What does it mean to be a conservative Democratic, or a moderate or a “Blue Dog” Democrat in this day and age of politics, especially given all the attention they have been receiving lately in the press during negotiations over the health care legislation? Now that they’ve got their “deal” with the House Democratic leadership, it’s interesting to wonder if all the action when it comes to politics and governance from a right point of view will be within the Democratic Party. And that’s not just due to the fact Republican are smaller in number. Very few in Congress have any proposals concerning health care worth discussion or debate and they seem quite proud of their neanderthalism.
But what is the conservatism of the “Blue Dogs”? Is it being tighwad with the public’s money? A few are like that to their credit like North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad for example and Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind fought the good fight against the agriculture subsidy system in the last Farm Bill. But a good many aren’t. Rep. Colin Peterson of Minnesota has never met a farm subsidy he didn’t like and there are others like him looking out for agribusiness interests. Many have voted time and again for the war and any other products of the military-industrial complex build within their districts. Oh, and they’ll make darn sure the pork flows back to their districts. They may not be for a public option for national health care but they sure don’t mind public’s money flowing back to their districts.
Once upon a time one could call a right-wing Democrat like George Wallace populistic but that’s really not true now looking at who funds the campaigns of the current crop whether its Big Ag or Big Pharma or the M-I-C. It may just be all about social concerns like support for the 2nd Amendment (which keeps gun control safely locked away) or opposition to abortion.
Or could place explain what they’re all about? I don’t think you’ll find too many “Blue Dogs” representing districts in New York City or Los Angeles. These are right wingers whose views are shaped by the fact they represent districts and states in Midwest, the South and the Mountain West. As all politicians do, they wish to get re-elected or get elected to bigger and better offices (literally and figuratively). Thus they try to represent what is bequeathed to them. They will defend the government that works for their districts (like the TVA for example, or the local military base) and be skeptical of everyone elses’ government (You know, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable). They try to stay within the cultural norms of their districts and states. It strikes one as a politics of defense than anything else, trying to prove you’re not a “national” Democrat. It reminds one of what the Minnesota state Republicans used to call themselves after Watergate “Independent Republicans”, you know, not like the bad “National Republicans”.
It wasn’t easy being a Democrat of any kind in such places from the decade of 1995-2005. Indeed in many parts of rural America party organization had pretty much collapsed. Republican incompetence no doubt revived the party’s fortunes along with better organization thanks to Howard Dean’s 50-State Strategy. One can at least say Blue Dogs are rightists that take a hostile or view government with contempt compared to Republicans, suggesting their allegiance to their Tory roots. But it also could be said that Republicans, especially those that represented rural districts or one’s dominated by the M-I-C, could not manage the contradiction of supposedly being the party against “big government” and yet continually leaving bigger government behind every time their time in power comes to an end. Polls have shown a constituency out there for “big-government conservatives” and one can find many of them in the places Blue Dogs represent. The problem is, the GOP could never figure out how to square their supposed principles with the reality of what they represented and what they needed to do to win elections.
The end result of course is Democratic dominance in Washington. However you’ll find little cheering on the left (read the Washington Monthly on a daily basis and you’ll know why.) Like a Twilight Zone episode, the past three years anticipating this moment when building these new majorities could be used to install a national health care system probably feels pretty empty when its an obscure House member from Arkansas and not Ted Kennedy shaping the health care proposals.
Alas, they should be so lucky. According to the Gallup poll, leftists only make-up 38 percent of the party’s voters. While they may dominate the rank of the party, they certainly don’t control the file and so long as this is the situation, the Blue Dogs will be in the driver’s seat as far as legislation goes. While this prevents the Obama Administration from turning into Thermidor, this is again, more Tory rightism than “movement” rightism. One will not find a lot of Freedom Movement or Tea Party persons within the Democratic Party, Bob Conley notwithstanding. A more authentic conservatism (the Jefferson-Jackson-Cleveland style) probably won’t gain more than a niche hold within the party (at least some representation would be nice). Other political vehicles will have to be used to represent more traditional conservatism but first the keys have to be removed from the current drivers.