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In defense of Blue Dogs and RINO's

My friend Jill Lawrence has an interesting column in AOL’s “Politics Daily” about what she calls “the misfits” -- politicians who are in the wrong party and, she thinks, “really ought to switch.” With all respect to Jill, I think she’s got it exactly wrong. These misfits annoy their parties. Sometimes, they gum up the works. See Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, one of Jill’s egregious eight and the author of the anti-abortion amendment that is currently hijacking the health-care debate.

But a big tent is a more comfortable place than a tiny one. And letting the misfits inside the tent serves, for all its complications, as a moderating force on the parties themselves and on the larger political process. If you think that is a bad thing, then, by all means, expel the misfits and let everyone retreat to their ideological corners. I don’t think that’s going to produce better legislation or a more civil discourse. If politicians had a magic sorting hat, like the one in Harry Potter that divides students into the proper houses, the parties would be even more extreme than they are now. Which is saying something.

Jill suggests that the RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only) and conservadems stick it out in the wrong party because they enjoy the ensuing limelight. Switching parties, she writes, “would mean sacrificing their dissident status and the attention that goes with it.”

You can never go wrong overestimating the role of ego in politics -- they’re politicians, for goodness’ sake. But there is a rational ideological basis for staying put as well. Surely it is possible, or ought to be, for a politician to believe that the Republican party, recent performance notwithstanding, is a better bet for upholding the virtues of fiscal responsibility and limited government -- even while thinking that government has a bigger role to play than, say, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn believes. Or while backing stimulus spending in a time of economic emergency. Or while supporting a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion free of government interference.

One difficult test of who’s right here involves the role of the conservative House Democrats, Blue Dogs and others. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel helped elect them. Now he has to cope with the consequences of having a Democratic caucus with a cadre of members significantly to the right of their party but in the leftward precincts of their districts. If they vote like prototypical Democrats, they won’t be coming back.

Would the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) be better off with and have greater cooperation from Republicans from those districts who would have to be mindful about keeping moderates on board? Perhaps -- but they also might not have a majority, and certainly not as thumping a one as they currently (temporarily?) enjoy.

More important: A political system in which party members don’t hear -- or don’t have to listen to -- dissenting voices is not a healthy place. The art of the possible is better, in the end, when the colors are mixed than when they are kept pristinely separate.

By Ruth Marcus  | November 12, 2009; 11:36 AM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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Comments

Excellent column, and you raise a good point. We live in a representative democracy, and the vast majority of the country isn't rabidly partisan in one direction or the other. So the conservadems and the RINOs are probably more representative of the country as a whole (and certainly more representative of the people in their districts) than hyper-partisans. Both parties would be well-served to remember that, since wild swings to one extreme or the other are almost always met with a thumping at the ballot box.

Posted by: js_edit | November 12, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

The commenter above stole the words from my mouth! There are a lot more people in the middle, who have some "liberal" opinions and some "conservative" ones. The moderate politicians keep the rabid right and looney left from getting away with too much.

Posted by: martintomsal | November 12, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I prefer intra-party skirmishes in the Democratic Party to the lock-step conformity and group think that seems to characterize the GOP.

Only someone with the mentality of a child would insist that everyone in a political party toe the line on every single issue.

Posted by: EnemyOfTheState | November 12, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

The Democrat Party has been taken over by left-wing extremists who simply don't tolerate anyone stepping out of line.

MoveOn.org and DailyKos, two modern-day Brown Shirt groups have already targeted the three dozen Democrats who voted against the slopply health care bill coming out of the House last Saturday.

We can also see the same type of extreme left-ists in our MSM wolfpack press trying to purify the different news organizations.

Left wing groups aligned with the new left-wing Democrat Party forced Lou Dobbs out of CNN after 30 years.

The reality of the Democrat Party is that they are a very "small" tent party but if not for the massive propaganda that they get from our Free left-wing press everyone would know the truth.

As it is now most Americans are living a lie that our liberal MSM wolfpack press has established.............sad.

Posted by: allenridge | November 12, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Ruth is 'spot on'... again.

Moderates are the purest form of representative - and citizen.

