As I have said repeatedly since the 2010 election, losing so many Blue Dogs was not a net positive for anyone, especially progressives. Sure, a few of them voted against the public option for the ACA, and some voted against the final version of the bill. But it passed, and we got the beginnings of a national health insurance system. All but a handful voted for the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal and the hate crimes legislation. In fact, only one Blue Dog defeated in 2010 voted with Democrats less than 80 percent of the time, and that one did so just under 70 percent of the time. Most of them tended to vote “fiscally conservative,” but they also voted “socially moderate.” Some even voted socially liberal.
Not only that, but Blue Dogs also gave us Speaker Nancy Pelosi and committee chairs that were almost all progressives, like Barney Frank, Henry Waxman and John Conyers. Even if you could deride them for each vote on individual bills (which is silly), overall the benefit of having them in Congress is greater than the benefit gained by replacing them. After four years of having Republicans in charge of the House, that should be obvious. if you think it was bad to get an ACA without a public option, why would you help elect a Congress that is guaranteed not to fix the ACA? With a few dozen Blue Dogs, it would have been possible to tweak the health care plan into something a little better. With Tea Party adherents replacing the Blue Dogs, instead we’ve had more than 50 votes to repeal the ACA altogether. Yes, I know; those bills were never going to pass into law, but they’re still a waste of time. It wasn’t a waste of time to pass health insurance reform without a public option, but the Tea Party has wasted our time ever since. And it’s precisely because so many progressives targeted Blue Dog Democrats for not being perfect.
I’ve noted many times on this blog; there is a relatively small number of self-described “progressives” out there who don’t seem to get that we live in a democracy. They have a lot of heart and many have the best of intentions, and on most real issues, I agree with them. The problem with these people is, they don’t seem to have a grasp on actual political reality. They don’t listen to anyone but the voices in their heads and those who agree with them exactly. They poison the well, although they don’t realize it. But worse, when someone suggests they’re poisoning said well, they seem proud of it.
I have taken to calling them PUBs. PUB stands for the “Progressive Unicorn Brigade.” (A great explanation is available if you buy my new book, which can be found here) Others call them “emo,” but I find that term too derogatory, and also overused. The PUB term only refers to those progressives who imagine waking up one morning, and finding the entire Democratic Party populated with idealistic young progressives. Without having to do any work to get it, no less. After 34 years of having neocons dominate politics, that’s just not real world thinking.
The PUBs like to talk about “principle” a lot, but they really don’t live it. Having the “correct” position on issues is not an example of “principle.” Principle is about doing whatever is necessary to get however much of what you want as you can. Let’s go back to Obamacare as an example. The bill was passed more than four years ago, and people are still whining about he lack of a public option. Some of them continue to lament the fact that the bill wasn’t single-payer. In fact, just in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a number of people speculating that progressives should advocate for “Medicare for all.”
Okay, fine. Expanding Medicare availability to everyone is a great idea. But how do you plan to get there, especially if we keep re-electing Republicans, who think the ACA is too “radical”? The current Congress — the one that replaced all those horrible Blue Dogs with teabaggers, has voted more than 50 times to return the health insurance system to the former status quo? If you’re going to defeat Blue Dogs and take away the Democratic majority, how do you expect to transform the ACA into a “Medicare for all” system? Do you imagine Republicans recoiling in fear due to the might of the far left, because that has never happened, even when the GOP was moderately sane.
This is the problem with ideals. They cannot be a basis for political strategy. I’m an unabashed liberal on probably 95% of issues, yet these PUBs often claim I’m “unprincipled” and a “sell-out” because I am happy whenever we make progress on any issue, and I happen to think that any compromise that moves us in a progressive direction is a good thing. Because I don’t stand up and demand that every bill be perfect and every politician vote perfectly, for everything I want, I am told quite often that I’m “moderate,” not progressive. But really, how it is “progressive” that the government has been controlled by the current GOP for 30 of the last 34 years, but everything is blamed on Democrats?
If I could do everything I wanted, I would spend $3-4 trillion at infrastructure projects and alternative energy development, and I’d make the rich pay a 50% tax rate, with tax incentives only going for domestic job creation. Everyone, including gays and immigrants, would have the same basic rights. The drug war would be over, because I would legalize, regulate and tax most “common” drugs. I would also force divestiture of media, bank and financial services. In fact, about the only issues on which I split from liberals is on NAFTA. NAFTA is that it was written badly, and it should be improved, but if it was adjusted properly, it could bring tons of jobs to Mexico, the United States and Canada all at the same time. Right now, Mexico’s economy is improving, but they’re importing goods from Asia, not here.
