatever.  We're idolizing an age when Dennis Kucinich would have been a mainstream liberal in the Democratic Party, rather than a far-left nut.  And we're idolizing a time when America as a whole, not the Democratic Party (who gives a fuck about the Democratic Party in this context?), was more liberal.  THAT's what we want to go back to.

[ Parent ]
our society as a whole (0.00 / 0)
is not as liberal as it was then on economic issues, after the 1960s and especially asfter the 1980s, Captalism become the norm, and living was all about making money and profits.

The creation of the third way came as a result of the Democrats losing a signifcant number of their own to Ronald Reagan in the 80s and Republicans in the 90s.

Then we also have the rise of teh media, owned by corporations.

That golden age of liberalism is gone and will not return until the baby boomer generation has disappeared from the earth...and even then it's iffy,

[ Parent ]
You have the causation entirely backwards (4.00 / 2)
It was elites that turned hard right, not the public.  To the extent that public opinion has followed, it has lagged both in time and magnitude.  To take only the most obvious example, it's a matter of faith among elites of both parties that Social Security and Medicare are or, soon will be, in fiscal crisis which cannot be solved through tax increases.  That view came to dominate elites beginning in the 1970s, and it has failed to pull the public along.  

It's true that the Third Way was justified by the claim that Democratic losses were a product of an increasingly conservative electorate, but that is obviously not the same as it being true. Reagan won despite his policies, not because of them, as own his own team recognized.  Conservative Democrats were all too eager to agree with Republicans that "American was a center right country" because it served their interests in controlling the party.  With both parties agreeing, the media reports it as fact, regardless of the evidence.

What is possible in politics is not defined in generational terms. People routinely made claims that politics would remain the same right before major changes have happened.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
I think most people DO believe (0.00 / 0)
Social Security and Medicare are, or soon will be, in crisis. Especially Social Security. Whether Reagan won despite of or because of his policies, he still won. He still won votes from left-leaning voters despite running a right wing campaign. He won many union households.

I don't know if ideologically America is a right wing country, I tend to believe it is, but I'm willing to open the floor for debate...but one cannot question that for the last three decades, this country HAS VOTED like a center right country.  

[ Parent ]
All those places where you say (0.00 / 0)
"whether" and "if" are the key points.  

For example, if Reagan won despite his policies, than his winning is not evidence that people wanted his policies.  The fact that Republicans were ascendant for much of the last generation proves nothing about what is possible today or in the future.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Doesn't Matter (0.00 / 0)
if Reagan won despite his policies, than his winning is not evidence that people wanted his policies.

What good is having the people on your side when they won't vote for you? What this says is a significant number of Americans vote against their own interests, that's not news.

[ Parent ]
It certainly does matter (0.00 / 0)
If Democrats lost in the recent past because they were too far left, then the solution (to the extent the claim still holds - it's a little odd to discuss Republican victories in the 80s and 90s and ignore Democratic victories since 2006) is to move right. On the other hand, if Reagan won despite his policies, than moving to the right puts us at a greater disadvantage.  

You obviously think the question of whether American is a "center right nation" matters, as you use that trope routinely.  But if all you mean by that is that Republicans have often won elections over the past few decades, you are saying something that is true but irrelevant to the question of what to do today.

What good is having the people on your side when they won't vote for you?

Don't confuse "didn't" for "won't."  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Whether folks believe certain pools of financial assets (0.00 / 0)
will or will not evaporate is not really the issue. As I understand the mathematics of the situation, the funds are likely to be secure for some time to come. Do you have contradictory information?

Unless I missed something the entire notion of the US being a "center right" nation was debunked on this site, despite what you and the tea partiers might feel more comfortable believing.

Voting outcomes are so skewed by the two party tyranny as to basically useless in the way you seem to apply them.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Well, perhaps (0.00 / 0)
I want to believe that we can return to that era of liberalism, but if it possible it will be very hard, for sure.

