Step One in The Bush Dog Campaign: Creating a Public Record

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 18:10


I'm hearing more and more frequently a sense of rage with the Democratic leadership in Congress.  From failing to stop the war to expanding Bush's wiretapping authority, the swing vote of conservative Democrats in the House are forming an effective conservative majority that is enabling Bush to govern as he wishes.  The polls show that this is a very bad political move for Democrats.  Congress has an 18% approval rating, from Democrats, and 60% of all voters strongly disapprove of Bush's new wiretapping authority.  Democrats haven't stopped the war, haven't stopped torture, haven't curbed corporate abuses, and haven't really done anything except raise the minimum wage as part of a package to send $100B of taxpayer into the sands of Iraq.

By and large, the conservative Democratic elites really don't care, and they think they are going to win in 2008 without having to lead on anything the public or the activists in the party thinks is important.  For instance, DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen complained about progressives upset with Chris Carney, even though Carney lied to get campaign contributions in 2006 and just endorsed a Republican for President.  This is part of a pattern.  DCCC recruitment chair Artur Davis complained earlier after the blank check bill passed that Moveon was criticizing Democrats, saying, "I would urge MoveOn and others to recognize that the person who is extending this war is George Bush."

There's no doubt that Bush is a very bad man and a very bad President, but this excuse to not lead will no longer fly.  I think we're all tired of conservative Democratic politicians thinking that their goal in life is to get better parking spots than they did last cycle.

Matt Stoller :: Step One in The Bush Dog Campaign: Creating a Public Record
And so, you may have noticed a lot of chatter about 'Bush Dog' Democrats over the past few days.  That's not an accident.  We've been working to identify the group of conservative Democrats in the House who are holding back progressives from being able to effectively govern.  These are concentrated in two main caucuses, the Blue Dog Caucus and the New Democrat caucuses.  Blue Dogs consider themselves heirs to the Southern conservative wing of the party, and tend to vote for socially restrictive policies and a hawkish foreign policy.  The New Democrats tend to be more partisan, but often are key to passing important pieces of right-wing legislation, such as the Bankruptcy Bill. In the last few years, these two caucuses have expanded their numbers, and the Blue Dogs have become the swing vote in the House allowing for effective conservative control of the Congress.  We want to put a stop to the embrace of conservative values among House Democrats, and make sure that when Democrats are elected, they act like Democrats.

So who specifically are these people?  As Chris Bowers noted, the two biggest defeats for House Democrats so far in 2007 have been the capitulation vote on Iraq, and the vote to allow Alberto Gonzales warrant-less wiretapping powers. We're calling the Democrats who capitulated on both bills 'Bush Dogs', as these are the most likely to capitulate on important fights in the future. 

The first step in stopping this behavior is to identify the people engaging in it and offer up criticism.  There are a few reasons for this.  One, many of these members feel no pressure to vote correctly or uphold progressive values.  Criticism is the signal they are relying on to let them know when they err.  Two, some of these members may need to face a primary challenge, and it's useful for potential primary challengers to know that there is criticism of these members.  Three, other members considering joining the Bush Dog caucus may be dissuaded if they know there will be criticism.  Four, candidates running for office will finally have a signal on how they should talk about being good Democrats that are willing to take tough votes.

So here's my ask.  Would you profile one of these Bush Dogs?  What we need is a brief profile of the member, their voting record, their personality, and the district and its politics.  Is there a primary challenge?  Is the member well-suited for his or her district?  Did the member do something to mitigate this criticism?  Remember, this is not an attack, it's a profile so we can get to know these people and eventually persuade them to do the right thing.  It doesn't have to be comprehensive or long, just enough to get a sense of who this person is and how they do their politics.

An example of a profile is this one on Congressman Brian Higgins of New York's 27th district (who is not quite a Bush Dog, but comes close).  My method of researching and writing a blog post on a member is as follows, and relies on our friend Mr. Google.  First, I looked for mentions of Higgins on local blogs via technorati.com and the Albany Project/Rochester Turning.  Second, I looked at the district by checking the party registration numbers, which I got from the Secretary of State's web site.  Some states don't have this kind of data, but if you can find out the margin between Kerry and Bush in 2004 or Gore and Bush in 2000, that gives you some sense of what the district is like.  Third, I looked at some high profile votes - the authorization for the use of force in Iraq, the Bankruptcy Bill, the blank check bill to fund the war, the FISA vote, etc.  I use Progressive Punch to quickly identify where Higgins broke with progressives, and then drilled down into the votes to see when they are significant.  Fourth, I read about ten articles on Google news and got a sense for when he's in the local papers.  I also made a few calls to contacts, but those didn't turn out to be helpful.

