Is More But Not Better Worse?

2 comments May 19th, 2008at 07:22am Posted by Eli

Carl Hulse points out an intriguing (and frustrating) Dem dilemma:

While much of the Congressional political focus has been on the declining fortunes and numbers of House Republicans, House Democrats have their own problem: They are winning too many elections.

By prevailing in conservative districts where they ordinarily would not have a chance, Democrats are widening the ideological divide in their own ranks and complicating their ability to find internal consensus. It is a nice problem to have, but it is one that can bedevil party leaders. As their numbers expand, they have to juggle the competing interests of Travis Childers, the newly elected pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-tax representative from northern Mississippi and someone like, say, Nancy Pelosi, a pro-gun control, liberal abortion-rights advocate from San Francisco who sees government as a solution.


[T]he strain of balancing the political imperatives of a right-of-center to pretty far left-of-center caucus has already strained the Democratic majority in the House. In the most recent example, the party’s intricate scheme for passing a war spending bill collapsed Thursday when most Republicans sat out the war money vote and most Democrats, who oppose spending more money on combat in Iraq, voted against it.

That left the Democratic majority without the votes to pass a spending bill that, in the leadership’s calculation, is essential to protecting the party’s image on national security as well as members from conservative districts who cannot afford to be seen as failing to support troops in the field. Most of those lawmakers, including many freshmen, backed the war funds.


Democrats elected themselves into this situation. In picking up 30 seats in 2006, Democrats walked away with some in Republican territory, with the result that many of the newcomers are representing districts where the voters are not completely in sync with the Democratic agenda.

As Howie Klein points out, this is not an entirely accurate representation of the Congressional dynamic:

The Democratic freshmen– of all ideological stripes– voted in greater proportions against the war than the Democratic caucus as a whole did.

However, there are a whole bunch of reliably unreliable freshmen Democrats, including the two special election winners now in office, who voted in favor of the war funding, and who will probably vote with the Republicans most of the time.

In addition to being a tactical problem – how to hold the Democratic caucus together and pass legislation when a giant chunk of it votes with the Republicans – this is also an optical problem.  The more Democrats there are in Congress, the more results Americans will expect to see.  If progressive initiatives are consistently sabotaged by the Blue Dog caucus, and Republican business as usual continues, voter frustration with the Democrats will increase and support for the Democrats will collapse.

Indeed, I believe that Democratic gains in this November’s elections will be far more due to disgust with Republicans and failed Bush policies than any kind of esteem for the Democrats.  If the Bush Dogs are able to hold the party hostage, the Naderite meme that there’s no difference between the parties will take hold once again, and 2010 and 2012 will be disasters.

I think the bottom line is that however many seats Democrats pick up, they need to have a core voting majority of progressives, or at least of non-Bush Dogs.  I’m not sure that that’s going to happen this cycle, or next.  But if we can run strong progressive challengers to some of the worse Bush Dogs, and/or the ones in safely Democratic seats, then maybe we can funnel some of that voter discontent to our advantage.

(h/t Stoller)

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Elections,Media,Politics,Republicans


  • 1. woody  |  May 19th, 2008 at 11:08 am

    The CorpoRats will have no trouble maintaining their practical ‘veto’ on any and all ‘progressive’ issues in the Senate. The Rat/Pukes need only 41 votes to stymie any policy initiatives which might threaten the CorpoRat hegemony/perqs. They’ll ALWAYS have those…

  • 2. Eli  |  May 19th, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    I’m just hoping that they won’t have the 60 votes to pass whatever they want…

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