One of the best ways we can ensure that this era will return is by framing liberalism properly and electing "real", direct-government liberals instead of corporation-hugging New Democrats.  Putting up an analysis saying that the Democratic Party is more to the left than ever, without defining what "left" means and acknowledging the difference between the direct government left vs. the New Democrat regulated private sector left, is not helpful towards that end.

[ Parent ]
"were all hardcore New Deal liberals. " (0.00 / 0)
No they weren't. Its just a bald statement. Do you have a link to the person who says that? I am sure as sugar you dont have a link to stats or figures.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
That statement is untrue (0.00 / 0)
outside of Long and a few others, Southern Democrats, along with some Interior Western Democrats, were not hardcore New Deal supporters. One of the staunchest New Deal opponents was Georgia's Democratic Governor Eugeen Talmadge. It was southern Democrats who tried to stop the FLSA in 1938.

There was Harry Byrd of Virginia, Josiah Bailey of North Carolina and Rush Holt of West Virginia, ironic considered the political leanings of his son.

[ Parent ]
which? (0.00 / 0)
that all dems except southerners were New Dealers? Thats my point. If on the other hand you are disagreeing with me, and saying that "all dems in congress were new dealers, except southernors" then no youre wrong.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
No, I know, I was backing you up (0.00 / 0)
there was some Westerners who were more of a third way mold at the time. William King of Utah shredded Social Security from it's original form with amendments in the Finance committee. He was cheered on by the chairman, Pat Harrison of Mississippi who was trying to run out the clock on the bill because he feared Social Security would eventually end the racial divide in the South.


[ Parent ]
Yeah, that was an exaggeration (0.00 / 0)
What I meant to say that the New Deal liberals who believed that government can and should act directly on behalf of the people (as opposed to the Third Way Democrats who believe in government regulating the private sector) were an important and powerful group within the Democratic Party, and were able to make significant accomplishments - basically, almost every government program from the 1930s onward.

Now they - we - are a shriveled minority that gets constantly shat on New Democrats who want to show their "pragmatism" and "reasonableness" and that they're not one of those dirty hippies.  We're the political equivalent of lepers, really.

That the Democratic Party as a whole has moved to the left because the Southerners all left (yay! so what?) does not mitigate this sad state that we all see on a daily basis, or the fact that direct government liberals are at their lowest standing since the 1920s.

[ Parent ]
I guess I would have to understand (0.00 / 0)
better the methodology behind determining that the 30's New Dealers under FDR were more conservative economically then this current batch.

Without having the data behind the score in front of me I just can't see it.

I agree completely that there was never an "idyllic" liberal time as by social measures we have absolutely marched forward (or leftward if we want to say it that way) but economically?

I'd have to see the data because this does not compute.

[ Parent ]
FDR's Right Wing (0.00 / 0)
I've recently been reading Adam Cohen's "Nothing to Fear_ about the early days of the New Deal.  Roosevelt campaigned as a fiscal conservative and his first budget director, Lewis Douglas of Arizona was a conservative by any standard.  Jim Farley of New York was also well to the right of FDR.  Douglas later resigned and FDR moved left but in 1932 and 1933 it was far from certain that the left forces within FDR's circle would win out.  FDR was, above all, a pragmatist and in retrospect the policies that veered left were the ones that worked.

[ Parent ]
But it is the policies enacted that count here (4.00 / 1)
and I have a hard time seeing how this current batch are more liberal then the crew that created social security, banking regulation, the WPA, CCC, etc.

I've looked at the DW-nominate site and the statistical analysis is beyond my level of study to be able to criticize or commend but what I know of history tells me that the numbers aren't capturing reality properly.

[ Parent ]
I agree (0.00 / 0)
there's obviously something off here. There is no way in hell you can say that the Dems are more progressive now on economic issues than they were in the 30s thru 60s.

