Is Bush Dog Democrat Brian Baird the Next Lieberman?

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 16:34

Cross-posted at Dailykos.

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First let me say that I live in Brian's district and am active in my county's Democratic Party chapter.  Secondly, let me say that I have commented previously on this matter to the effect that we will have a primary opponent for Mr. Baird next August.

local activist Paul Spencer, commenting on Open Left


"It could well cost me the next election," Baird said at the end of the meeting. "That's alright."

A week and a half ago, the term 'Bush Dog Democrat' did not exist.  Today, there are just under nine hundred results when you search for "Bush Dog Democrats"Left in Alabama, CaliticsBooman, Howie Klein, MN Campaign Report, Archpundit, and the Side Track have all profiled or helped to profile members.  We've had positive profiles of Tim Walz, aggressive criticisms of Collin Peterson, and an analysis of the geographical distribution of the Bush Dogs from noted political scientist Tom Schaller.

The campaign was covered in USA Today, on Fox News, the Politico, and in the New York Observer.  Anonymous Democratic strategists are attacking me with the straw man argument that criticism will jeopardize Democratic seats, wingnuts are flipping out, and some local Democrats are very very angry.  I've heard of possible primary challenges in several districts where Bush Dog Democrats are in power.

It's really amazing what a little criticism from a few of us can do. 

Matt Stoller :: Is Bush Dog Democrat Brian Baird the Next Lieberman?
And now, as we head into a pivotal September, let's we have the language to actually help Speaker Pelosi whip her caucus on the new supplemental, the $50B waste of money, and any other core fights.  We won't win them all, or even any of them, but we're sure as hell going to raise the costs of enabling Bush and being, well, a Bush Dog Democrat.  Because now we know who they are.

Let's start with the Bush Dog Democrat causing us the most trouble:  WA-03 Democrat Brian Baird, who recently did a media campaign touting his recent trip to Iraq and the success of the surge.  Mitch McConnell is using Baird's support of the surge as a talking point to create the 'Democrats disagree narrative'.  Baird's position is so effective at weakening Democrats that Bush thinks nothing of pushing another $50B of supplemental funding through Congress in September. 

So out of all the Bush Dog Democrats, it makes sense to focus on Baird.  But what, specifically is Baird doing that the others are not?  Why is he more vulnerable to a primary challenge?  What makes him more Joe Lieberman than Ben Nelson?  I don't think it's just his district.  Here are the three keys to Baird's Bush Doggedness.

1) Baird serves as a useful idiot:  In an era where the key sin of bad leaders on the Democratic side has been believing spin and reaping media rewards for it, Baird regurgitates right-wing propaganda and gets play on right-wing media.  He has secret evidence from middle eastern leaders that we are not privvy to, and therefore his opinions cannot be challenged (unlike Jan Schakowsky, who got back from Iraq and pointed out that the military presentations she got were a PR campaign).  Read this interview on Tucker, where Baird explicitly argues that a secretive approach to Iraq, 'out of the harsh glare of Presidential politics', is a better course. 

2) Baird has taken a Broder turn:  Baird believes, like David Broder does, that courage is betraying the people who voted for you.  In response to criticism from constituents who argued that he is helping the Bush administration, here was Baird.

[Baird] also vigorously disputed several points made by the speakers and defended his independence from the Bush administration. He insisted that he is taking the courageous path...

"The easiest thing in the world would have been to go over there...and just say, using partisan rhetoric, 'Get out now,'" he said.

Aside from a completely misguided view of courage, Baird also believes that everyone would agree were it not for that nasty partisanship.  Here's his Op-Ed titled 'Our troops have earned more time'.

Despite the enormous challenges, the fact is, the situation on the ground in Iraq is improving in multiple and important ways.  Regardless of one's politics or position on the invasion, this must be recognized and welcomed as good news.

So we see that Baird is a very serious person whose opinion cannot be challenged, that anyone who doesn't agree that progress is being made is just playing politics, and that betrayal of one's constituents while sending troops to die in a war you're not fighting is courage.  And like Broder, Baird is out to lunch on where the public actually is.

[Baird] now opposes a withdrawal timeline - and said he thinks that most of the country agrees with him.

Jane Hamsher dispatches with this canard.  But just the fact that Baird thinks that the public opposes withdrawal suggests just how out of touch and elitist he has actually become.

3) Baird hides behind American exceptionalism.  What does this mean?  Baird makes a specific moral case about his position which implies that disagreement with his position makes you immoral.  Well, first of all, he hides behind the troops, which you can understand from the title of his recent Op-Ed 'Our troops have earned more time'.  Neat trick, isn't it?  If you don't think the surge is working, you don't want to give the troops what they've earned.

After hiding behind the troops, Baird hides behind the Iraqis themselves.  Here's why Baird doesn't want a quick withdrawal.

In the ensuing chaos, the courageous Iraqi civilians, soldiers and political leaders who have counted on us will be left to the slaughter. No American who cares about human rights, security and our moral standing in the world can be comfortable letting these things happen.

There's another neat trick.  If you believe in a quick withdrawal, you don't care about human rights, security, or our moral standing in the world.

