Some of us look for the letter D next to the names of candidates when we vote. We vote for those candidates because we think we know what that D means. I know it means the candidate is a Democrat. And I was confident that I knew what a Democrat stands for. But it recently dawned on me that I’ve been misled. In some cases the letter D could just as well be an R.
There are Democrats in Congress – like those in the “Blue Dog Coalition” – who could easily have found a home in the Republican Party. Building around a core of representatives from the South, the Blue Dogs now include conservatives and “moderates” from many regions. (Southerners used to suggest that a Democratic Party loyalist would vote for a yellow dog if it were listed as a Democrat on the ballot, and they complained that the “liberal” leaders of their party were choking them till they were blue in the face. Hence the group’s name.)
Blue Dogs say they are “fiscal conservatives.” I am not sure what that means. It could be one of those empty tags that sound oh-so-responsible, it could be a euphemism for ignorance of basic economic realty, or it could be a code word for some kind of prejudice. I suspect that it might mean: Don’t take white folks’ money and give it to them po’ black folks.
They also believe in “the national security of the United States.” In other words: We Americans ain’t gonna take nuthin’ from them foreigners. We got The Bomb, buddy, an’ don’t you forgit it!
Why am I so skeptical about the Blue Dogs? For one thing, they are descendants of a 1950s Southern Democratic group known as the Boll Weevils, who played a critical role in the early 1980s by supporting President Reagan’s tax cut plan. Southern Democrats? Remember them? Strom Thurman? The Dixiecrats? George Wallace standing on the schoolhouse steps?
Wikipedia assures me that “many of the (Blue Dogs) hold liberal views on social issues such as abortion, stem cell research and gay rights.” And even in their Boll Weevil days, the coalition supported Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Harry Truman’s Fair Deal. But they were adamant opponents of desegregation.
On their web site, the Blue Dogs claim that they “are often involved in finding a compromise between liberal and conservative positions,” and “generally work to promote positions within the House of Representatives that bridge the gap between Democratic Party and Republican Party extremes.”
There are 59 Blue Dogs in the House, and the Senate has a version of the Blue Dogs (called the New Democratic Coalition) with 15 members. Blue Dogs are an important swing vote on spending bills and have gained a disproportional amount of influence in Congress. One other salient point: Blue Dogs reportedly receive the lion’s share of corporate contributions to Democratic politicians. (The Blue Dog PAC gets 85 per cent of its money from corporations, including Wal-Mart, Verizon, AT&T, Charter, Comcast, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Raytheon and Boeing.)
What does all this mean? I think it means that we can forget about that “revolution” some liberals imagined had occurred with the election of Barack Obama as President and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Obama’s election is a historic event of gigantic importance – no doubt about that. But it could be largely symbolic. A president can only do so much. It takes all three branches of government to effect and maintain meaningful change.
Now, when you see Obama tiptoeing along the center line, or even the right-of-center line, you should understand what is happening. Veering even slightly to the left would be like General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn – doomed to defeat. As long as the Deep South (and religious enclaves like Utah) remain in the Union, America’s government will tend to be “conservative.” And Obama is smart enough to realize that if he hopes to achieve anything progressive, he must tread very carefully.