[ Parent ]
I'll second it... (4.00 / 1)
Overall, Democrats are to the right on economic issues than in the mid-20th century.  Some important figures of the time were leftish on economic issues but draconian racists on social issues (in addition to Long, Tom Watson of Georgia comes to mind).  In addition, there were viable Socialist parties especially in places such as the upper Midwest (North Dakota had -- and still has -- a state owned bank!) and New York.

[ Parent ]
That's the result of revolving doors and corrupt labor unions (0.00 / 0)
is it not? (among other factors, of course).

Corporatism has become much more engrained in our society over that period. Punctuated by the fall of communism which due to the polarized world view imposed by the cold war meant that capitalism had "won", when it seems that the victory may be limited to a slower crumbling.

The time may have come to stop asking why national governments are continually inept at developing a just and stable global polity, and start asking what will replace the nation/state as the organizing principle for the global culture, economy and politics. I happen to think it is the multi-national corporation, although they are still hiding behind the nation-states at the present time.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Talking about the ideology of aggregates (4.00 / 3)
This post runs into some of the same issues Paul Rosenberg's recent diary on the ideology of parties did.  I know you realize that the main shift in the average position of the Demcratic party is due to the outflux of Southern Democrats.  But given that, it can be confusing to write things like:

Long-term trends show Democratic Party moving to the left.

Southern Democrats were of course less liberal than most Democrats today on social issues, and perhaps equally or more liberal on economic issues.  Democrats from the north were perhaps equally liberal (to modern Democrats) on social issues, but much more liberal on economic issues.  Given these details, it may be okay on a grammatical level to talk about movement of "the party," but when you try to draw conclusions -- eg, "the long-term trend shows we are winning" -- it is a mistake to casually point to "the position" of the party.  

If Southern Democrats became Republicans, and some Northern Republicans became Democrats, and as a result the Democratic party average moved leftward, is that any cause for optimism?  Not really, since all that could have happened without a single representative changing their ideology at all.  The fact that the average party positions changed due to a re-sorting of the membership says almost nothing, in itself, about ideological change, the nature of the left-wing, or the fate of progressivism within the party.  Or rather, to say something about the latter -- what I take you to be most interested in -- you have to talk less about the forest (the leftward shift of the party) and more about how the outflux of Southern Democrats shifted the party median leftward, boosting liberal Democrats within the party but cutting the power of the Democratic party overall.  

That said, of course ideology does change; but DW-Nominate is really bad for measuring that, since it mostly just picks up party difference and within-party loyalty.  If everyone trends rightward but the voting blocks remain the same, DW-Nominate is totally oblivious to that shift.  Which I think is what has happened, but you'll need better measures that votes to discern that over the decades.

[ Parent ]
Encouraging news, but.... (4.00 / 5)
Well, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, anyway. Polarization is part of the reason, I imagine, as is the maturation of social democratic ideas, and their acceptance, particularly in matters of race and foreign policy, by a wider group of Democrats. This, of course, is largely a result of pressures from outside the party, as personified in people as different as Fannie Lou Hamer and Daniel Ellsberg or Noam Chomsky.

The recent struggles with Blue Dogs and New Democrats, though are a warning sign, at least as I see it. As Bill Maher put it, if the Republicans are now the party of crazy, and the Democrats are now the corporate imperial party, the danger is that we'll be elbowed aside by David Frum types, who need a new home, and will be given one by the likes of the Obamas and Clintons, who'd much rather deal with them than with us.

The bottom line: the fight is on again for the Democratic Party, much as was in the days of the Dixiecrats, or the cold-war militarists like Sam Nunn or Scoop Jackson.

You're right, Chris. La plus ça change....

Not much of a fight, as far as I can see (4.00 / 5)
The corporatists and imperialists elected a president and they're kicking the living shit out of us.  