Posted by: trident420 | November 12, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I believe that the mistake that the democratic leadership made and continues to ignore that they saw the republicans get thumped hard in 2008 and went into cruise control. The republicans seem to understand that they lost the middle and are attempting to defy the laws of political physics but attempting to gain momentum from the right by standing still. Both sides need to keep the citizens in mind even when that means going against the egos in charge who only seemed concerned with consolidating power into as few hands as possible

Posted by: ECo34 | November 12, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

The big question isn't one of ideology -- it's a matter of priorities.

Blue Dogs for example say that are in favor of more efficient government -- yet the founder of the caucus, Billy Tauzin, engaged in one of the bigger tax-payer boondoogles in U.S. history (Medicare Part D before flipping over as an industry lobbyist).

I think it is a fair question to ask whether the goals of a more efficient government are compatible with what the Blue Dogs actually practice.

On too many economic issues the Blue Dogs seem more intent in protecting the interests of big money donors than protecting the interests of their constituents.

The social issues are just a smokescreen.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Out of the 5 previous comments, there is only one that has decided to forgo reasoned dialog and dropped a steaming pile of diatribe. Can you spot the agenda?

I wish these comment sections would actually comment on the editorials and not act as just white space for someone who wants to 'blog'. So far this one is going well, how long til it spirals out of control?

Posted by: jayjordan | November 12, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the column. I'm not always sure I'm a Democrat but I know for sure that I'm not a Republican. Such is the world of a moderate.

Posted by: atravsky | November 12, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Ruth, you're cranking out a column a day now trying to hold your party's coalition together. It doesn't matter. The independents are running away. There is now an almost 20 point preference of independents for republicans over democrats in the latest gallup poll. That's a 40 point swing. You and the rest of the democrats have gone way way way.......way too far to the left and you just keep digging that hole bigger. It took Carter to give us Reagan. Perhaps Sarah will be our reward for enduring this commie's sacking of the US.

Posted by: rush_b_right | November 12, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I cannot agree more. Show me an ideological pure party and I'll show you a regionalized, marginalized party.

Posted by: DocHolliday1906 | November 12, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Allenridge:

your use of language gives you away:

"The Democrat Party has been taken over by left-wing extremists who simply don't tolerate anyone stepping out of line."

I'm guessing you are a member of the "Republic" party since you dropped the last syllable.

Loved this:
"One difficult test of who’s right here involves the role of the conservative House Democrats, Blue Dogs and others. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel helped elect them. Now he has to cope with the consequences of having a Democratic caucus with a cadre of members significantly to the right of their party but in the leftward precincts of their districts. If they vote like prototypical Democrats, they won’t be coming back. "

but would add that Rahm had a problem with Dean's 50 state strategy of contesting all elections. To win in a variety of districts requires a variety of candidates---the rural veterinarian won't win in a big city, the big city candidate won't win in a rural area, etc.

I think Bob Casey is a fitting replacement for Santorum for a number of reasons, even though I don't always agree with Casey.

And the replacement makes a major point: Casey is well mannered. That is better than "thumb in the eye" divisive politics.

However, if any constituent of Stupak, Kaptur, Obey, or the lesser known Democrats who supported the Stupak Amendment is surprised because that is not how they represented themselves in campaigns, that is an honesty issue. Honesty issues can inspire backlash, primary challenge, etc.

And I agree with this:
"More important: A political system in which party members don’t hear -- or don’t have to listen to -- dissenting voices is not a healthy place. "

Ideological purity (any party, any ideology) can take a party off a cliff. In parts of this country, if every registered voter voted straight party, the election outcome would be decided by those not registered with a major party.

Posted by: GHDEL | November 12, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: DocHolliday1906
"The Democrat Party has been taken over by left-wing extremists who simply don't tolerate anyone stepping out of line."

I'm guessing you are a member of the "Republic" party since you dropped the last syllable.
-----------------------------

Since members of the democrat party are known as democrats and members of the republican party are known as republicans, your guess would be wrong. If you want to be the democratic party, then you should be known as democratics. That's not really hard to comprehend is it?

Posted by: rush_b_right | November 12, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Clearly, there needs to be a corollary to Godwin's Law that deals with throwing around the term "Communist."

Posted by: js_edit | November 12, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

More important: A political system in which party members don’t hear -- or don’t have to listen to -- dissenting voices is not a healthy place

Yes Ruth, that's why YOUR party is hiding behind locked doors with Big Government Crap Care of NO Choice....
In your words, "not a healthy place".

