When the Chips are Down, Democrats Defend Blue Dogs

On Saturday, the New York Times had an article about the upcoming House elections – complete with a map about which races the two parties have targeted with independent expenditures. What it showed is that the Democrats more likely to get national help are the right-wing Blue Dogs responsible for why the Obama Administration has failed to make progress, many of whom are throwing their Party under a bus and practically running as Republicans.

While the Blue Dogs may represent swing districts that could flip red, many vulnerable House Democrats who also represent swing districts have stood up for progressive values and been “team players” for the White House – and yet are lower priorities for November. If the Democratic Party wants their donors to stay engaged for the final month, they should be helping those who are not part of the problem. Coddling the Blue Dogs reeks of pandering, and emboldens an abusive relationship where – at worst – they win with a right-wing mandate.

Meet Bobby Bright – a freshman House Democrat from Alabama, who won in 2008 because of a high African-American turnout. National Journal rated him the “most conservative” Democrat in the House – after he voted against the federal stimulus and the health care bill. Now, Bright is in the fight for his life in a tough conservative district – so what does he do? Run an ad with himself alongside House Minority Leader John Boehner, bragging that he votes with Boehner 80% of the time. As Rachel Maddow said on her show last week, Bright’s message is: “elect me, I’m basically a Republican.”

Democrats failed to get health care reform with a strong public option, pass the Employee Free Choice Act, enact immigration reform and pass climate change legislation – because Blue Dog Democrats like Bobby Bright colluded with Republicans. Now, as Fox News gloats that Democrats are in danger of losing the House in November, Bright is actively beating up on his own party – with tacit support from the Democratic Party leadership.

Alabama is a conservative state, but how many voters in Bright’s district know who John Boehner is? By pandering to Republicans, Bright is only empowering right-wing forces who are to blame for why black voters who elected him in 2008 aren’t motivated to come out in 2010. In the “best” circumstances, Democrats keep the House because people like Bright were re-elected – but it will be a useless victory because Bright will have learned a perverse “lesson”: that what he needs to do is to keep obstructing progressive legislation.

Bright is not the only vulnerable House Democrat, but he’s one of only a handful who – according to the New York Times graphic – is getting outside support from the Party. If Democrats are serious about keeping a majority so they can enact progressive legislation, it is far more valuable to defend incumbents who have been “team players.”

Take the two New Hampshire districts. Carol Shea-Porter, first elected in 2006, is one of the most progressive House members – despite representing a “swing district” where the Beltway establishment advises you to run as a “moderate.” She’s in a tough fight, but – according to the New York Times graphic – her race is not one of those getting outside help. Same goes with Ann Kuster, who is running to defend an open seat vacated by Democrat Paul Hodes. Defending these two seats is not only crucial for Democrats to keep their majority, but they would be keeping progressives who will vote with the Party.

It gets even more blatant when you go to Florida, where two House Democrats – Allen Boyd and Alan Grayson – are in trouble. Boyd is a Blue Dog from the Panhandle who voted for the Iraq War, opposed the stimulus and who only barely survived a primary challenge from the left this year. Grayson, on the other hand, is a proud progressive and a “darling” of the netroots – who is never afraid to speak his mind and push the envelope.
Guess which seat is being targeted with independent expenditures?

Granted, this is not to say that progressive House Democrats in “swing districts” are not getting any help from the Party – because in many circumstances, they are. But what the New York Times graphic illustrated was which “vulnerable” seats are viewed as a higher priority – and will thus get a higher infusion of cash to defend their majority.

What good is defending a Democrat, who will simply give bi-partisan “cover” to right-wing forces of obstruction who want Obama to fail. Rather than allow vulnerable House incumbents “do what they gotta do” to get re-elected in a tough climate, shouldn’t the Party give a higher reward to Democrats who need help after having been team players?

I don’t mean just shower the Progressive Caucus with resources – even a few moderate Democrats are getting less than odious conservatives like Bobby Bright. Take Betsey Markey, for example. The Colorado Democrat represents a tough district, but still voted for the health care bill – which Nate Silver dubbed the “gutsiest vote in Congress.” She’s in a tough fight, which she could lose without more help. But again, the New York Times graphic showed she’s not a high priority.

When Rahm Emanuel ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, his singular focus on getting a House majority focused on recruiting very anti-progressive Blue Dogs who would run against their own Party to win tough districts. As a result, the new majority was saddled with House “Democrats” who just wanted to be Republicans. This slowed down the progressive agenda in Washington, causing the mess we are in.

paul hogarth

But ironically, Democrats did not win back Congress because Rahm recruited more Blue Dogs. As I wrote in 2006, only about five of the 30 House seats that Democrats gained that year could be from “conservatives” – the rest were progressive Democrats like Carol Shea-Porter and John Hall, real team players who took the risk of standing up for liberal values in swing districts. And those – not Bobby Bright – are the ones who deserve to be helped today.

Paul Hogarth

Republished with permission from BeyondChron.

Published by the LA Progressive on October 8, 2010
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About Paul Hogarth

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron -- an alternative online daily based in San Francisco providing news coverage ignored or distorted by the San Francisco Chronicle. He is a tenants' rights attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, an active member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and was an elected official on the Berkeley Rent Board from 2000-2004. He lives in San Francisco.