Waking Up to a Working Republican Majority

by: Matt Stoller

Thu Aug 09, 2007 at 17:06


I'm beginning to explore an idea that I'm not entirely sold on, which is that in the House, while Democrats are in control, there is effectively a Republican working majority.  If true, this has a number of implications, both electoral and political. But first, I'll illustrate my thinking, which basically boils down to the fact that politically speaking, Bush is effectively using the surge model to govern in all policy arenas.  Take tax policy.

President Bush said yesterday that he is considering a fresh plan to cut tax rates for U.S. corporations to make them more competitive around the world, an initiative that could further inflame a battle with the Democratic Congress over spending and taxes and help define the remainder of his tenure.

Advisers presented Bush with a series of ideas to restructure corporate taxes, possibly eliminating narrowly targeted breaks to pay for a broader, across-the-board rate cut. In an interview with a small group of journalists afterward, Bush said he was "inclined" to send a corporate tax package to Congress, although he expressed uncertainty about its political viability.

It's a simple pattern.  When Bush loses ground politically, he simply changes his ask.  It's the equivalent of negotiating with someone to sell them a bike for $50, and when they find a problem with the bike, changing the price to $75 and negotiating the final price to $65.  It's bad faith negotiating, but it's working, because Democratic leaders aren't able to walk away from the table out of a mixture of fear, incompetence, and insufficient liberal voting strength.  They always stupidly buy the bike at the higher price.

The FISA bill debacle is a good example.  I've been in email contact with a variety of sources inside the House, and there's certainly tremendous bitterness at what happened with FISA, as well as a recognition that the 'stand up and cave' rhetoric strategy is now a clear pattern for this Congress.  Steny Hoyer is the weak link in the House leadership, and though I can't read tea leaves that well, I think that Blue Dogs are essentially threatening a revolt against Pelosi if she tries to impose real discipline.  In addition, the Senate is making it nearly impossible for her to stand up for liberalism.  With a reactionary Senate that has about 10 neoconservative Democrats and a neoconservative President, liberals cannot govern except on the most clear-cut and non-controversial issues, like poor children's health care (which itself might be vetoed). 

So while we may have thought we gained a check on Bush in 2006, we actually didn't.  What we gained was a more progressive Democratic Party, but we started from such a low base that the Republicans essentially can still govern.  Now, holding the majority is nice for subpoena power, and that matters.  But when you combine a conservative Senate, a Blue Dog swing block, and an extreme White House, you may have a situation similar to the Boll Weevil Democrats in the early 1980s and their working relationship with Reagan.  I'm not sure how well the analogy holds up since I've never studied that period in history, but regardless, Bush has realized that his conservative governing mandate is still intact. 

In 2006, the midterms registered a clear antiwar message, but instead of listening, Bush surged troops, and politically speaking, it worked.  No one stopped him.  Bush, weaker than he's ever been as President in terms of popular approval and credibility, is governing this country through a mix of veto threats, bad faith negotiating tactics via surrogates like Mike McConnell and David Patraeus, and Blue Dogs.  This is true with Bush's rampant lawbreaking and authoritarian criminal impulses.  No one stops him.  I'm no longer content to think that Blue Dogs are acting out of fear of being criticized, at this point I am going to take the Heath Shuler's at their word and recognize them as right-wingers.

To be clear, there's reason for optimism, as this is a temporary situation and we've made enormous progress since 2002.  There are more self-identified liberals today than there have been since 1972, independents are swinging far to the left, and the base Democratic vote is making the difference in elections.  The Democratic Party of 2007 is much more progressive than that of 2002, and at the rate we're gaining reliable liberal votes (10/year), there will be an unbreakable progressive House majority by 2012.  The overall intellectual environment, the shattering of the right-wing careerist foreign policy community, the increasing efficiency of liberal advocacy groups, the increased participation of progressive economy sectors in the political sector, and the liberalization of the White House and Senate, can also have significant effects. Our politicians are obviously behind the curve, with Clinton quasi-supporting the surge and Obama in his most recent Iowa ad doesn't call himself a Democrat.  But this is temporary.

I don't have a good strategy on how to 'fix' the Senate, but to get to a progressive working majority in the House, we need to pick up 41 more reliable votes, either by beating Republicans or by converting or beating Blue Dog Democrats.  If we can get to an uncompromising progressive majority in the House, then the Senate will be dragged along through conference committees and a Democratic White House.  In the Senate, we'll need 16 for a clear progressive majority, but because of institutional dynamics we'll probably need less to have a working majority.

There are several paths to making this happen in the House. 

