There is a real "tough guy" strain in the centrist Democratic wing of the party. We saw it with the paeans to Rahm Emanuel's vulgarity after the 2006 election. We see in with only two Bush Dogs being women. We see it in calls from DLC types who wore camouflage on election day in 2006 that Democrats need to vote conservatively on national security in order to convince Americans they will keep them safe. We even saw it during an argument over Mark Warner on Open Left last month, when the masculinity of lefties was questioned several times in the comments, and winning was framed as something only macho tough guys can do better than wimpy lefties. Centrists in the party regularly portray themselves as tougher and more macho than the left wing of the party.
This is why I find it so odd, annoying, and even amusing that the same centrist wing appears so afraid all the time. Fear seems like a good word to describe centrists and conservative Democrats in Congress, both within the leadership and within certain ideological caucuses. Consider, for example how Republicans in the House are using procedural motions that are meaningless in actual policy terms in order to scare Blue Dogs into pulling Democratic legislation from the floor. From subscription only Congress Daily:
When House Republican leaders offered a motion to recommit during recent debate on legislation to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, they set the stage for a familiar scene of Democrats scrambling to save a high-profile measure.
Republican leadership aides concede the motion, which would have made the FISA changes not applicable to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, was ultimately meaningless from a policy standpoint.
But the politics and procedural tactics behind the move were nearly foolproof and had, for the short-run at least, the effect Republicans desired.
Democratic leaders pulled the measure from a floor vote at the last minute, when it appeared certain they would lose enough support from conservatives and moderates in the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition to give the GOP a win on the motion and would result in killing the overall bill.
"You've got to give them credit," said one senior staff member for a liberal Democratic lawmaker. "It was an absolutely brilliant [motion]. I don't remember us being this good."
Similar attacks have been effectively unleashed throughout the year, to the continued consternation of the Democratic leadership.
First, GOP leaders come up with a purely political motion on a prime piece of Democratic legislation or a must-pass bill.
Or they use procedural delaying tactics on the floor. Either gambit has the potential of bringing action on the bill to a halt.
The tactics are clearly aimed at producing picture-perfect attack ad copy against Blue Dog Democrats or Speaker Pelosi and the rest of the majority leadership team.
The goal, GOP aides said, is to entice enough Blue Dogs to defect for political reasons to either derail a bill or cause whipping problems for the majority.
Republicans are specifically attacking Blue Dogs with House motions they admit are meaningless in policy terms, but which they rightfully assume Blue Dogs will be scared to vote against because of the specter of attack ads. But it isn't just Blue Dogs who are afraid:
The absence of an immediate and forceful response from their leaders was met with consternation by some rank-and-file Democrats, some of whom wondered why the bill was pulled in the first place.
Staffers and lawmakers alike argued the motion should have been labeled a political trick and dealt with immediately, with the bill brought quickly to the floor that same night.
Such a rapid response would have denied Republicans two more weeks worth of attacks before the bill moved back onto the schedule. GOP aides seemed gleeful that such a response was not forthcoming.
Fear seems to stem from the leadership, as Emanuel and Hoyer have previously been labeled as responsible for not pursuing more aggressive tactics against Republican maneuvers like this. The House Democratic Caucus is rank with fear of Republican attacks, from the leadership down to the rank and file Blue Dogs. As an anonymous Democratic staffer told me yesterday in response to a query I made on the article:
What I thought was interesting about the article was the line in there for a Republican source who says that they specifically design their motion to recommits to target BDs, by making a vote against their alternative proposal, politically difficult for them. But the reality is that the motion to recommit doesn't change the bill, it kills the bill. So it's not like they're voting for a better alternative which will be signed into law. That's why their viewed as purely procedural votes.
So instead of having the balls to stand up to what's clearly just political posturing the BDs are allowing the Rs to put together these "picture-perfect attack ad copy" motions to recommit that they know BDs will support, even though the alternative doesn't accomplish anything. They're letting themselves get played by concerns that they might get attacked for voting against republican proposals that don't do anything, and as a result the leadership has had to pull a number of bills this year.
Blue Dogs actually seem like the most scared people in all of Washington, D.C. as a result of this article. They are afraid of Republican attacks. They are afraid of conservative pundits. They are afraid of their constituents. They are afraid of motions to recommit that are meaningless in terms of actual policy. And they are protected by Emanuel and Hoyer, who seem petrified of all the same things. They seem to all operate in a perpetual state of fear, despite their surface machismo. And yes, it does seem like fear, rather than simply conservative beliefs in this case, because otherwise why would they be in favor of a meaningless procedural motion that has nothing to do with policy? The widespread fear in the tough guy wing of the Democratic Party is one of the great ironies of modern American politics.