Posted by: ekim53 | November 12, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Watching the Democrats feed on themselves is entertaining - just like the Jimmy Carter years the Dems are in-fighting and will soon dis-associate themselves from the President, who presents nothing more than a huge obstacle to any chance they have to re-election.

Posted by: Realist20 | November 12, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Go ahead...kick 'em out...We know you want to.

Or, best yet, why don't they just swap the Blue Dogs for the RINOs. That's a fair switch.

The Dems already got Senator Specter from Pennsylvania. Isn't that working out well?

Posted by: ttj1 | November 12, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with the article. The only way working Americans are going to take this country back is to have a party in lock-step, as the Republicans are against anything that costs corporate America money. Right now 1% of the population controls more than 95% of the wealth in America and it's getting worse. The middle class is disappearing and we will soon have 2 classes; rich and poor. I am self employed and have never had problem making a living. But we cannot all be self employed. Some people have to work, and working America is getting the shaft by the super rich. Blame Reagan, Clinton, and Bush. They were the biggies in deregulation and sending jobs out of the country. I'm waiting on Obama; I agree on healthcare, but it needs to be much stronger for the average person, and less for the insurance industry. But he hasn't done much for the working American. Giving trillions to richest Americans may help wallstreet, but it isn't creating jobs. We need another Roosevelt adminstration to bring justice back the working person.

Posted by: GWPilot22 | November 12, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Is it possible that democratic party does not want its members having any independent thoughts? Where is the big tent? Lieberman is one of the most liberal members on social issues. Yet, democrats want him out? Democrats do not like Stupak or Bob Casey even though they are two of the most liberal members on economic issues and union supporters because they are pro-life?

This is comical?

Posted by: philly3 | November 12, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm so proud of you broadminded guys...it's so very easy to compromise on the backs of poor women. Who cares about them, anyway?

Moderation in all things; you guys are such humanitarians. I'm the only small-minded Dem here... I'm not giving one more dollar, walking one more block or making one more call on behalf of this pathetic excuse for a party. I'm a woman first and a Democrat second.

Posted by: jslamen | November 12, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse


I'm so proud of you broadminded guys...it's so very easy to compromise on the backs of poor women. Who cares about them, anyway?

Moderation in all things; you guys are such humanitarians. I'm the only small-minded Dem here... I'm not giving one more dollar, walking one more block or making one more call on behalf of this pathetic excuse for a party. I'm a woman first and a Democrat second.

Posted by: jslamen | November 12, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse


===

And you are apparently a woman who is defined by a single issue.

Posted by: mikem1 | November 12, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Tauzin may have founded the Blue Dogs in the early 1980's, but he switched parties and became a Republican in 1995. The "flip" you talk about on Medicare Part D happened in 2005, over a decade after Tauzin left not only the Blue Dog caucus, but the Democratic Party. Saying Tauzin represents the Blue Dogs is like saying that Joe Lieberman represents the Democratic leadership, or Arlen Spector represents the Republican leadership.

To Ruth Marcus' larger point, I agree with her entirely. The Founding Fathers didn't want two massive, monolithic, ideologically pure parties bashing their heads against one another. Any decent biography of any of the members of the Continental Congress will show different alliances among delegates on different issues. That lead members to actually debate issues, and required that they all form their own conclusions. Someone may be an ally on one issue, and a foe on another -- you didn't automatically get someone's vote, you had to earn it.

Posted by: Axisofstupidity1 | November 12, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The question is whether or not you want a broad coalition that doesn't always march in step or a pure party that draws its support from one area of the country. The first one gives you a majority and, while it doesn't allow you to get exactly what you want, you can work to get something close to it. The second means you have a minority and are marginalized. I'll take door number one.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | November 12, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Leave the party purging to the Republicans. The ostricism of moderates in the party resulted in losing NY-23, thus allowing a democrat winning there for the first time...ever.
If you call out someone in your party, don't call them out because they didn't go lock-step with the rest of the party. Call them out because they should do the right thing. These dems who didn't vote for health reform have their tongues so far up the health care industries butts, they can't see the light of day.

Posted by: ecglotfelty | November 12, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Scott Murphy will not be getting my vote next time. Also there is a very good chance Kirsten Gillibrand won't either. These clowns want to act like Repugs, fine, but not with my vote!

