Centrist Dems Rank With Fear

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Oct 31, 2007 at 13:12


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.

Chris Bowers :: Centrist Dems Rank With Fear

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House leadersheep (0.00 / 0)
Could the same process that elected Dean to the DNC be adapted to the H or R? It would be much more difficult, but could a grassroots/netroots effort to pressure Congressional Dems to select more aggressive leaders succeed?

Worth thinking about.


H of R (0.00 / 0)
preview is our friend.

[ Parent ]
Branding (4.00 / 1)
I must say... I hope Open Left and many other blogs keep alive this great new brand "Bush Dog" for years and years and years.  George W Bush is going to be unpopular for centuries.  Every primary challenger of a Blue Dog Dem needs to use "Bush Dog" for the next 20 election cycles.

Blue Dog is a label that any conservative Democrat is going to be willing to live with.  The Bush Dog label, on the other hand, is going to be anathema to these people.  They're going to wet their pants in fear every time they hear it used against them.

This is a frame that's very advantageous for progressives.  We can't let it slip.  We have to pound it home everyday until it is part of the popular political vernacular.


Machismo and fear (4.00 / 5)
Machismo, particularly excessive machismo, is often a cover for insecurity.  Just look at our Macho-in-Chiefs Bush and Cheney, insecure for very different reasons, but both insecure nonetheless.  (Cheney if he can't control everything and Bush fears, correctly, that he can't measure up to his father.)

The Dem leadership is generally over-advised, and seems to be afraid of taking positions that they actually believe in, that proceed from principle, and then defending them.  Pelosi is really against the war, but even she seems to have been neutered by bad advice.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.


I was just wondering about (0.00 / 0)
the AFSCME's upcoming endorsement of Clinton, despite Mark Penn--or, hell, maybe because of him--and now I'm trying to figure if the same dynamic is somehow at play. There can't be many things which encourage one to vote against one's more concrete interests, but 'fear' makes the short list.

The head of AFSCME .. (4.00 / 2)
is a long time friend of Bill's.  Make of it what you will.

[ Parent ]
Bush Dogs / Blue Dogs (4.00 / 3)
Does anyone really perceive the Blue Dogs to be centrist? The DLC Democrats, maybe, but there's a reason they're called "Bush Dogs," and I think slapping a centrist tag on them is quite condescending to Third Way Democrats (like myself) and moderate Democrats everywhere.

They're conservative. They look like Republicans, talk like them, frame debates like them.
They aren't worty of "centrist."


They have different objectives (3.00 / 4)
Like I said, Congress is from Mars...

By and large, reps are not in the House to enact a program, they're there to stay there.

(And gerrymanders, added to other barriers to entry, mean they generally do.)

If Dem reps were ideologically motivated, do you think that legislative production in the 110th would be generally so grotesquely (and uncontroversially) skewed towards corporate welfare?

Take health care: the lunacy of the current system needs no elaboration.

But, given a Cone of Silence, I suspect Dem reps would be only too pleased to run through the obstacles lying in the way of a sensible replacement - and point out that they have no intention running the slightest risk of sacrificing their careers to a futile death-or-glory charge.

They see a trifecta election in 08, and a gravy train running smoothly for (for a good many) the rest of their time in Congress.

If they sit on their hands this Congress, it'll come to poppa. Or, if it doesn't, they'll be able to comfort themselves that it was none of their own doing.

It's a pretty logical analysis. There's no way that the netroots can offer upside potential in radical action that would compensate for undergoing the slightest risk of derailing the gravy train.

(The looming Bush veto has something to do with that, natch!)

I suspect they find it hard that spheroids can't understand their position. I doubt that they put much effort into understanding the spheroids'.


JTA (0.00 / 0)
There are specific points about motions to recommit that certainly need to be addressed.

In the 109th (with a similar 30 vote margin between the parties), we had a bunch of GOP mods who were jumpy as hell (and not without reason!) and keen for cover.

Yet the Dems were unable to use that leverage to force a win on any MTRs.

My guess: GOP mods were happy to rely for cover on the catch and release system, and didn't feel compelled to sleep with the enemy on MTRs.

That's a hypothesis to be tested, not a conclusion: on the face of it, the difference in performance between the 109th and 110th majorities is hard to account for.

Plus - blaming the bogeymen is unconvincing. I suspect Steny and Rahmbo probably get an ego-boost from being supposed to be the evil masterminds behind the House Dems masterly inactivity.