So that's Brian Baird for you.  Despite spending a grand total of TWO days in the country on his last trip, he knows the truth about Iraq that ordinary citizens cannot know.  Furthermore, people who disagree with him are motivated by a craven political sense of ignorance and partisanship, and don't care about our troops or the Iraqis who will die because of their irresponsible ideas.  The country agrees that withdrawal is a bad idea, and that only nasty partisanship and a very public Presidential debate over Iraq is keeping the idea alive.

Baird is a specific type of Democrat, an old school politician who believes, like Lieberman does, that he can be out of step with his constituents on the most important issue of our generation.  He believes that bad and stubborn judgment is principle.  And though well-liked by constituents, Baird is willing to lose an election so that he doesn't have to represent them.

"I am truly impressed by Brian's willingness to stand here and take it gracefully," said Joy Overstreet, a Vancouver writer, as the meeting passed the two-hour mark. But she said she would consider voting out the congressmen next year if there is a "viable alternative."

"It could well cost me the next election," Baird said at the end of the meeting. "That's alright."

It is extremely unlikely in the near term that we'll ever have another Democratic politician as bad and high profile as Lieberman, but Brian Baird definitely patterns his career after Lieberman.  It's all there: the useful idiocy, the Broder turn, and the hiding behind American exceptionalism.

This is no longer tolerable behavior for Democrats leading into a big September fight over Iraq.  Moveon is running ads against him in his district.  Bloggers are blogging about him, and local activists are looking around for a primary challenge with the goal of changing his position or removing him from office.  Long-time friends of his are frustrated.  Democrats in the House are quite angry that he swallowed the Dog and Pony show.

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agreed (4.00 / 1)
I don't like the way you have handled the Bush Dog campaign thus far, but I support going after folks like Baird.  Getting rid of mini-Liebermans (RW talking point Dems in ultra blue districts) is something we all should get behind.

Moreover, by having a narrow focus, we can have a greater impact. Now just find a primary challenger.

Truth over balance, progress over ideology

what (0.00 / 0)
exactly don't you 'like'?

[ Parent ]
what I don't like (0.00 / 0)

I don't like the effort to slander first, find evidence later, especially on Dems who are in a tough pickle in their districts.

Going after conservative Dems (and GOPers) in blue districts makes sense.  Pushing all members of Congress on issues that their constituents disagree with them on (the war, FISA, etc.) is good.  But let's do it constructively with potentially vulnerable Dems in red districts.

Your analysis that many of these guys are safe fails to look at the uniqueness of their situation.  It isn't just that they are long time incumbents, a critical factor is the person themselves. 

Jim Matheson is the only Democrat that could win in Utah's Second as it is currently drawn.  There are many more like him in other districts (like those in Texas) across the country. 

It is far better to persuade Jim and folks like him that it won't hurt his reelection to vote tough on Iraq and FISA, for example than to call him a Bush Dog.  Staffers and congresspeople aren't going to listen to you if you just call them names like that. 

But if you get constituents to write letters, visit district/DC offices, meet with them yourselves in a professional manner, you will get much further to your true goal.

That is, unless you just want to be a bizzaro Club for Growth, which has undoubtedly hurt their party of choice by neither losing seats or electing crazies like Sali who make safe seats vulnerable. And I don't think that what you are trying to do.

Truth over balance, progress over ideology

[ Parent ]
Well guess what? (0.00 / 0)
Those Democrats in tough districts didn't get votes because people wanted them to continue the war or give away the Bill of Rights. If that's what the districts wanted, they'd've voted in a Republican.  It isn't like these folks want more war and less liberty, but really want to make sure that Nancy Pelosi is presiding.

The fundamental disconnect here is over the presumption that these sorts of issues are in any way ideological. They are not.  They've been dressed up as ideological issues by Republicans, and every time a Democrat uses it as an excuse, it perpetuates the idea that undoing the most fundamental elements of the country is just another political position, perfectly reasonable in its own way.'s not. And if the Democratic party can't get the message together that they believe in the Constitution and in people not being killed...I don't know what to say.

John McCain opposes the GI Bill.

[ Parent ]
One simple question (0.00 / 0)
If Jim Matheson's district is so blood-red, why do you believe that progressives can cause him to lose his seat?

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Ellen Tauscher interview (4.00 / 1)
Over at Think Progress Tauscher accuses Baird of succumbing to "Green Zone Fog" where the members of Congress who visit Iraq are just bombarded with propaganda: "It's death by powerpoint. … It's always that their argument is winning." She then goes on to say that once you start to "peel away the onion," you learn "what we all know, that the surge is unsustainable."

It wasn't so long ago that she was on a short list of Democrats to primary. Amazing what a little pressure can do.

Good point (0.00 / 0)
Todd.  Honestly, I wonder where this was earlier.  Was this her true thinking on the matter and we allowed her to be bolder?  Or the flip?  I really don't have a read on her.  However, what she is saying right now is very useful and I am much happier to have her as an ally.

[ Parent ]
Really cool. (0.00 / 0)
Thanks, Matt. The term is great re-branding.

