Monday, October 25, 2010

Shrinking the Democrats' tent

Ari Berman, a writer for The Nation and author of Herding Donkeys' The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, has a column today in the NYT advocating that the Democrats need to shed all those troublesome Blue Dog Democrats whom the Party was so happy to bring into Congress in 2006 and 2008 in order to take the majority. He'd prefer a smaller, more determinedly liberal party than the big tent coalition that won the majority back in 2006.
Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It’s a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. “Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done,” he said. Since the passage of health care reform, few major bills have passed the Senate. Although the Democrats have a 59-vote majority, party leaders can barely find the votes for something as benign as extending unemployment benefits.

A smaller majority, minus the intraparty feuding, could benefit Democrats in two ways: first, it could enable them to devise cleaner pieces of legislation, without blatantly trading pork for votes as they did with the deals that helped sour the public on the health care bill. (As a corollary, the narrative of “Democratic infighting” would also diminish.)

Second, in the Senate, having a majority of 52 rather than 59 or 60 would force Democrats to confront the Republicans’ incessant misuse of the filibuster to require that any piece of legislation garner a minimum of 60 votes to become law. Since President Obama’s election, more than 420 bills have cleared the House but have sat dormant in the Senate. It’s easy to forget that George W. Bush passed his controversial 2003 tax cut legislation with only 50 votes, plus Vice President Dick Cheney’s. Eternal gridlock is not inevitable unless Democrats allow it to be.

Republicans have become obsessed with ideological purity, and as a consequence they will likely squander a few winnable races in places like Delaware. But Democrats aren’t ideological enough. Their conservative contingent has so blurred what it means to be a Democrat that the party itself can barely find its way. Polls show that, despite their best efforts to distance themselves from Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, a number of Blue Dog Democrats are likely to be defeated this November. Their conservative voting records have deflated Democratic activists but have done nothing to win Republican support.
After having passed their stimulus bill, assorted bailout, and the most monumental change in our nation's health care since perhaps the 1960s, he's complaining that they haven't gotten enough done. Does he think that ObamaCare would have passed without the help of those Blue Dogs? Sure some voted against it, but some fell in line.

Far be it for me to give advice to the Democratic Party, but I don't think their problem this year is that they haven't been liberal enough. While, it would be great for the Republicans to have the Democrats shed any pretense that they want to appeal to the moderate middle where the swing voters hang out, that is not the way to electoral victory in this country.

Many of those more conservative Democrats come from districts that lean Republican. That is why those Democrats are more vulnerable this year - they only got voted in when it was a year of a Democratic sweep. Those are often the incumbents who get swept out when the tide is no longer so blue. Just as some GOP candidates who may defeat long-term Democratic incumbents in overwhelmingly Democratic districts this year may get swept out once again in a future election year that is not so favorable to the GOP.

Hugh Hewitt has a different sort of advice for the Democrats. He's arguing that, if the wave is big enough, it might force the Democrats to look past their hard-left leaders and pick ones who are more in line with where the American people are.
The only way for Democrats of traditional Democratic policies and approaches to get their party back is for the same sort of shock to be delivered Democratic elites as Republican elites suffered in 2006 and 2008.

The defeat on Nov. 2 will have to be so large as to mock the president's "foreign money" narrative and to silence Pelosi's already wild ramblings.

It will have to be so large and so threatening that the Senate Democrats look past both Obama's agent Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the hard-left Schumer to a new face, voice and approach even as House Democrats push aside all the remnants of the gang that led them back into the political wilderness after four short years because they imposed San Francisco economics on an unwilling nation.
Yeah, as if the Senate Democrats would look past the guys who are in line to take over if Harry Reid gets defeated. And I can see liberal Democrats arguing that, if people are given a choice between a conservative-seeming Democrat and a real conservative, they'll pick the real conservative, a Republican, each time. Perhaps. But barring a return to the tidal politics that swept them into office in 2006 and 2008 they're not going to win control of anything if they go on a purity campaign to kick their moderates out of their tent. Just as Republicans get exasperated with our RINOs, it's still true that they can't have a governing majority without such people as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Look what happened when the Delaware Republicans voted their hearts in Delaware. They gave up a sure Republican victory for a candidate who has no chance of winning next week.

Fred Barnes celebrates the big tent that the Republicans have this year. He thinks that the GOP now looks more like the coalition that elected Reagan and both Bushes - strong in the South and Plains states with the ability to match the Democrats in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states. And they're not invisible on the West Coast or in the Northeast. Some of the Republicans elected this year may well face the same problems that the first-time Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 are facing this year once the GOP tide recedes. But we're a long way from the triumphalist cries a couple of years ago that the Republicans were now a party lost in the wilderness. There will be fights in the future and calls for the GOP to shrink their tent. That would be a mistake. You don't win national elections with a tiny pup tent.

If the Democrats want to shrink their tent and give up any chance of winning in districts such as western North Carolina, bless them, but that is not a path to victory for them.

UPDATE: Ouch. Jennifer Rubin has the ultimate comparison for Berman's recommendation.
This is the Newsweek theory of politics — we’ll have fewer supporters and be more successful!