Matt Bai has a piece in the New York Times today, titled “‘Blame the Blue Dogs’ Theory for Democratic Losses Doesn’t Add Up.” It’s just plain nuts. Actually, it’s worse than that. Bai primarily seems to be laundering the Conventional Wisdom that Blue Dogs and the Third Way want to take hold – namely, don’t pay attention to the fact that our preferred policies and tactics were enacted over the last two years when trying to figure out why we were decimated at the polls.
The reality is that the size and cohesion of the Blue Dog caucus made them a key voting bloc during the last two years. As a result, they had major input on the content of legislation passed by the House. Their threat to walk was always hanging over negotiations and often they ended up not voting for legislation that they’d worked hard to get modified to be satisfactory for them (See: the Stupak Amendment). But to suggest that the Blue Dogs didn’t have a major hand in the nature of legislation that the House passed is to be in pure denial of the facts. The problem the Blue Dogs faced is that their efforts prevented Congress from doing more to help people. The stimulus was smaller than necessary because Blue Dogs prevented the “political will” from existing, to use the phrase that was repeated to justify an insignificantly large stimulus. They shrunk jobs creating bills. They limited the scope and efficacy of healthcare reform. They pursued pork for themselves as bargaining chips. In short, Blue Dogs were critical agents in making sure what efforts the Congress made towards righting the economy and helping voters were too small to be effective.
Policy is not like porridge. The middle point between liberal ideas and conservative ones is not just right. As we saw, when Blue Dogs go their way, America’s porridge stayed too cold to be palatable.
I doubt many voters went into their voting booth last week and said, “Congress was insufficiently liberal, so I will vote my Blue Dog rep out of office.” But they likely did say, “Congress bailed out the Wall Street banks, didn’t create a job for me or my wife with the stimulus, and haven’t punished the people who caused the economic collapse. All of these were things my Blue Dog rep made happen – I’m going to vote him out.”
Clearly Matt Bai, the few remaining Blue Dogs, and the Third Way do not get that Democrats lost because the policies that were enacted were too timid to be effective. They failed to make peoples’ lives better. It’s not about liberal or conservative for voters – it’s about efficacy. But when we political operatives look at last week, we have to ask ourselves, “Why weren’t the laws of the 111th Congress enough to fix the economy, create jobs, and keep voters happy?” Any sober answer to that question would lead one to find the obstructionism by Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats which was removed by watering-down every major piece of economic legislation (at the behest of Blue Dogs). That is, not enough was done because of conservatives in Congress. Voters punished them for this. The lesson is clear to me, but obviously the conservatives who have a vested interest in convincing the rest of the party that their political malfeasance wasn’t the cause of electoral defeat will refuse to learn this lesson, while sending their lackeys like Matt Bai out to talk down to anyone contradicting them.