Pick Up Safe Seats Progressives:  This is what we are trying to do in Massachusetts 5th, where a reactionary Niki Tsongas is facing four other candidates, including progressive Jamie Eldridge.  There's also a primary in TN-09, Harold Ford's old haunt.

Convert Reactionary Democrats:  Both Al Wynn and Ellen Tauscher are good examples of how this can be done, and this is continuing against Daniel Lipinski, Al Wynn, and Henry Cuellar.

Beat Republicans:  In 2006, Democrats picked up 30 seats in the House.  Out of those pickups, 11 voted for the FISA expansion, and 19 didn't.

Convert Republicans:  I'm not sure how this is supposed to work.  Americans Against the Escalation in Iraq is trying to crack Republicans, but this is very very difficult.  Republicans have run right-wing primary challenges against dissidents for 30 years, since 1978.  Countering that is extremely tough, though recent moves by the Mainstream Partnership could have effects.

If there is a Republican working majority, with the Blue Dogs as the swing group, that should have one very significant effect on our strategy.  In a House with a minority role for Democrats, electing a Blue Dog Democrat is far superior than electing a Republican.  But in a majority Democratic House where conservatives have a governing working majority, electing a Blue Dog Democrat is little different than electing a Republican when it comes to public policy choices.  Electing a Blue Dog is not going to help us restore out Constitutional fabric, hold these people accountable, deal with global warming, energy, health care, or restore a progressive tax code.  More significantly, more Blue Dogs aren't going to give someone like Pelosi the leverage she needs to do any of these things.

What this means is clear.  No longer should we as progressives particularly care whether a Democrat is in a swing district or Republican district when considering how to evaluate them.  It is more important to elect progressives and destroy the power of Blue Dogs than to increase our partisan advantage in the House, though these goals are complements and not substitutes.  The Colorado example, of turning a libertarian-esque red state into a Blue Dog state at the behest of wealthy billionaires, is not something to emulate.  Rather, we should look at the New Hampshire example, which has turned a libertarian-esque red state into a deep blue progressive libertarian area. 

There's one other important rhetorical consequence here.  When Blue Dogs vote with Bush, they are not 'betraying' us any more than Republicans are when they vote with Bush.  Blue Dogs just don't agree with us.  And when they vote to expand wiretapping or to cut taxes for the wealthy or to support endless war, they are acting like Blue Dogs, and Blue Dogs support President Bush and the conservative movement.

Matt Stoller :: Waking Up to a Working Republican Majority

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Let's stop calling them Democrats (4.00 / 1)
Maybe we need to stop calling the Blue Dogs "Democrats."  I'm serious.  If part of what has to occur is a Democratic branding that clearly separates the Democrats from the Republicans, and if the Blue Dogs don't separate themselves from the Republicans, which ultimately they don't, then they're not part of the emerging Democratic brand and should not be called Blue Dog Democrats.  I'm not sure what label would work (Republicrats? sounds like rats running around), but I think part of getting Democrats elected is creating an easily-recognized label about who is, and who isn't, a real Democrat.  Saying that there's a Republican majority makes sense, but we can't call the Blue Dogs Republicans.

I just call them Blue Dogs (4.00 / 1)
but of course, they are technically Democrats.  There's really no way around that.

[ Parent ]
Bad Title (0.00 / 0)

Waking Up to a Working Republican Majority

This is exactly the working conservative majority that was at work back in the late 50s and early 60s.  Conservative Democrats siding with their Republican counterparts effectively ran congress. 

Dems run the place, but the conservative ideology still rules.

Our Dime Understanding the U.S. Budget


Stop calling radical destroyers "conservative" (0.00 / 0)
It helps them get away with their crimes

Karl Rove must smile when we use this good word to describe his radically destructive friends.

Somewhere in our minds conservative means avoiding risks and protecting what's valuable.

Should our  leaders be conservative?

When getting on an airplane, most want a Risk Averse pilot, one who is  cautiously moderate.  We don't want to be part of experimental tricks up in the sky. There is something positive about prudent, careful stewardship.

This important positive connotation is bound with that tern conservative. Yet, this is exactly what "the conservative movement" is not.

http://conservative....


I always like "reactionary" (4.00 / 1)
even if I'm not using it technically correctly.  Or "radical right-wing."  But "reactionary" kind of takes people by surprise because they don't hear it that often and it sounds really, really bad.