Posted by: dbarts27 | November 12, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Is it possible that democratic party does not want its members having any independent thoughts? Where is the big tent? Lieberman is one of the most liberal members on social issues. Yet, democrats want him out? Democrats do not like Stupak or Bob Casey even though they are two of the most liberal members on economic issues and union supporters because they are pro-life?

This is comical?

Posted by: philly3

/////////////////////////////////////

In the case of Lieberman he is in step with the party base on social issues; however, he is out of step with the party on economic and foreign policy.

On one side of the coin there's a question of whether members should be booted out of the caucus (something that I don't agree with, because it makes no sense). On the other side there's the question of whether these members should be given committee chair assignments or donations from the party base when they hold policy reforms hostage that a majority of Americans favor (e.g. the public option).

e.g. Why hold health care legislation hostage on an issue like abortion? Why not deal with the issue as a separate matter? Why elevate the issue above getting a good bill passed that actually advances the interests of taxpayers and consumers?

In reference to the Blue Dogs, they claim to be in favor of cost control options, yet the caucus wouldn't even let the CBO score the Weiner amendment. That's just crazy.

They know that the CBO scoring would probably scuttle their arguments against the measure -- so they don't even let that debate take place (if the CBO scoring showed otherwise, then the scoring would have underscored their point -- yet they feared letting that evidence come to light). They blocked this from happening in an effort to protect campaign contributors from getting squeezed.

Ultimately this is a question of policy -- not ideology.

If the Blue Dogs actually favored policies that advanced taxpayer and consumer interests, they would get a pat on the back. But they fight these measures at pretty much every turn.

As far as the commentator who talks about the purge in the Democratic party vis a vis the GOP, I mean come on -- look the NY race in upstate NY. There are no so-called moderates in the GOP anymore. They have the Big Business social conservatives, but that's pretty much it.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

The Democrat Party has been taken over by left-wing extremists who simply don't tolerate anyone stepping out of line.MoveOn.org and DailyKos, two modern-day Brown Shirt groups have already targeted the three dozen Democrats who voted against the slopply health care bill coming out of the House last Saturday.We can also see the same type of extreme left-ists in our MSM wolfpack press trying to purify the different news organizations.Left wing groups aligned with the new left-wing Democrat Party forced Lou Dobbs out of CNN after 30 years.The reality of the Democrat Party is that they are a very "small" tent party but if not for the massive propaganda that they get from our Free left-wing press everyone would know the truth.As it is now most Americans are living a lie that our liberal MSM wolfpack press has established.............sad.
Posted by: allenridge | November 12, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse
==============================
Come on Allen, what you wrote is not correct and you know it. The Democratic Party in lock step with each other??? Really!!! Reality on the ground does not support that mindset. That’s why the Democratic Party, when in power, moves so slowly and raises opposing concerns when trying to enact legislation. They ARE diverse - not homogenous, not engaged in group think. In fact the only party that follows your definition is the REPUBLICAN PARTY...
Daily Kos/Move-on... yes they are unapologetic left leaning.
But you don’t mention the NRA which compiles report cards on repubs, free republic, Dick Armory’s organization, hell even a whole news organization involved in maintaining group think…..
The MSM are not extreme leftists as you put it, what they are is devoid of any objectivity and journalistic integrity, that I will acknowledge, but compare it to the fox style and the extremity becomes apparent.
And blaming “OTHERS” for Lou Dobbs leaving CNN is just whiney… Lou is a RICH MAN who can make his own decisions... Remember personal responsibility and destiny preached by conservatives….. Sad the propaganda continues

Posted by: wise_pharaoh | November 12, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: DocHolliday1906
"The Democrat Party has been taken over by left-wing extremists who simply don't tolerate anyone stepping out of line."

I'm guessing you are a member of the "Republic" party since you dropped the last syllable.
-----------------------------

Since members of the democrat party are known as democrats and members of the republican party are known as republicans, your guess would be wrong. If you want to be the democratic party, then you should be known as democratics. That's not really hard to comprehend is it?

Posted by: rush_b_right | November 12, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

=======================
Not so Rush... The term DEMOCRAT party is used as a slight by republicans.. do some research on the issue and you to can comprehend what Doc is trying to educate you on...

Posted by: wise_pharaoh | November 12, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Just as the Democrats have become the party of the rich and arrogant, I predict that the Republicans will become the "big tent" party of moderates.