I don't believe it for a minute.


[ Parent ]
Also, (4.00 / 2)
No one at all is afraid of Democratic attack ads.

[ Parent ]
hmmm... (0.00 / 0)
I didn't read anything in those comments questioning masculinity. I think you were talking about the comment I made about Stoller "Manning up" and running a race himself if he was so passionate about how poorly some of these Bush Dogs are voting.  Which was a comment I made when you defended Stollers baseless attack on Gov. Warner.

There were some other lines (0.00 / 0)
You are right--I linked to the wrong diary at first. Here is the one where most of the macho statements showed up.

[ Parent ]
Did it occur to you that.... (4.00 / 2)
the Bluedogs want Pelosi to go down the tubes. They are playing a game of screw the caucus so they can come back in 2008 and put their own, Hoyer, in charge.

Don't know if that is true.... (4.00 / 1)
But I am certain that is how Pelosi perceives her hold on the Speaker's chair. Her first priority is to hang on the prize she always sought. And she fears the guys chasing her.

Can it happen here?

[ Parent ]
Can we just not get a FISA law? (4.00 / 1)
Why not let the old bad law lapse, and let the old, less bad law go back into effect?  Why not have the leadership just say, screw you republicans, we're going to let you lie in the bed you just made with this motion to recommit crap?

To The Contrary (4.00 / 2)
There is a real "tough guy" strain in the centrist Democratic 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.

This is the most natural thing in the world.

Just like weaklings craving an authoritarian leader, or homophobes being the ones with unacknowledge homosexual feelings.  It's called overcompensation::

Men overcompensate when their masculinity is threatened, Cornell study shows
By Daniel Aloi

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Threaten a man's masculinity and he will assume more macho attitudes, according to a study by a Cornell University researcher.

"I found that if you made men more insecure about their masculinity, they displayed more homophobic attitudes, tended to support the Iraq War more and would be more willing to purchase an SUV over another type of vehicle," said Robb Willer, a sociology doctoral candidate at Cornell. Willer is presenting his findings Aug. 15 at the American Sociological Association's 100th annual meeting in Philadelphia.

"Masculine overcompensation is the idea that men who are insecure about their masculinity will behave in an extremely masculine way as compensation. I wanted to test this idea and also explore whether overcompensation could help explain some attitudes like support for war and animosity to homosexuals," Willer said.

Willer administered a gender identity survey to a sample of male and female Cornell undergraduates in the fall of 2004. Participants were randomly assigned to receive feedback that their responses indicated either a masculine or a feminine identity. While women's responses were unchanged regardless of the feedback they received, men's reactions "were strongly affected by this feedback," Willer said.

"Masculinity-threatened men also reported feeling more ashamed, guilty, upset and hostile than did masculinity-confirmed men," states Willer's report, "Overdoing Gender: Testing the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis."

"The masculine overcompensation thesis has its roots in Freudian psychology, but it has become a popularly accepted idea that I felt should be empirically tested and evaluated," Willer said.

He questioned subjects about their political attitudes, including how they felt about a same-sex marriage ban and their support for President Bush's handling of the Iraq War.

"I created composites from subjects' answers to these and other questions," he said. "I also gave subjects a car-buying vignette, presented as part of a study of purchasing a new car."

Masculinity-threatened participants also showed more interest in buying an SUV. "There were no increases for other types of cars," Willer said.

The study produced "the predicted results," he said. "The intention of the study was to explore whether masculine overcompensation exists and where. But the point isn't to suggest these are the only factors that can explain these behaviors. Likewise, there may be a wide variety of other behaviors that could increase when men are concerned about their levels of masculinity."

In a separate study, Willer verified that support for the Iraq War, homophobia and interest in purchasing an SUV were all considered masculine by study participants.

Willer said he and a colleague are planning additional research on subjects' attitudes regarding violence toward women, using the same method for manipulating masculine insecurity.

"I'm planning another follow-up to the study that involves taking testosterone samples from participants to see if testosterone levels are a mediating factor in this process," he added.

The research involved 111 Cornell undergraduates and was funded by the Department of Sociology at Cornell.

So, first the overcompensation, then the old pot/kettle/black projection insisting that we're the ones with the problem.

Rinse and repeat 10,000 times.

"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 stink of fear, Bush Dogs. (0.00 / 0)
Fear, and that cheap lotion you wear.

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