[ Parent ]
Can't agree more (4.00 / 4)
And have said so repeatedly:

In a House with a minority role for Democrats, electing a Blue Dog Democrat is far superior than electing a Republican.  But in a majority Democratic House where conservatives have a governing working majority, electing a Blue Dog Democrat is little different than electing a Republican when it comes to public policy choices.  Electing a Blue Dog is not going to help us restore out Constitutional fabric, hold these people accountable, deal with global warming, energy, health care, or restore a progressive tax code.  More significantly, more Blue Dogs aren't going to give someone like Pelosi the leverage she needs to do any of these things.

What this means is clear. We should stop supporting "Democratic" candidates who's first qualification is that they will appeal to "moderate" GOP electorate in "swing" districts. God, how many times did I say that back in the IL-06 primary?

People, especially "moderate Republicans" will support a strong populust candidate who stands strongly on their positions and doesn't look weak by trying to straddle the fence and not upset anyone. Stand for something, even views they disagree with, and you will get more support than looking like you are trying to pander to the middle.

It's basic respect. Stand up for your value and people will respect you. Look like you are taking political positions for the sake of getting elected and people will see you as weak. Look like you are a Democrat appealing to Republicans and not only will Democrats in the base not respect you, but you will look like you are turning your back on your own party and moderate Republcans will loath you for it.

When Democrats appeal to the middle they cede to the Republicans the frame of the debate. The allow Republicans to dictate the debate. Stand strong on Democratic values and Republicans have to try to divert the debate away from Republican short falls and records as they defend their record, their war and their president. They have to work hard to get it back to wedge issues and "moral" questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen for their record and agenda, and can be highlighted as such by an aggressive Democratic candidate.

Stop playing not to lose. Stop playing defense. Go on offense and stand up for Democratic values. Stop worrying about electability and make the GOP defend it's values and record for a change.

If teaching is so easy, then by all means get your degree, pass your certification test(s), get your license, and see if you can last longer than the five years in the classroom 50% of those who enter the profession never make it to.


Michael ... what you just described was .. (4.00 / 2)
Harold Ford and the DLC .. the mealy mouthed asshats they are .. but another point ... if Pelosi can't reign in Hoyer ... than we have more problems than just Blue Dogs .. and TN-9 .. what's the deal with that .. Cohen is a progressive .. is Harold's little brother trying to primary Cohen?  We should kick the f--king Ford's out of the party .. I hope Kos asks Harold about that on Sunday

[ Parent ]
There is a movement... (4.00 / 2)
to try to unseat Cohen, primarily because he is white (and to a lesser extent, Jewish)

There is a group of black preachers who are using a conservative frame against Cohen to try to claim that he is trying to subvert their values with protections for homosexuality in the Hate Crimes Bill. It is based on ridiculousness and lies but it could succeed if they play up the racial animosity enough. In addition, they attempted to claim that Cohen was a homosexual in the last campaign because he is a bachelor, but it never really scared off the electorate. It is dangerous territory for Cohen to be in and I think it is one reason that he has substantially increased his name in the Netroots crowd, so that he can possibly use the money, if he feels that his seat is in danger from a DLC type. The logical primary challenge will come from Nikki Tinker, who got a lot of seed money from Emily's List and other groups during the primary in 2006. She is certainly right in the Harold Ford, Jr. vein of the party and is not one to be desired by Progressives.

Another interesting fact is that there is a crowd that traditionally votes far-right Republican in the district (it tends to be small (as in at least 10-20% of the electorate, white, well-educated and is very corporate, not so much socially conservative). They cannot stand the Ford name from when Ford, Sr. is there and many of them know and like Steve Cohen (he has represented many of these people for a long time in the State Senate), despite disagreeing on nearly everything (probably everything). I would estimate that Cohen pulled a lot of votes from this group because of their distaste for the Ford name, and the dirty tricks that they used (and the knowledge that the Republican was going to lose). Call it the Anti-Lieberman, but it was successful for Cohen in the last race and it could be again.

I don't know if the Fords have a hand in it, but in terms of Memphis politics,  they probably do.


[ Parent ]
Complicated (4.00 / 1)
This is a fascinating and complicated topic. I mostly agree, but see more advantages to being in the majority than you do (being able to kill lots of horrendous shit in committees, being able to get good and popular bills to the floor whenever leadership wants, being able to manage floor debate, control of conference committees, control of hearing schedules, controlling the budget/approps process).
I also think much of this has to do with simple courage. While I agree with you re most of the blue dogs ideological stance, I think a lot of Dems, including much of the leadership, are more in line with us but have severe failures of nerve on a regular basis.
This whole topic is worth a lot more discussion.

Very complicated. (0.00 / 0)
Have we got control of the budget/appropriations process when 10 of the 12 appropriations bills are under veto threat because their numbers don't match the president's budget numbers?