Most moderates are disgusted with the betrayal of the Democrats, and Obama will continue to slip in popularity as more people realize that he is just a cardboard image of a nice guy.

Posted by: Jerzy | November 12, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Blue Dogs are one thing. Joe Lieberman is something quite different. He ran for office against the nominee of his party, who was chosen in primaries by the members of his party. He was given his committee chair in order for the Dems to be able to secure a filibuster-proof majority. If he is going to filibuster, there is no reason why he should not be stripped of his chairmanship and other plum committee assignments.

Posted by: turningfool | November 12, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

To mikem1:

As someone without a uterus your observation on my "issue" is irrelevant.
--------------------------------
Would one of you broadminded Dems mind telling me what values should be common to all of us in the Big Tent? I have a feeling I had a longer list than what is currently possible...and today's shorter list is distinctly unsatisfying.

Posted by: jslamen | November 12, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Just as the Democrats have become the party of the rich and arrogant, I predict that the Republicans will become the "big tent" party of moderates.

Most moderates are disgusted with the betrayal of the Democrats, and Obama will continue to slip in popularity as more people realize that he is just a cardboard image of a nice guy.

Posted by: Jerzy

//////////////////////////////

Well, that prediction is a long-time coming.

Last time I checked 100 percent of the GOP in the House and Senate was rich and arrogant. It's hard to recall a measure over the past 30 years that they've advocated that hasn't undermined the economic well-being of America's middle and working class in some measure.

The Dems actually have some members who are willing to fight the good fight on behalf of America's working and middle class. Too bad there aren't more of them.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Ruth is right. In fact the future of US politics depends on politicians being able to rediscover the art of compromise and moderation. The real problem stems from the extremists - particularly today's neo-conservatives, for whom politics is war, and no method of attack, however vile, is out of bounds. Ever since Nixon Republican ethics have been in decline, and they have now reached a new low.

Posted by: gposner | November 12, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

The fact that both parties must sacrifice their integrity to support radicalized bases is disturbing. It shows why we desparately need a competive third party --
not a third party dominated by populist demagogues like Ross Perot or Lou Dobbs,
but a third party that can claim the center and not feel a need to apologize for it.

Absent that, the parties would do well to schedule their initial primaries and cauceses in deeply purple states where normal, sane people can have greater influence.

Posted by: RadicalGlove | November 12, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm a lifelong Democrat (at least, until the last couple of elections when I voted Third Party). Frankly, I think the leaderhship of the Party is out of step with what the Party has traditionally stood for when it comes to illegal immigration. I'm tired of hearing the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid extolling illegal aliens as "patriots" and calling the rest of us "racists" for objecting to having people entering this country illegally and working illegally. They, and the union leadership, seem to have forgotten just who it is they're supposed to represent--and it isn't illegal aliens.

Posted by: Ali4 | November 12, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Well reasoned and well stated. When The Club for Growth Types are done purging the heretics from the Republican Party, it'll be able to hold its conventions in a high school gym. The Democratic Party's big tent may be contentious, raucus and at times, infuriating, but it reflects America.

Posted by: BrooklynDemocrat | November 12, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

As someone without a uterus your observation on my "issue" is irrelevant.
--------------------------------
Would one of you broadminded Dems mind telling me what values should be common to all of us in the Big Tent? I have a feeling I had a longer list than what is currently possible...and today's shorter list is distinctly unsatisfying.

Posted by: jslamen

_____________________________________

My, My, JS.

1) Only women can have a position on abortion? I don't think so.

2) As Mike pointed out, it looks like you have a list of one issue. Not a very big tent.

Posted by: martintomsal | November 12, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Oh poo poo! Unity schmunity! This is Amurrrca dadgummit, not Brigadoon. Enough of this "let's all be tolerant and understanding" crap!

I say draw a bright line right down the middle, everybody ( and I mean EVERYBODY) chose up sides, tool up and let's git it on!

Hee hee...

Posted by: repubsux | November 12, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

By all informed accounts, there WAS a compromise offered on the abortion issue in the health reform bill, more than one, in fact -- it was Stupak and the Bishops who, in the last minutes, rejected it...
and then some of that team turned around and voted against the bill with their amendment in it. Hard to deal some days.

Posted by: esthermiriam | November 12, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Hey allenridge

I took your simplistic condemnation of the Democrats and edited it for application to the Republicans

The REPUBLICAN Party has been taken over by RIGHT-wing extremists who simply don't tolerate anyone stepping out of line.