[ Parent ]
Core Values (4.00 / 3)
While this data is of interest, at any given moment the real issue is what are the core values of the political parties? Right now, the Republicans and many (most?) Democratic leaders appear to share the same core values. It's not the government as first resort to solve large social problems. It's not working people. It's the free market first and probably last. It's the wealthiest and the largest corporations.

Even back in the day it seems the Democratic party, conservative or liberal, at least mostly shared the same core values. Democrats stood mostly for working people and Main Street. Republicans stood for Wall Street. And, as Valatan notes above, you could count on a few Republican votes to offset any conservative Democratic defectors. Today it seems the Democratic leadership is all in for Wall Street and there are no Republican defectors. Obviously we need to change those facts. And we will.

[ Parent ]
Core values of political parties are nearly meaningless in the long term (0.00 / 0)
when the number of parties is arbitrarily limited to 2. True, individual voters still have core values, and they can even organize around them, but in the voting booth, its This/That/or Pass. In this scenario, personal core values tightly held can become a liability.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
I can't really guess at the accuracy of (4.00 / 3)
DW-nominate's system, because I don't understand how it works (anybody help me out?), but I do know that this post is pure Nate Silverism, placing way too much faith in numbers.

Not everything can be quantified. According to National Journal rankings, Russ Feingold is the 55th most liberal member of the Senate.

Numbers are fine, but they shouldn't be a substitute for, you know, using your brain--I recall Nate Silver using numbers to "show" that Obama's nominees are as liberal as Bush's were conservative--and they shouldn't be relied on so much that they produce proclamations like:

There has actually never been a more progressive Democratic Party than its current manifestation.

I see (4.00 / 2)
Using numbers are using your brain are mutually exclusive. Fascinating.

DW-Nominate puts Feingold as the most progressive Dem. But I guess actually checking that wouldn't be a case of using your brain.

[ Parent ]
Well, no, actually (4.00 / 1)
Reading rankings isn't using your brain.

Instead of your standard puerile sarcasm in response to criticism, could you please explain how DW-nominate does it rankings?

[ Parent ]
. (4.00 / 3)
Dismissing extensive research simply because it is quantitative and / or challenges your gut assumptions is a helluva a lot worse than any use of sarcasm. Its flat-out anti-intellectualism. And your response to this article is absolutely an example of that.

The DW-Nominate methodology is here. Its based on roll call votes.

[ Parent ]
I didn't mean (4.00 / 3)
to dismiss all quantitative research--I shouldn't have made the crack about using your brain. Obviously, quantitative research can be valuable, especially when it challenges our assumptions.

But I stand by my (rather mundane) point; that it shouldn't be overvalued, and certainly should never be cause for certainty. You're really willing to state unconditionally that the party is more progressive than ever based solely on one outlet's rankings?

[ Parent ]
Not really (0.00 / 0)
You, Chris, are in a position to educate and the dispel ignorance. Not that I don't recognize your extensive efforts in this direction, just as I understand how frustration can lead one into sarcasm and cynicism.

In my humble opinion you have a responsibility to fulfill the role as thought leader you have assumed and built for your self by meeting the queries of community members like david mizner with a bit more tolerance and a willingness to educate rather than reprimand.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Well said, David. (0.00 / 0)
It offers a false patina of scientificism by using numbers.  

Not everything can be quantified.

What does left mean in 1963 as opposed to 2010?

[ Parent ]
the proof is in the pudding (4.00 / 1)
and the pudding has been tasting awfully right-wing lately.  This analysis means Progressives are achieving less with ever greater numbers.  Count me in the pessimistic "depressed" column.

Liberals have done to the FDR years (4.00 / 3)
what conservatives do to the 1950's.  Idealize in the face of reality.  I think FDR was our greatest president, but we should not forget that he was criticized from the left by Huey Long and others as not fighting for the people enough.  We need to continue the pressure but not lose sight of the reality that we have a left leaning government and president right now.

BTW, just because Feingold makes some noise on some issues doesn't mean that he isn't one of the more conservative Democratic senators on many others.