Does the FISA debacle indicate that we're able to manage floor debate?

Do we control hearing schedules when we're forced to send second, third, and fourth notices of delinquency and deadline extensions to subpoenaed witnesses who simply refuse to comply?


[ Parent ]
A few suugestions (4.00 / 3)
Convert Republicans?  In case anyone hasn't noticed, the moderate Republicans have been pretty much eliminated in the past few years and replaced for the most part by liberal Democrats (e.g. Chris Van Hollen replacing Connie Morella in Maryland; Sheldon Whitehouse replacing Lincoln Vhaffee).  We may want to run extra hard in districts like NJ-5 where a moderate Republican was pushed out bya Club For Growth wingnut.  There are what three moderate Republicans in the Senate (Spector, Snowe, Collins) and all of them seem to fold on the big votes.  There aren't many more in the House either.

This suggests a strategy aimed more at cleaning up seats in strongly Democratic areas of the country.  Not only Chris Shays but also Republicans like Mike Ferguson (NJ-7), Frank Lo Biondo (NJ-2), the Michigan triplets (MI-7, Mi-8, MI-11), Gerlach in PA, Roskam and the now vacant seat of Denny Hastert in IL.  There are 24 Republican seats in the Northeast.  No Republican in the Northeast got as much as 70% and only 8 got 60% in 2006.  We win 12 seayts here and we should get 10 friendlies.  Win seats in Tennesse and we have votes forn the Speaker outside of Memphis. 

Also, Blue Dogs from strongly blue states need to be pressured.  Some of them just belong because they think it is cool.  We need to press the Steve Israels and Joe Bacas of the world along with Jim Costa and Brian Higgins.  These may have been GOP seats at one time but they are pretty safe by now.

A lot of black southern Democrats in the House (about half of them) are surprisingly conservative.  Al Wynn (not a southerner) is morphing under pressure, would Sanford Bishop act likewise in Georgia?

Punish the hell out of the verbal traitors and leaders of the opposition within.  We need to primary Steny Hoyer no matter what.

Put more emphasis on VA-11 and VA-10 than VA-2,  NoVA is not only turning blue, it is a liberal shade.  Part of the Northeast now. 


Good strategy (0.00 / 0)
There are, as David says, at least 10-15 House districts where a Dem ought to be able to win in 2008, with Dems, Indys and just enough moderate R's for a victory.  That is the best strategy.  That will blunt to power of the Blue Dogs.  Beyond that, pressuring the blue state Blue Dogs is good.

The Senate seems even easier.  Consider that in 2008 there will be 22 R Senate seats and 12 Senate seats up, and only Mary Landrieu of the Dems seems in anyt danger.  Alaska and VA may be open seats, maybe a few others.  If the netroots really get behind some of these candidates, and do some recruiting, it could lead to upsets beyond the marquee races. 

The best thing for the netroots to do IMHO is to concentrate resources on about 5-6 Senate races and 20 House races that aren't the bigest ones, not the top targets for the DCCC and DSCC and get some leverage with those folks if they win.

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


[ Parent ]
Their Constituents should write to them (0.00 / 0)
If you are a constituent of a Blue Dog Democrat--Do what Emily D did--write to your Senator and Congressman and convince them--why they are wrong and why doing B is correct -- in black and white.

Poll their constituents to prove to them that their constituents do or dont support it.

Encourage blogs in these districts--organize.


Up to a point (4.00 / 2)
The situation in the House can fairly be called a modified version of the old conservative coalition - the sectional/racial element is out, the leadership has long since neutered the old bulls (in the mid-70s rule changes) and the ideological range covered by the Dem party is nowhere near as large.

Leaving aside discharge petitions, Pelosi pretty much controls what reaches the floor and how through Rules; but she has to give the various factions in the party something to stop tempers fraying too much.

She can look to loyalty on procedural votes (previous question, votes on rules), but that won't extend to substantive votes on measures she chooses to allow to proceed.

I wouldn't call what we've got a Republican majority of any sort: obviously, Schiavo-type bills are out, and the raw unity stats (mostly those procedural votes) show a large element of regularity.

Just like the old conservative coalition, the Dogs and GOP will take it one vote at a time.

The House end of the FISA business I'm still not clear about: my guess is that, as soon the WH nixed the McConnell deal, the Dem leadership realized the choice for last week was the WH bill or no bill. And they chose the WH bill.

The vote on S 1927 followed the leadership's decision to bring the bill to the floor: this wasn't a coup organized by the Dogs and GOP.

(The HR 3356 shenanigan - taking it as a suspension, knowing it was miles off a 2/3 majority - I still don't understand.)

