I know many progressives who are absolutely committed to electing 5-6 hardcore progressives in every election, and that’s a good thing. I have no problem with that at all becaise we need as many progressives as possible in government. Progressives are like the nation’s conscience, so having more of them is always better. But what you have to understand is that getting a few elected every year is only a small part of the process.
For the progressives in Congress to be effective at all, they have to be part of a majority. Of course, we all know life would be better if progressives became the majority, but that will take a lot of time and a lot of work, and we don’t have the time right now, especially after the progressive-led debacles in 2010 and 2014, in which the petulant and completely pointless targeting of “Blue Dogs” cost Democrats the Congress. Seriously, folks, isn’t 36 years of neocons enough? At what point do PUBs and professional lefties figure out that progressives in Congress have no power without being attached to a majority?
The House Progressive Caucus was instituted in 1993. At the time, it had 71 members. Twenty years later, there are 67 voting members (Eleanor Holmes Norton can’t vote). Obviously, we’re not doing enough to push the progressive cause, which is how we get closer to 218 seats in the House. I know it’s hard, but until you make liberal policy positions mainstream, that is never going to happen. I know, many of you think, if you scream loudly enough, eventually someone will listen and do what you say, but after almost a half-century of that, you might want to reconsider that strategy since it’s obviously not working. In the meantime, we have to do the next best thing, which is to get a majority of Democrats in the House and the Senate, so that they can have a greater influence on lawmaking than they have currently.
That’s right; if you want people like Elizabeth Warren, Donna Edwards, Bernie Sanders, John Lewis, Keith Ellison and Alan Grayson (and Russ Feingold may be returning, as well) to have any power and influence, you need to make sure there are enough Democrats in the House to give them sufficient influence. At the very least, you need 218, but more would be even better. Right now, whether you like it or not, Democrats need “centrists” and Blue Dogs for a large enough majority to give the progressives in Congress the power to have input into the system and the power to make policy. That’s how you get a Speaker Pelosi instead of a Speaker Ryan. That’s how you get the responsible Nita Lowey as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, instead of the slovenly Hal Rogers. That’s how you get a Judiciary Committee headed by the wonderful John Conyers, instead of Robert Goodlatte. It’s how you get Budget, Energy and Commerce and Financial Services Committees headed by Chris Van Hollen, Frank Pallone and Maxine Waters instead of the trio of Tom Price, Fred Upton and Jeb Hensaring. And isn’t it more progressive to have Elijah Cummings in charge of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform instead of the irresponsible Jason Chaffetz? Well, you would have all of that if Democrats had a majority in the House. Unfortunately for some of you, that is simply not possible unless we elect moderates and Blue Dogs at this moment in time. Without them, Democrats can’t have a majority, and progressives are powerless.
If you think you’re more progressive because you only support progressives in Congress, but you’re not interested in electing their support system, you don’t get how politics works. The only way progressives in Congress can have any power at all is if they are part of a majority. There is a world of difference between being the minority of a minority, as progressives are now, and being a minority of a majority. If you doubt that, compare the influence of the 67 members of the Progressive Caucus with the 41 members of the Freedom Caucus (Formerly the Tea Party Caucus) in the House.
In 2010, we had a chance to create a Democratic supermajority in Congress that would have given progressives a lot of power. In the 111th Congress, the Democratic House passed 375 bills that were subsequently blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Democrats couldn’t stop the blocks because they didn’t have 60 votes, and Republicans voted as a bloc every time. As you can see, we were within a couple of votes of complete success. Instead, a significant number of progressives decided Blue Dogs were the problem, even though there was no actual evidence of that. Blue Dogs voted with Democrats more than 80% of the time (many were above 90%), even though many represented Republican districts and many had won by less than one percent of the vote. No Blue Dog ever cast a deciding vote against a Democratic bill, nor did any of them cast a deciding vote against cloture in the Senate. It’s puzzling why PUBs and the professional left took on Blue Dogs. The problem is, most voters don’t know what a Blue Dog is, so they didn’t hear “Blue Dogs suck;” they heard “Democrats suck.” That drove voter turnout down below typical recent mid-term election numbers, just two years after the highest presidential year turnout in 40 years. And if that wasn’t enough, they repeated that feat in 2014.
All we needed in 2010 was 2-3 more Senate seats and most of those 375 bills would have become law. In fact, if we were really that worried about Blue Dogs, we could have added 15-20 more moderate Democrats to drown them out a little more.
Another thing that would help would be if all progressives would rejoin the Democratic Party. I don’t get why some progressives think that fighting with Democrats is more important than fighting the GOP. There are really two reasons the Democratic Party has moved to the right, politically. The first reason, of course, is that the GOP has become the party of crazy, and a lot of reasonable, moderate Republicans don’t feel at home anymore, so they became Democrats. The other reason is because so many progressives left the Democratic Party. Since political parties are the ultimate democratic bodies; when liberals leave the party it’s naturally going to move right. This isn’t rocket science.
This year, we have a unique opportunity. The Republican Party has gone off the deep end and nominated Donald Trump as its presidential candidate. Trump is enormously unpopular inside the GOP, so turnout should be much lower than usual. that gives us a remarkable chance to get progressive things done, but only if we work for the largest Democratic majority possible, at least for now. It’s a fact that progressives don’t have a majority of voters and probably never will. That means we have to align with moderates and centrists to make as much progress as we can. That’s not “selling out.” That’s survival.
Do that for the next 5-6 election cycles and THEN you can start picking off the worst Democrats. But not right now; things are too precarious.