Well, yes (4.00 / 1)
FDR could be relatively liberal because there was a strong left--that doesn't exist today.

Please show me the issues where Feingold is conservative, other than perhaps Israel.  

[ Parent ]
IIRC Gun control (0.00 / 0)
But then again the majority of Dems have given up on this issue.

[ Parent ]
Conservative? (4.00 / 1)
Or just kinda Wisconsinish?

In any case, there's simply no ranking system that can come close to capturing ideological nuance, not least because for most pieces of legislation, there are both liberal and conservative arguments for opposing it.

[ Parent ]
Really? (0.00 / 0)
Feingold voting against gun control is ok because it's "Wisconsinish"

Well then, certainly you can forgive Ben Nelson for the Nelson amendment, seeing as anti-abortion is very "Nebraskaish" and certainly you can forgive someone like Mary Landrieu for not supporting repeal of DADT since homophobia is very "Louisianaish"

[ Parent ]
Gun control is a very peripheral issue (4.00 / 3)
That's total crap, DTOzone.

And it makes the same mistake that a lot of quantified vote tallying does. It counts a peripheral issue as one, and a critical central issue as one. But it doesn't work that way.

It would probably have a moderate beneficial effect in city policing. Basically, the train's already left the station. There are so many guns floating around that it would take decades for gun control be very effective, though it would provide police and prosecutors a useful tool.

I would never use gun control as a dealbreaking issue.  

[ Parent ]
Nice defense attempt (0.00 / 0)
So no problem with Feingold voting to allow guns in national parks? No problem with his vote to allow concealed weapons across state lines?

No, this is an issue where progressives can sell out, it's ok, because gun control would take too long to be effective or something.

[ Parent ]
A matter of proportion (0.00 / 0)
First, gun control isn't that big an issue in real life. Second, it's a loser. There's no hope for it now or in the foreseeable future. The majority of Democrats of all stripes have dropped it.

It strikes me that you haven't a clue about how politics works or how government works.

[ Parent ]
Oh I see (0.00 / 0)
so if the public opposes something, then it's ok to oppose it too, so long as it's gun control and it's Feingold doing it.

That's how politics works, huh?

tell the families of victims of gun violence that gun control isn't that big an issue in real life.

[ Parent ]
If you're using gun control as a litmus test you're a moron (0.00 / 0)
Fortunately, almost no one in the Democratic Party agrees with you. I suggest that you check out the Prohibitionists and the Natural Law Party.

And yes, my dear DTOzone, politicians do listen to what the public thinks! Sad but true, from your point of view. And way to wave the bloody shirt. I suppose next you'll threaten to kill the dog if I don't surrender.

[ Parent ]
Oh no (0.00 / 0)
Fortunately, almost no one in the Democratic Party agrees with you.

you must not live in a city.  

[ Parent ]
List of "loser" issues (0.00 / 0)
1.) cap and trade
2.) civilian trials for terrorists
3.) closing Gitmo
4.) marriage equality
5.) late term abortion

Yeah, we want "courage and principled leadership" except on issues where Feingold isn't showing it, then it's
"How politics works"

the hypocrisy is striking.

[ Parent ]
Even Gandhi chose his issues (0.00 / 0)
Martin Luther King chose his issues. It's a pity that you weren't there to advise them to take a strong stand on every single issue all the time.

Feingold is generally good and occasionally great. But not good enough for you.

And you might consider that there are people in the world who don't agree with you at all about gun control who should not be driven from the party.

[ Parent ]
I have no problem with Feingold (0.00 / 0)
I applaud pragmatism, get ridiculed for it. i just find it funny other Democrats get trashed for "choosing their issues," as sellouts, as cowards, but Feingold gets a reprieve.  

[ Parent ]
Because we think his choices were better. (0.00 / 0)
A lot of us are completely heartless and and actually love gun violence, as you've so astutely pointed out, whereas we do admire Feingold for the specific issues he's chosen to dissent on.