FOXNEWS and CLUB FOR GROWTH, two modern-day Brown Shirt groups have already targeted the REPUBLICANS who voted against the slopply health care bill coming out of the House last Saturday AND COMMITTED OTHER APOSTASTIES AGAINST THE GOP GROUPTHINK (HELLO, ARLEN SPECTOR).

We can also see the same type of extreme RIGHT-ists in our FOX/WSJ wolfpack press trying to purify the different news organizations.

RIGHT wing groups aligned with the new RIGHT wing REPUBLICAN Party HELPED YO forced ARLEN SPECTOR out of SENATE after 20 years.

The reality of the REPUBLICAN Party is that they are a very "small" tent party but if not for the massive propaganda that they get from our Free RIGHT-wing press (SEE ABOVE) everyone would know the truth.

As it is now most Americans are living a lie that our REACTIONARY FOXNEWS wolfpack press has established.............sad

THERE THAT'S BETTER...

Posted by: chuck2 | November 12, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Did someone on this thread actually imply that Ruth Marcus doesn't have a uterus?

Posted by: js_edit | November 12, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

The fact that both parties must sacrifice their integrity to support radicalized bases is disturbing. It shows why we desparately need a competive third party --
not a third party dominated by populist demagogues like Ross Perot or Lou Dobbs,
but a third party that can claim the center and not feel a need to apologize for it.

Absent that, the parties would do well to schedule their initial primaries and cauceses in deeply purple states where normal, sane people can have greater influence.

Posted by: RadicalGlove

/////////////////////////////

Ultimately what is the "political center" in this country?

The big money players are the ones who seem to be happy to court whoever is in power without regard for party affiliation. In truth these big money players do not represent a majority of voters -- yet they are the ones who tend to exert the most pressure when it comes time to create legislation. It's a misnomer to say that "radicalized bases" control policy in this country -- on most issues of consequence they don't.

In terms of reforming the system, it's hard to see where any real change will come about without reforming campaign finance, lobbying rules, and fairly blatant conflicts of interest (e.g. having spouses sitting on board of directors with business before congress; or the revolving door that allows a legislator like Billy Tauzin to create a multi-billion dollar subsidy for the pharmaceutical industry and then cash out the next year by overseeing the lobby).

Neither party really wants to touch that aspect of the equation. Small donors can exert some leverage on the margins, but the donors are generally too disconnected from each other to wield real influence after the elections take place.

A viable third party would need an awful lot of start up money to begin to compete seriously. That pretty much limits the field to self-financing candidates, or ones who have big patrons paying their rent (effectively making them similar to the existing two parties).

Money is what ultimately dictates policy in Washington. Until that equation changes, it's hard to see the political discourse and policy coalescing around the center of policy debates. To the extent that their even is a political "center" in this country outside of the lobbies it tends to be voters who are the least engaged in the process to begin with. They may tune in when elections come around, but usually their vote isn't on any one policy per se -- it's more a vote that swings from one party to the other depending on the state of the economy or some other issue (e.g. like the war in Iraq in 2006).

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

To imagine that the Democrats "big tent" is a good thing in this conservative social and political culture is simply silly. What this country needs is a party system that actually represents different "parties" philosophically. The Democrats will not achieve anything despite the amazing and unprecedented impetus that the Obama administration had gong for it after the election.

The two party system should die. If the Republicans have changed to such an extreme rightist ideology, then why should the Democrats attempt to fill in the rest of the political spectrum from progressive (in the U.S. we say leftist, socialist) as well as the luke-warm center which isn't about bringing any kind of needed fundamental changes in government whatsoever. They Dems will not accomplish anything.

Posted by: GDWymer | November 12, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

uggghhhhhhhh well that didn't last long. 4/5 posts were about the topic at hand without relying on email forwards and twits from partisan hacks.

Of course the Blue Dogs should stay in the party. I disagree with the ideological stand against a public option, but I agree with fiscal conservatism as a whole. As we come out of this disaster (if we come out of this disaster) we owe it to our children and grand children to leave them a better nation than what we had when we were born. That requires some sacrifice for this great country and not individual greed.

The tent with the Dems is bursting at the seams at the moment. It's almost as if there is only one party right now which I find quite sad. The other party just generates noise and acts like a side show. I was never a fan of carnivals.....