As far as the lack of control exercised over Bush's more dubious activities, I don't think this is an ideological thing; I think the belief that the Dems are on the brink of a decent run means senior Dem reps of all stripes are terrified of screwing it up (like the GOP did in the 80th) and being deprived of their majority status in 08.


On many economic issues Obama and Schumer are with the Right (0.00 / 0)
Classic example is the "Class Action Fairness Act," which passed in 2005. Obama and Schumer both voted with every Republican and about a third of democrats for a bill aimed squarly at protecting huge corporations from consumer lawsuits. Schumer is again with the right on the private equity tax loophole, whose primary beneficiaries are not even multimillionaires, but billionaires. Hillary Clinton, though she represents the financial center of the country, deserves commendation for being on the right side of both of these issues.

The good news is in open democratic seats when there is a relatively fair fight the progressive candidate almost always wins. A good example is Carol Porter in NH.

If there are 60 unreliable democrats in solid districts and an average of 6 retire each year, we'll probably get someone better 5 out of the 6 times.

Rahm Emanual and Schumer do a lot of damage in the DCCC and DSCC. Getting rid of them would do a lot of good in future primaries.



[ Parent ]
Bush gets what he wants (0.00 / 0)
Watch the Energy, SCHIP, stem cell, fights.

[ Parent ]
How do you classify Bob Casey?? (0.00 / 0)
Is he a blue dog social conservative, and did we gain IN THE LONG RUN by supporting him in a state that could support porgressives?  Is anyone really surprised that conservative ideas still control the supposedly Dem controlled Congress?

[ Parent ]
But that's cos he's prez (0.00 / 0)
The reason the Dem Congressional leaderships will need to give Bush loads to get his moniker on their bills is his veto power.

To override a veto, you need to go 16 votes into GOP territory - and it's pretty red that far in! Ideologically nowhere near the Dogs, rated over the whole Congress.

If the compromise with Bush was a simple split-the-difference thing, then further left the Dem Congressional parties were, the further left the compromises made with the WH.

But it's surely not as simple as that. Some polisci guy will have run some regression analysis on it, I suspect.


[ Parent ]
This is the part I don't get (4.00 / 5)
So the President vetos a bill. The Republican President. Why not push the bill anyway, let him veto it, then do to him and the Republicans what they constantly do to the Democrats with anything security related: demonize them for not supporting it. Hang the veto around their necks. Pass a good health care for kids bill and let Bush veto it. Vote party line to overturn the veto, putting Republicans on record not supporting health care for kids. Then let them try to explain why Republicans hate kids health care to voters.

Obviously it can't be this simple. What am I missing here?

If teaching is so easy, then by all means get your degree, pass your certification test(s), get your license, and see if you can last longer than the five years in the classroom 50% of those who enter the profession never make it to.


[ Parent ]
You're not missing it (4.00 / 1)
They are missing the guts to do exactly that.

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

[ Parent ]
It's Not Guts, It's Ruthlessness (0.00 / 0)
Yes, there is an intimidation factor.  But it doesn't explain everything, and it specifically doesn't explain why Michael's strategy isn't tried.  Rather, the problem is that Democrats as a whole just aren't ruthless enough.  They really want to govern and get stuff done.  And the Republicans know this and take advantage of it.

Think of it this way, in terms of a simple asymmetry:  The GOP wants to give $10 million each to 10 billionaires--who will, in all likelihood, use it to buy out some companies and fire a few thousand workers.  But I digress.  The Dems want to spend $10 each on vaccinating 10 million poor kids--a portion of whon will, in all likelihood get sick and cost much more to care for if they don't get get vaccinated.  But I digress.

The billionares can obviously hold out and wait longer for their $10 million.  If they don't get it this year, they'll get it next year.  But the kids have a window of time for their vaccinations.  And, since the Dems actually want to get those kids vaccinated, rather than just pushing the bill through, and getting it vetoed, they will agree to a compromise that includes the $10 million each for 10 billionaires, which politically doesn't seem like much of a victory at all, and certainly can't be used to bash the Republicans with.

Now, this is obviously an illustrative exaggeration.  But there's enough truth to it that it does account for a persistent, significant percentage of the Democratic majority in the House.  And it simply renders quite difficult the pure, partisan political moves of the sort that Michael is talking about.  Difficult doesn't mean impossible, of course.  Nor does my explanation cover everything.  But I think it's important to recognize that one of the things we have to contend with is not something bad.

p.s.  This dynamic is particularly visible in the California budget battle currently under way.  Check out Calitics for details.