We live in a democracy, however, so we don’t get to do anything without recruiting many others to help us get there. Discussing a progressive utopia without actually doing everything possible to get things done isn’t doing anyone any good at all. You have to dance with the ones who brung ya, as the old saying goes, and like them or not, Blue Dogs helped get us where we once were. This country’s been moving backwards for 34 years; at what point do PUBs sit back and ask, what do we have to do to get things moving forward again?
We progressives should own the debate. What we stand for is best for the country, and makes good common sense. But our quest for perfection is killing us. Nothing is ever perfect to start with. You can’t name a progressive program has ever been perfect on the first try. Social Security was created in 1934 and for its first ten years, it was considered racist, and it has often needed some serious tweaking. Medicare passed in 1965, and still needs constant tweaking. Put simply, getting a good bill and good programs takes a lot more than wanting them. You have to have your eyes wide open and you have to be aware of the possibilities.
Let’s be clear; moderates make up most of the electorate, and they decide elections. Whether or not you get to pass your agenda in this democracy is dependent on how well you are able to appeal to them. Moderates aren’t voting for Republicans in droves, they’re staying home, because there is only one message available, and it sucks. In 2010, Republicans shouted “Democrats suck!” and PUBs shouted “Democrats suck!” right along with them. Why would they vote? Who should they vote for? They already hate the current GOP; if Democrats suck, too, why would they show up at all?
Our goal must be to create a country with progressive ideals, and we simply cannot do that without a lot of compromise with moderates. Moderates swing elections; the left and right wings simply provide ballast. We have to get smarter. Here are a few things to think about:
- It is NOT a good thing that a bunch of Blue Dogs lost in 2010, and it will be a disaster if more lose this time. They are from conservative-leaning districts, and they are more likely to be replaced by right wingers than progressives.
- Voters are not stupid because they voted against their own interests. In fact, no one ever votes against their own interests. Because you don’t understand their “interests” doesn’t make them stupid, but it may make you seem tone deaf, politically.
- If you want voters to hear a different message then offer one. If your only message is, “Democrats suck,” or even, “Republicans suck,” you’re really no helping. People want to vote FOR something.
- Screw “history.” No one can predict the 2014 election based on what’s happened in other elections. Declaring that “Democrats are going to lose seats in 2014” doesn’t make you seem smart, it makes you look defeatist, and the negativity turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Making people think their votes won’t count creates more non-voters, and low turnout is the real reason we keep losing. The only way to create a progressive country is by turning “history” on its ear. We have to MAKE history, not become its bitch.
- We cannot win by being like Republicans. To those “progressives” who say “Democrats should fight back,” please sit down and shut up. The far right thrives on negativity, and moderates hate it, so it’s a win-win for Republicans. The GOP relies on overall disgust and frustration to maintain power, so when we engage them, we actually play to their strengths. When President Obama promises support and cooperation, he’s playing the game the way it should be played. That’s what most voters want. Let the Republicans play to their angry right wing base; the more we refuse to engage them, and instead push an alternative, positive message, the better we will do.
- PUBs are NOT part of the Democratic base, so they should stop referring to themselves as such. If you’re registered “independent” and you have voted for any “third party” candidate in the last 30 years or so, especially Ralph Nader in 2000, you’ve forfeited your “Democratic base” membership. To be a part of any base, the party has to be able to rely upon you for a vote.
- If you want to move the Democratic Party left, then join it. Political parties are the ultimate in democracy; they reflect the views of the people inside. I always marvel at self-described “progressives” who seem to be waiting for the Democratic Party to entice them to join. That’s not how it works. If you have 100 people in a local party caucus, and they are 60-40 in favor of Blue Dogs, the way to move the caucus left is to recruit 30 progressives and vote for them. Strange how democracy works, isn’t it?
- We have to start winning elections, and the only way to do that is to work with the Democratic Party. We did amazing things the last time we did that. Working with Democrats got us the New Deal, Civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, and a lot of improvements for workers, consumers and the environment. Now, as many progressives work against the Democrats, we have moved backward.
It’s time for progressive politics to enter a new era. We can’t afford another 2010, ever. Start working with Democrats; they’re the best we can hope for right now. And your demands for perfection are actually moving us away from perfection, not closer to it.
Think differently. We need that.