As I look back on the past year, I'm not sure if America progressives aren't better served by having a Democratic minority in Congress. And not the 41-59 minority they have now.
I always say that generalized griping about "the Democrats" is a waste of time. It seems to me that there are around 10 Democratic senators and maybe 50 members of the House who are far to the right of "moderate" by any stretch of the imagination. They are conservatives, and they've obstructed their own party's moderately progressive proposals -- the very same proposals they ran and won on -- at every turn, right from the beginning.
Let me be clear before continuing: there's buckets of blame to go around, and it would be oversimplifying to suggest that it's all on the conservadems. But I think they deserve the most responsibility for the Democrats' inability to pass the key pieces of "change" they promised.
The Nelson Twins, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Kent Conrad, Claire McCaskill, Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln in the Senate, and all but 4 or 5 of the Blue Dogs in the House have been horror shows, and the entire party has had to appease them by watering down its proposals at every turn, demoralizing the Democratic base in the process and leading of course to Scott Brown and the possible -- perhaps probable -- end of the road for health-care reform.
Max Baucus dragged out the process for months in his committee while entertaining all kinds of Republican amendments and flirting with pathetic futility with Olympia Snowe's vote. Reps like Joe Baca and Jim Marshall held pressers to spew forth Fox News-worthy talking points against "socialized medicine." Joe Lieberman not only went on Fox news to oppose anything even vaguely progressive, he also repeatedly, almost comically pulled the ball out from under Harry Reid's foot every time Reid thought he was going to finally kick that field-goal.
And they are wholly responsible for the Dems' almost unbelievable inability to overn with huge majorities in both chambers of Congress -- they are why real Democrats (actual moderates included) remain in the minority. Do the math -- 59 minus 10 equals 49, a Senate minority.
And there are a handful of Dems who are simply not good legislators. Harry Reid was way too accommodating to Baucus' dithering and has shown a distinct aversion to calling out members of his own caucus in any visible way. He needs to go.
Now here's the thing: that's around 60-70 Democrats out of
290 315 or so. I'm not saying that the rest are good progressives -- they number maybe another 70-80. But the remainder are more or less moderate -- they're centrists, or maybe they skew a bit right or a bit left. Now, I have no idea how those good progressives and those moderates would govern if they weren't trying to keep these conservative, corporate-friendly faux Dems in the fold -- again: all the time, from the very beginning, on significant issue after significant issue. And neither do you -- we just can't know.
(I want to drive this point home: this isn't a call for liberal litmus tests for Dems or the creation of a small, ideologically pure party. The most progressive of the Democratic proposals we've seen so far -- the ones conservative Dems never supported -- were the epitome of center-left legislation. If you oppose moderate bills from the right, and you parrot the far-right in doing so, then you're a conservative, not a "moderate." True moderates should of course remain welcome in the party.)
The conservadems' influence leads me to consider that perhaps a "movement progressive," if you will, might not be better off over the long haul if Democrats were to return to the minority. And we all know the very reasonable and customary response to that: these are Democrats who are as conservative as their districts and states require, if they weren't holding those seats they'd be in GOP hands, and any way you slice it Republicans are still the more regressive party.
OK, I respect the argument -- I'm not making a case that there's not a dime's worth of difference. But consider this: those 60-70 right-wing Dems craft the messages for their own races, but they don't drive the Dems' national discussion. So Democrats are actually pretty good at articulating a relatively progressive vision of change.
But when they get in power ...the "money party" still wins.
Again, it'd be wrong to blame it all on 60-70 conservatives in the party. Barney Frank's been no populist champion taking on the big banks, for just one example. But the best features of the earlier House health-care bill were stripped out -- and poison pills like Stupack were inserted in -- by conservadems; the best benefits were delayed for years to keep costs down for their votes; the whole party started with a stimulus package that was obviously not big enough for the task at hand in order to get conservative Dems on board, and the mortgage relief measures -- several of them -- provided no relief at all because Henry Cuellar and his crew made it clear from the get-go that they'd never support "cram-down" legislation. And on and on. Who was standing hip-to-hip with Right-wingers warning that Obama was endangering the country by letting Muslim terrorists with magical powers into our super-max prisons? Jane Harman, Joe Lieberman and the rest of the Blue Dogs, that's who.
I wouldn't argue that we'd be better off with Republican leadership over the short-term -- recent history suggests their brand of governance is far worse. But looking at the long haul, might it not be better to let conservatives own these crappy and unpopular policies while the Dems at least articulate a progressive alternative? And might it not be better if every American knew which party fully embraced these disastrous conservative policies, because only its members actually did? If true Democrats are in the minority anyway, might we not be better off if it were official?
Anyway, I guess I'll wrap this rant up by saying that nothing in this post should suggest that the Obama administration (and others) doesn't deserve a huge share of the blame for the current state of affairs. The White House has been criminally negligent in not threatening to break some bones; they've used the bully-pulpit poorly, they deluded themselves into thinking they could get a bipartisan deal and on and on.
Or, put another way, I'm definitely not saying that the Democratic leadership has any excuse for being unable to get major things done with "only" 59 seats in the Senate, or even with 49 Democrats and 10 conservadems -- make no mistake, I believe they could get something done if they choose to play a little hardball rather than retreat into their own navels, as most I imagine most people expect them to do.