Something of a puzzle (0.00 / 0)
I have no brief for Baird - fitting the guy for concrete boots causes me no personal anguish.

But I am slightly puzzled about how exactly he came to do what he did to make himself spherical Public Enemy #1. (Or #2 after Joe, perhaps.)

His voting record on Iraq in the 110th (spreadsheet) shows him voting with his party down to RC 425, when he is one of the 86 rebels.

He then rejoins the fold - except he votes against the rule on the Skelton bill HR 2956, but then votes for the bill on passage! - until he votes against the Tauscher bill HR 3159 mandating minimum periods of R & R for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (plus the rule and recommit on that bill).

So - it's not exactly that his he had some Damascene conversion from Out of Iraq to stay the course during his August Iraq trip.

It strikes me as at least plausible that he is currently acting (with plausible deniability) on behalf of the leadership of which is some part (as senior whip and member of the Steering Committee) to adjust expectations to a suboptimal result from September's lawmaking.

Any which way, it's a puzzle.

And -

Brian Baird definitely patterns his career after Lieberman.

would overstate the position a touch if his lurch into pariahdom is less than a month old.

schiavo (0.00 / 0)
Stop feigning puzzlement and read the post I wrote.  Baird is all over CNN.

Also, look at his record during Schiavo, when he was similarly anguished in a very public manner.

[ Parent ]
No feint needed (0.00 / 0)
I've quietly been trying to figure out what exactly qualifies a rep for the Baird treatment. And, believe me, that's puzzling.

He doesn't comply with the original criterion: fine, no reason why that shouldn't evolve.

He seems generally not to be at the right ideological extreme of the Dem House party, however you measure that. For instance, he was the 98th most liberal rep in the 109th according to DW-NOMINATE scores.

His voting record specifically on Iraq in the 110th is patchy, but not the worst by any means.

What has catapulted him to hate figure status in front of others whose records warrant it more than he does is his recent media appearances.

One of the puzzles is, is redemption possible? Or is he forever to be a one-man free fire zone?

Another puzzle: who decides on that? And who decides who's next? It's one thing for objective criteria to be put forward, with which one can disagree, but which at least have some kind of certainty about them.

Something else when a series of media performances like Baird's can draw a rep into the net.

Of course, there's no need to worry about objections to a scheme like this unless folks of some clout choose to make them. 

Obviously, guys in the firing-line like Baird won't be objecting personally. But regulars instinctively loathe insurgents, and antipathy to the scheme may go wider than the ranks of Bush Dogs themselves.

Insofar as we can tell who they are.

Oh - and the Schiavo reference just extends the area of uncertainty, of course. One or two names in the list of 47 voting for S 686 well outside the range of usual suspects. (Fattah, for instance. Freaky.)

[ Parent ]
More revealing than it appears... (4.00 / 1) this comment:


"It could well cost me the next election," Baird said at the end of the meeting. "That's alright."

  In order to keep a destructive, immoral war going indefinitely, Baird states he's willing to risk his seat.

  This wouldn't be so remarkable -- if I could come up with a single instance of a Democrat stating he's willing to risk his seat in order to do the right thing on Iraq, or on healthcare, or on the economy, or on labor, or on tax policy. Usually, the rationale is "I'd looove to support [progressive position], but I'm in a red district and I need to look tough yada yada yada..."

  Why does this kind of dynamic only seem to work in the right's favor? Has Congress finally been completely amputated from the voters' will?

  As for Baird, I'd support sending him to Iraq one more time. In fatigues.

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

Drawing a bright red line (0.00 / 0)
What matters now is what Brian Baird does next.

This congresscritter needs to know he crosses this particular line at his peril.

If he betrays his constituents, and the antiwar movement, by voting for Bush's 50 billion, he needs to be primaried, hard.

And the netroots should lead the way.

Profiles in Courage (0.00 / 0)
Baird's language is a dead giveaway.  He thinks he is patterning himself after Senator Edmund Ross, the Kansas Republican who was the decisive vote against Andrew Johnson's impeachment.  That vote ruined Ross's political career and was portrayed by JFK in his book nearly 100 years after the event as one of his exemplar's of political courage.

Of course, this is a childish version.  The down-the-line political support (with zero judgment) is found on Bush;s side of the argument.  Yes, I will be a political hero like the kind that was lauded in my youth (Baird was born in 1956).  I will pay the price, blather blather blather.

One more thing.  I suspect that Baird got the elementary school version.  The real and obvious parallel would be the Republicans who voted against the impeachment of Bill Clinton and nopt Democrats supporting a wromg war because it is "courageous."  (or based on a "secret knowledge" but that goes into an entirely different discussion after first century religions ...) 

Excellant interview on Young Turks (0.00 / 0)
the part about Baird being trained as a phycologist is fascinating.  You'd think he'd see the insanity of the Iraq War diaster.  Instead, he uses his training to cloud and mesmorize his constituents to believe the moon is made of green cheese and they should tithe 25% of their paychecks to his campaign.  But seriously, very, very good interview.  You should put the audio up for easy access by people coming to the white house.  It is a very succint, teachable moment about the purpose, intent and necessity of the Bush Dog program!!!!!


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