Feingold is pretty flaky on a lot of things, but gun control isn't one I object to.

[ Parent ]
And liberal and conservative (0.00 / 0)
often misses class issues.  

[ Parent ]
gun control for one (0.00 / 0)
and then there was the whole voting to not fund the closing of Gitmo.  

[ Parent ]
That's a perfect example of what I'm talking about (4.00 / 1)
He made that vote on liberal grounds, saying he didn't want to authorize closing Gitmo until there was a constitutional framework in place for trying suspects. Was he sincere? Who knows, but there was a liberal argument against authorizing the money.  

[ Parent ]
He supported allowing Bunning's ridiculous Amendment (0.00 / 0)
to go forward in March.  The amendment was offered to a bill that would extend for 30 days COBRA health insurance premium assistance, a law that governs certain kinds of network satellite TV broadcasts, transportation funding and small business lending. Without the extension these programs all were set to expire at the end of the month.  It was made strictly as a political ploy and he voted for it.

[ Parent ]
Feingold is a deficit concern troll (0.00 / 0)
I agree with you that he's perhaps ranked a lot lower than he should be, but he does use a lot of "oh no the deficit!" and "we gotta cut all this wasteful spending!" rhetoric.

How this translates into actual votes is a different story, but IIRC he voted against 2009's budget.

[ Parent ]
damn straight (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Passionate Disinterest (0.00 / 0)
I once gave a poetry reading series by that name.

Played a poetry/music gig as Fervent Nonchalance, too.

Fun and ephemeral times.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
oops, this goes below (0.00 / 0)

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Can we be exultantly depressed? Hopefully suicidal? (4.00 / 1)
 Morosely encouraged? Committedly despondent?  


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

Re; ConservaDems (4.00 / 6)
I really wish people would stop referring to ConservaDems as "centrists."  They're nowhere near the center of the political spectrum.  They're closet Republicans -- enablers of the Republican far-right -- who neither believe in nor support the principles or objectives of the Democratic Party.  To call them centrists is just -- stupak.

well said (4.00 / 1)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Would be great news except for the fact (4.00 / 1)
that the more conservative members of the party dictate what legislation is passed.

Not winning is not the same as the worst people losing. (0.00 / 0)
Losing, or not winning is not the same as the game is fixed.
Get to work.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Interesting Idea of Bringing Out Internal Conflicts (0.00 / 0)
Progressive ideas will eventually win out the party faithful, because they want what people need and desire...

In trying to legislate with what there is right now in terms of progressive/blue dog democrats, any administration that wants to do anything at all, has to do some really fancy footwork. Obama may be a 'centrist' yet if you look at his long term strategic thinking, I'm not at all sure it's a last gasp thing. He did succeed and will succeed at moving the country into a rather different set of priorities than have prevailed since Reagan and the left's total flummoxing and floundering even before Reagan's victory.

We all may think that it is we who have 'outed' the conservadems, but the things Obama proposed and / or demanded of Congress brought this stuff out really clearly for the first time. It also brought out the dumb Republicans who really thought they were going to win on the legislative priorities and are now caught trying to reassess how they managed to make such asses of themselves.

So only time will tell.

hmm (0.00 / 0)
when sane (i.e. non media) people say that 'the democratic party is conservative' or 'the democratic party is liberal' in a contemporary political debate, they usually mean 'left of center' or 'right of center' or 'pushing things further ot the left of center' or 'pushing things further to the right of center' on one or more axes like economic populism, race equality, gender equality, etc.

I think this context needs to be taken into account, though I appreciate the perspective that's been presented above as presenting things in more 'absolute' terms both in the long term and relatively.  It would be useful to see a side-by-side comparison with republicans (or whoever the other major party is at a given time) in order to see to what extent the Democratic Party (by this metric) is outpacing the 'center', which way and how quickly 'the center' is moving, etc.