"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 ]
Take a few down and the rest will come around (4.00 / 2)
"Republicans have run right-wing primary challenges against dissidents for 30 years, since 1978.  Countering that is extremely tough"

This right here is the key to the GOP party discipline.

We need to pick a few blue dogs and hit em hard from the left.  And if the primary fails, we need to split the left vote and give the seats to the GOP.

The democrats have the majority in the house and are going to gain seats.  We can afford to make an example out of a couple blue dogs.

Once it's clear that the progressive netroots are willing to take out blue-dogs (even if they lose a seat to the GOP), the caucus will be a lot easier to manage.  Right now they think the left "has no other choice" and so they can totally ignore us.


Here's the rub (0.00 / 0)
Money and network vs. activists and volunteers.

They've got the money and network. We've got the activists and volunteers. Even though primaries have more tuned in voters, the amount of low information voters that can be swayed by the schwag money buys is astounding.

Where is our progressive farm team and progressive donor network to combat this?

For example, with an "ultra conservative" district that went 55/45 for Bush in 2004, I'd love to see a real challenge to Bean. But husband and wife peace activists are not going to have the resources to give Bean any serious challenge - especially when they are splitting their own vote!

If teaching is so easy, then by all means get your degree, pass your certification test(s), get your license, and see if you can last longer than the five years in the classroom 50% of those who enter the profession never make it to.


[ Parent ]
Clearly we are in a (0.00 / 0)
stronger position than we were a year ago.  The investigations are certainly having an effect.  But, we know going into this Congress that it would be fairly difficult getting good things done with the Occupant.  Then, Mitch McConnell decided to filibuster everything.  So, the Senate is super tough as well. 

We achieved a lot, but we have a LONG way to go. 

Concentrating only on elections isn't the only way to go.  We're not going to keep steamrolling Republican districts.  We can pick up a few more seats in both Houses, we can primary a few Dems into line or out of office (with a better Dem replacing them).

But the writing is on the wall.  Rhetorically, we need to keep pushing the envelope and pushing Dems to push the envelope.  Framing is a key.  Most people don't pay much attention, so whatever sounds reasonable is what they'll go for.  We need to frame things simply and reasonably. 

Within a few cycles, perhaps the blue dogs will be neutered, but a lot of blue doggies will still be in leadership, and that will be a problem, especially as some of the old lions start retiring. 

But the 800 lbs gorilla in the room, I think, is that dark and evil word we so-very-much hate:  Lobbying.  500 phone calls and 5000 emails won't accomplish as much as a good lobbyist will.  We need to support blogpac in a big way, set an agenda, and do some lobbying.  Lobby the Blue Dogs.  Push our agenda directly in the Halls of power.  Zuniga and Armstrong's book was Crashing the Gates.  Well, we crashed the gates.  Look at the people who attended (and were supposed to attend) YearlyKos.  Now, we're just standing around confused, trying to figure out the score.


Call their bluff (4.00 / 1)
If the blue dogs are threatening a revolt, why not call their bluff?  Are they really willing to align themselves with Bush and the Republican party right now?  I don't think that would last very long.  It's not like we're dealing with a popular president like Reagan.  The Republican party itself is turning on Bush. 

I would really like to see some more peer pressure on the blue dogs from other House members, and I'd like to see Pelosi call their bluff, for once.  Where are they going to go?  Right about now, they've really got nothing to bargain with.


I agree, push the Blue Dogs (0.00 / 0)
This has to be felt out.  For Bush to say the other day that he's not going to fire Gonzales because CONGRESS hasn't shown that he has done anything wrong, well that says alot.  Behind the scenes the blue dogs must be whining not to bring up the AG's impeachment.  Let the blue dogs revolt, this has to be fettered out.  What are they going to do switch parties?  Punish them by taking away committee assignments.  Ok, we have subpoena power but we can't override Bush's veto's, we have to play hard ball here.  The blue dogs are democrats or they can switch parties.  They do it at THEIR political peril.

[ Parent ]
It's not that they'd switch parties. (4.00 / 1)
It's that they'd switch leaders. You can (in theory) take away their committee assignments, but you can't take away their vote in the Caucus. Make enough enemies, and Speaker Pelosi isn't Speaker Pelosi anymore. And the punishments start to run the other way.

[ Parent ]
A Cultural Hegemony, Not A Political Majority (4.00 / 8)
While you're struggling to make an important point, here, Matt, the following passage reveals a number of problems:

But when you combine a conservative Senate, a Blue Dog swing block, and an extreme White House, you may have a situation similar to the Boll Weevil Democrats in the early 1980s and their working relationship with Reagan.