All in all, it took about two or three hours to research and write the post.  It might take a little longer if you're not used to doing this type of research, but when you're done you do have a sense for who this person is.  It's also fascinating that the conversation in the comments led to a good sense of how Higgins is received in the district.

A list of core Bush Dogs is as follows, though as I'll explain in a bit, I'm sure we'll be expanding the Bush Dog pool as the fall Congressional period begins.  Chris has a lot more stats on who these people are on his post here.

Jason Altmire, PA-04
John Barrow, GA-12
Melissa Bean, IL-18
Dan Boren, OK-02
Leonard Boswell, IA-03
Alan Boyd, FL-02
Chris Carney, PA-10
Ben Chandler, KY-06
Jim Cooper, TN-05
Jim Costa, CA-20
Bud Cramer, AL-05
Henry Cuellar, TX-28
Lamar Davis, TN-04
Joe Donnelly, IN-02
Chet Edwards, TX-17
Brad Ellsworth, IN-08
Bob Etheridge, NC-02
Bart Gordon, TN-06
Stephanie Herseth, SD-AL
Baron Hill, IN-09
Nick Lampson, TX-22
Dan Lipinski, IL-03
Jim Marshall, GA-08
Jim Matheson, UT-02
Mike McIntyre, NC-07
Charlie Melancon, LA-03
Colin Peterson, MN-07
Earl Pomeroy, ND-AL
Ciro Rodriguez, TX-23
Mike Ross, AR-04
John Salazar, CO-03
Heath Shuler, NC-11
Vic Snyder, AR-02
Zack Space, OH-18
John Tanner, TN-08
Gene Taylor, MS-04
Tim Walz, MN-01
Charlie Wilson, OH-06

So far, Tim Walz and Jim Costa have been profiled.  If you have a few hours and know one of these members, grab them and do a profile on your blog or on a diary here or elsewhere.  And put the link in the comments so I can update our list.  There's no limit on the number of profiles per member, this is about conversation and education, so the more views the better.  You can defend your member, if you think the criticism is unfair. 

When we're done doing these profiles, we can begin to track these members, engage in online advertising to let their constituents know their record, and/or help local activists in their districts.  This is going to be a completely open process, and as votes come up this fall, we won't hesitate to add new Bush Dogs or honorary Bush Dog titles based on political games played by leadership.  I've had conversations with sources in the House who think that this wasn't the fault of the Bush Dogs, even though they were the ones who voted for FISA.  So fine.  There's more than enough wankery to go around.

Already, there's a contempt vote in the House that I'm going to watch closely, and of course, there's the Petraeus PR ploy.  So grab a member from this list and profile him (all but two are men).  And I'm sure, based on the newfound aggressiveness we're seeing among liberal advocacy groups like the ACLU, that the work we do in profiling these members will be useful to other progressive groups as well.

This is going to be uncomfortable for many of us.  Criticizing the people we just elected, people who may even be nice to us personally, is never easy.  And shifting away from raw partisanship, which was necessary from 2002-2006, towards the idea that we need good Democrats and not Bush Dog Democrats, is going to take some slight adjustments.  We're going to be told that we are jeopardizing candidates in swing districts, that we are hurting the possibility of retaining the majority.  We're going to be told we're bad Democrats.

None of that is true, and it is loser talk.  There is no such thing as a Republican district, and Democrats only get stronger when we stand confidently for our values.  Criticism makes us better, not weaker, and demanding that our candidates stand for ideas and not just party labels will make the Democratic Party a more vibrant and effective vessel for change.  After all, at the same time as we push against Bush Dog Democrats we are also trying to elect Democrats all over the country.  I mean, beating Lieberman in the primary in 2006 was just the spark the party needed to focus on Iraq.  Perhaps this is the spark that progressives in the House and Senate need to get some ferocity of spirit.

In other words, this is a new project for many of us, but it's part of the continuum of what the netroots is all about.  Such is how movements get stronger.


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Blue Dogs (0.00 / 0)
Are you sure you're not going a bit off base in your description of the Blue Dogs?  While they do tend to overlap heavily with Southern members who tend to take a conservative position overall, they are trying to present themselves as the caucus for fiscally responsible Democrats who care about issues like the budget deficit and entitlements.  I like this better when the focus is on "Bush Dogs" and not on the groups that they may overlap with.

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