An analysis of the methodology would also be helpful.  I went to the page, but I give up when I see multiple exponents in models.  Something that explains it in English or very basic mathematical concepts accessible to a lay reader would be helpful.

The party will be moved even further left... (0.00 / 0)
...when a good two dozen conservative blue dogs will lose their seats in congress this year.

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

which you and I both know won't happen (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Really? do you have an analysis of where the loses will be? (4.00 / 1)
Chris did one that showed a bare net loss as I remember for the blue dogs in ratio. I haven't seen others. I'd like to see yours.

A good 'rule of thumb' is that the most conservative dems are in the least winnable districts, a decline in overall support across the board leads to losses in the least winnable seats, hence blue dogs.

Its just a rule of thumb, and each race is governed mor on the ground than in the national trends, so it needs high analysis.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
proportionately, sure (4.00 / 1)
i was wondering about this. the liberal share of the caucus might increase. but what would that translate to in terms of ability to do stuff? the absolute number of non-blue-dog votes will stay roughly the same (i think, i am not looking at detailed predictions right now).

committee chairs, maybe? or funding? any other concrete benefits?

speaking of funding, that HuffPo article is way too predictably grimace-making. liberals fund Blue Dogs, Blue Dogs fund each other, liberals don't get their bills passed and have purity fights and call each other names, Blue Dogs get drunk and laugh at them.

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

[ Parent ]
Congress (4.00 / 3)
Nobody should be surprised by this.  We all knew the Southern Realignment was making the Democrats more liberal.

But this does not mean that congress is more liberal today, even with 60 more liberal Democrats.  The corollary to this is the liberal Republicans have also gone away, making them more conservative.  Major liberal legislation often passed with a combination of liberal Democratic and liberal Republican votes.  That option no longer exists.

Does the health insurance law count as "liberal" in your computing system, Chris? (0.00 / 0)
Cuz that might be where we have a problem.

oh hell yes its liberal (4.00 / 1)
liberal doesnt mean "what i want"  

well or what I want either for that matter.

It does get a little confusing of course, because in almost every other country liberal is associated with the right.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Regardless of whether or not it should've been passed, it's hard to say it's liberal/progressive/leftist (4.00 / 2)
Unless you suddenly think Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation are champions of the flaming Left.

In any case, it's certainly not liberal the way Medicare was liberal.  Which is why I think Chris's DW-nominate-based computational analysis misses a key part of the picture.

[ Parent ]
Romney didnt stop the health bill, and interferred in it and it can be certainly hung on his neck too. (0.00 / 0)
But it is in large part the creation of the Democrats in Mass. legislature, not a bill passed by a vote of one in the governor's mansion.

This is similar to focusing on Obama while the blue dogs and new democrats were gutting the health reform bill in congress.

It was congress what voted on the bill, and Massachusetts' Dem legislature that voted in reform there.

I am big fan of accuracy.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Oh c'mon (0.00 / 0)
You really think that if the legislation was considered "liberal", Mitt Romney, prospective Republican Presidential candidate, would've allowed it to pass?

And Romney was involved in the process, as much if not more so than Obama.  You make it sound as if he hadn't been paying attention to what was going on with health care until after the Legislature passed it and sent it to him, and he was like "huh?  What's this?  Health care reform?  Oh, sounds good, I guess I'll sign it."

[ Parent ]
There is abig difference, moon to saturn difference between (0.00 / 0)
allowing a bill to become law, ie not vetoing it, and the Dems who made the Bill, wrote the Bill, voted for the Bill and sent it to Romney.

And if you think I am being mean for not letting this meme pass unnoticed because it might hurt the Rethuglicans, just think what the MSM will do to it.