(1) The "Boll Weevils" were so named at specific period of time, but were actually part of a much longer-lasting phenomena.  They were actually in relative decline as a power, having once totally controlled the agenda, preventing any serious discussion of civil rights in the Congress.  (Even in the 1930s, Congress couldn't pass a federal anti-lynching law.)

(2) The "conservative coalition" of Republicans and Southern Democrats controlled Congress from 1939 to 1963, but a good deal of progressive legislation still got passed during this time,  It was not major structural legislation, which is why, for example, we don't have universal health care, like they do in the civilized world.  But the GI Bill was not chopped liver, either.

(3) While the Boll Weevils gave Reagan tax cuts, increased miitary spending and deficits out the wazoo, the early 1980s Dems also passed Social Security reform with not a hint of privatization talk--even though Reagan had been talking about Social Security being bankrupt all the way back in the 1960s--preserved the basic framework of the welfare state and cut off funding to the Contras.  They also uncovered all sorts of Reagan Administration scandals.

What all the above are meant to indicate is two things: (1) that political judgments must be tempered by a sense of context and perspective that is both historical (what larger long-term processes are they part of) and ideological (where do their actual policy positions stands in the larger scheme of things).  (2) That collaborationist strategies have long been the rule in Americn politics, and must be understood as something distinct from--though certainly related to--rightwing politics per se.

In short, I think that you're focused too much on the strategies and strategems, and not enough on the substance.  While the Blue Dogs and the DLC Dems are by no means progressive, neither are they rightwing.  They are conservative on some issues, to be sure.  And they readily use conservative--sometimes even rightwing frames.  But their voting records overall are almost entirely to the left of virtually the entire Republican Party.  This is partly because the Democratic brand still means something to them--or, more importantly, it still means something to those who voted them into office.  But that's not nothing, particularly since so many Boll Wevills or their political heirs moved over to the GOP some time ago.

I'm by no means offering apologies for the Blue Dogs and DLC Dems.  I would like to get rid of the whole lot of them--particularly because I think it's a lie (aka a "self-fullfilling prophecy") that progressives can't win in their districts.  But I think it's important to recognize that the political landscape is more nuanced than a simple progressive/rightwing dichotomy.

It's the Hegemony, Stupid!

While I still think that you're conclusions are more sound overall than not, I draw one important distinction: I don't think that Bush does have a governing majority, much less a man-date.  What he does have that you haven't talked about is an anti-progessive elite concensus more unified than anything this country has seen since the 1920s, which the netroots encounters most directly in the form of the media, but which has also been highlighted more recently in the form of the foreign policy establishment. 

This is why I think it's mistaken to think in terms of the weakened President still managing to dominate the Congress.  It's not Bush whose doing the dominating.  It's an elite hegemonic discourse that still operating mostly on auto-pilot, since it has clealy lost most of its power to actually create any results even superficially resembling what it promises.  This is what the Democrats are having such a hard time overcoming, particularly since they essentially need 2/3 majorities in both houses in order to do so.

Now, I happen to think they could be doing a much better job than they are doing right now.  So I'm not meaninig to let them off the hook, either.  But if we misdiagnose what the problem is, then our efforts to fix things will only make matters worse, or at best have much less positive impact than they otherwise would.

My point here is that I think George Lakoff was absolutely right in Don't Think of An Elephant.  He did not argue that only framinig matters--as many who never read him seem to believe.  He argued that framing and political infrastructure are the two things that matter most, at least right now, because they are the two things that Democrats dramatically weakest on.  And what he said a few months before the 2004 election still remains true today.

What Lakoff was talking about were both identified by Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks, and they represent the two principles elements of cultural hegemony: hegemonic narratives and hegemonic institutions.  The Bush Administration has taken a latent tension that's always been there in Americas institutions (check out the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 if you think it's anything new), and ramped it up several notches beyond where Reagan took it with the Iran-Contra affair and related endeavors.  In doing so, they've placed tremendous strain on the legitimating structure, which is, I believe, far more brittle and close to the breaking point than any political insiders can imagine.

Whether it actually will break, and which way things will shift if it does are simply things we cannot know.  There are simple too many variables and to small a data set of past events to make anything close to a sound empirical judgment.

We can, however, rely on more general principles of conduct. To wit, the wisdom of Virgil: Fortune favors the brave. (The flip side of which is "scared money never wins.") 

We are fighting, quite literally, to save the very idea of what America could be.  If ever there was a time to be bold, it is 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


Brilliant (4.00 / 1)
This is the most brilliant analysis I've read in a long time.

For those of us who agree with you, Matt: What practical steps do you recommend we take as individuals to bring about a progressive majority?


Perspective (4.00 / 1)
This is the kind of post that is both why I read OpenLeft and why I sometimes cringe at it.

My first instincts are to say that no, Niki Tsongas isn't a reactionary. I can't say, but it seems like she's fairly well in the middle of the Democratic party and probably just to the left of its center - it is MA, after all. That's the kind of hyperbolic language that I think is awfully counterproductive. It isn't accurate and turns people off.

Similarly, it just isn't true to say there is a Republican working majority. The House is completely different than it was 2 years ago. It isn't as different as we'd like, by a long shot, but it is different. Skeptic06 brings up Terri Schiavo, which is a good illustration, but more importantly, we raised the minimum wage for the first time in years. The House passed the 100 Hours agenda (obviously the Senate didn't follow suit, but that's a different post). We aren't there yet and the last few weeks have been hard, but it's important to keep everything in perspective.

That said, the discussion of the conservative coalition in the comments section is invaluable. I think that in many ways it is an extremely powerful model for understanding this Congress - much more than Matt's is, though the difference is subtle. Paul Rosenberg talks about what the conservative coalition gave us. Taft-Hartley, but the GI bill. The Boll Weevils, who were the rump of that coalition, functioned similarly. It wasn't Gingrich's Congress, even though there were lots of Democrats who were very comfortable working with Reagan.

The implications of a return to the conservative coalition, in which there is a progressive majority on some issues, a conservative majority on others (civil rights back then, maybe taxes or national security now), are very interesting. They just aren't the same (especially with the stronger power of leadership over committee chairmen since the 1970's weakening the conservative Democrats, relatively) as having a working Republican majority. It's critical that we distinguish between them.


Democrats failure to do any analysis (4.00 / 3)
Nancy Pelosi is acting as if passing a bill in the House is a positive accomplishment and as if getting some weak ameliorative bill signed is cause for triumph. The Republicans have, since Bob Dole killed Health Care Reform if not before, approached legislation from a comprehensive political framework. Pelosi and her coterie of ancient committee chairs still act as if the old favors-trading congress rules were in place. Wedge votes and legislation that exposes Repubug/Blue-dog allegiance to very unpopular policies would be relatively easy and much more productive than committee hearings that only emphasize the powerlessness of the Democrats.

For example;
A bill to make it a felony for anyone working for a government agency to disclose private information to data miners or commercial rivals. Wall street needs to be scared that the Rethugs will play favorites

A bill to invalidate "fine print" on mortgage or insurance documents that have the effect of reversing the apparent intent of the contract. Call it the "Fair Contract Restoration Act".

A bill to strip government officials of all insurance and pensions and to stop any salary payments if they plead the fifth amendment or otherwise refuse to testify under oath about their official duties.

A bill to create a Veterans Ombudsman's office with the power to over-rule Pentagon and VA benefits denials.


You Oversimiplify The Problem, But Have The Right Idea Re Solutions (0.00 / 0)
After 12 years of the GOP controlling the House, Pelosi is not entirely wrong.  Nor does your reading of motives and assumption account for more than part of the mix.  (See what I wrote above about lack of ruthlessness, for example.)

But your suggestions about the sort of bills the Democrats should be moving as part of an alternative strategy are excellent, and worth working up into a diary.  It's called "agenda setting," and it definitely is one of the powers of a majority, which properly used helps to build that majority, both in the short term and the long.

"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 ]
Democrats failure to do any analysis (0.00 / 0)
Nancy Pelosi is acting as if passing a bill in the House is a positive accomplishment and as if getting some weak ameliorative bill signed is cause for triumph. The Republicans have, since Bob Dole killed Health Care Reform if not before, approached legislation from a comprehensive political framework. Pelosi and her coterie of ancient committee chairs still act as if the old favors-trading congress rules were in place. Wedge votes and legislation that exposes Repubug/Blue-dog allegiance to very unpopular policies would be relatively easy and much more productive than committee hearings that only emphasize the powerlessness of the Democrats.

For example;
A bill to make it a felony for anyone working for a government agency to disclose private information to data miners or commercial rivals. Wall street needs to be scared that the Rethugs will play favorites

A bill to invalidate "fine print" on mortgage or insurance documents that have the effect of reversing the apparent intent of the contract. Call it the "Fair Contract Restoration Act".

A bill to strip government officials of all insurance and pensions and to stop any salary payments if they plead the fifth amendment or otherwise refuse to testify under oath about their official duties.

A bill to create a Veterans Ombudsman's office with the power to over-rule Pentagon and VA benefits denials.


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