We need better weapons than that. I would no more send a party ionto battle with that crap, than President Cheney would send troops into Iraq for no reason without body armor or armored vehicles. Oh wait.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
It was Romney's too (0.00 / 0)
Romney was involved: he submitted his own proposal (though the final product was modified, but not overhauled), he pushed it through and signed it into law, and he touted it on the campaign trail in a Republican primary dominated by conservatives.

Not to mention that others (e.g. Nancy Pelosi) have pointed out that a similar proposal was crafted by the Heritage Foundation and was advocated by super liberal Bob Dole.

Of course, the true measure of something's liberalness is not the people who are for and against it but the actual substance.  In this case, the legislation throws money at for-profit corporations in hopes they'll give people health insurance, and says that everyone who wants to live and breathe in America has to pay money to said corporations or be fined.  I'm not sure how this is "liberal", as the word "liberal" is derived from "liberty", and there isn't much of that in this new law except where it's preceded by "takes away".

[ Parent ]
A Wee Bit More Detail (4.00 / 8)
You've got a point about the aggregated data, Chris,  But it ignores the North/South breakdown that I provided in my weekend diary, "Who's the polarizer here, anyway?" via these charts from  Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches, by political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, which shows relatively little change in Northern Democrats, while Southern Democrats become strikingly more liberal:

The presence of Dixiecrats in the Democratic coalition of yore was a clear impediment to consistent progress.  It's one of the reasons that--as Mike Lux makes clear, both in his book and elsewhere--the grand advances of the New Deal coalition were made mostly in two narrow windows of time, one under FDR, the other under LBJ.

Most of FDR's early actions were mixed in nature and stop-gap, most of the real core stuff came in 1935, and the domestic heydey was over by 1938, except for the GI Bill, which was an anomalous amalgam of foreign and domestic policy.  LBJ managed to capitalize on JFK's death to get started in 1964, then had a rare supermajority from 1965-66 that freed him almost completely from the Dixiecrats, and that's when the lion's share of his Great Society programs were passed.

But even when major progress wasn't being made, those brief bursts of progress served to define the dominant political narratives of the period, which in turn meant that liberal legislative leaders exerted a more powerful influence as articulators of what the party stood for, which in turn synergized with progressive forces in America at large.  If one looks back to that time, one finds a large number of towering, unapologitic figures--Senators like Birch Bayh, for example.  It's the presence of so many figures like him that gives the impression of a more liberal Democratic Congress in the past, despite the underlying DW-Nominate figures, that impression is largely true.

What the DW-Nominate figures serve to show is that (1) the whole is not simply the sum of its parts, and (2) simply electing people with a more liberal voting record will not be enough.  What's needed is a combination of factors, and towering, unapologitic figures in Congress is certainly part of the mix, which is why Alan Grayson is a hell of lot more important than his DW-Noiminate score.

Such individual political figures in Congress are only one part of the mix, but an important part.  Most important is the ways they interact with the larger movements for social progress.  And that's what we really need to turn around right now.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

You usually make so much sense. (4.00 / 2)
Excellent Paul.

[ Parent ]
Thanks those graphs (4.00 / 1)
help the data make more sense.

Two things are shown even more clearly:

1. the change in the Republican party to a place beyond the gilded age.

2. the truly progressive nature of the progressive era

Lastly, I suspect what is being measured here is as much populism as it is liberalism.

[ Parent ]
It's Economic Liberalism (0.00 / 0)
Populism overlaps with economic liberalism, but they're not identical.  

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Absolutely (0.00 / 0)
I agree they are not the same thing but depending on how the measuring is being done one could easily end up measuring economic populism rather than economic liberalism due to the overlap.

My concern is due to the dw scores being based on roll call votes. Many of those are inherently popular in nature due to the political requirement of Congress to get themselves re-elected. Such things could obscure votes that are on the real substantive policy change.

As I stated above, given that I don't have a good feel for the dw's folks methodology I'm finding part of the results difficult to accept as they do not square with my understanding of the real history involved.

[ Parent ]

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