Posted by: theobserver4 | November 12, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

In the case of Lieberman he is in step with the party base on social issues; however, he is out of step with the party on economic and foreign policy.

On one side of the coin there's a question of whether members should be booted out of the caucus (something that I don't agree with, because it makes no sense). On the other side there's the question of whether these members should be given committee chair assignments or donations from the party base when they hold policy reforms hostage that a majority of Americans favor (e.g. the public option).

e.g. Why hold health care legislation hostage on an issue like abortion? Why not deal with the issue as a separate matter? Why elevate the issue above getting a good bill passed that actually advances the interests of taxpayers and consumers?

In reference to the Blue Dogs, they claim to be in favor of cost control options, yet the caucus wouldn't even let the CBO score the Weiner amendment. That's just crazy.

They know that the CBO scoring would probably scuttle their arguments against the measure -- so they don't even let that debate take place (if the CBO scoring showed otherwise, then the scoring would have underscored their point -- yet they feared letting that evidence come to light). They blocked this from happening in an effort to protect campaign contributors from getting squeezed.

Posted by: JPRS

You're dead on with Lieberman. He was a pretty damn good moderate before he lost his primary. Then he went into scramble mode to hold onto his power. He was on the record for supporting some form of public health care for all years ago. Now that he has a bargaining chip with a close vote he's threatening to filibuster with the Repubs.

He's a complete sell out......which goes back to why we threw him out of the primaries in CT. His awful foreign policy ideology no longer matched his constituents. Keep the Blue Dogs, but find some way to rid us of Lieberman no matter what party he belongs to. He's a turncoat.

Posted by: theobserver4 | November 12, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

It's long past time to purge the Democratic Party of the "non-faithfuls." All those who support anti-abortion measures, are pro-gun and death penalty, and haven't brought W up on war crimes needs to be evicted from the party!!!! It's high time for faithful liberals to exercise full control and unity over the Democratic Party! Only we know how the country and the People truly wished to be governed!!!!

Posted by: WildBill1 | November 12, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

theobserver4,

You might remember that Lieberman didn't just renege on health care -- he reneged on his promise during the 2006 campaign to end the Iraq War (as soon as he got into office he backed the surge).

My own read is that Lieberman sees the writing on the wall -- he will not win re-election in 2012. He's essentially trading on his office at this point in the expectation of pulling a full-on Billy Tauzin.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

It's funny how conservative democrats are called "Blue Dogs" and liberal Republicans are called "Moderates".

Also, funny thing is neither are "centered".

Posted by: recharged95 | November 12, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

The Blue Dogs now perform the function once performed by the contingent of Southern Democrats, now non-existent thanks to the civil rights movement, to which we also owe the destruction of the public school system in the South. Without the Southern Democrats then and the Blue Dogs now the Democratic Party would become entirely a socialistic party. It would also become the instrument of black power. We thank the Lord for the Blue Dogs.

Posted by: ravitchn | November 12, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

I agree that having dissenters in any group is usually a good thing. It helps avoid that groupthink problem that uniformity encourages. President Kennedy is famous for having just such a cabinet and it probably saved us from nuclear war with the Soviets in 1962.

There's dissent and there's backstabbing treachery too. People like Joe Lieberman go beyond the role of a moderating force. In his case, he's an absolute traitor. No good comes from having scum like Lieberman as a member of the club. He can be counted on to betray his caucus as well as his constituents. President Obama made a grave mistake when he forgave Lieberman for his election betrayal. Letting Joe The Bummer keep his chairmanship was a wasted gesture, made to a lowlife incapable of appreciating it.

President Obama has got to get over his obsession with finding a friend in the GOP. His need to have bipartisan accomplishments is causing serious problems for his party and its reelection prospects in 2010. Maybe there's no way past it. Maybe the republicans have just enough seats to block every attempt to legislate. The President had better stop bargaining away his party's goals in exchange for nothing in return but further rejection. It would do much more good for the President to lean heavily on the bluedogs and never let up until someone breaks. Do it and do it loud and publicly. That way, instead of selling out the base as in healthcare reform, they can attempt to show the public the true face of republican extremism and the true cost of republican obstructionism. Better that than a farce like watered down healthcare reform.

Posted by: fredfawcett | November 12, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

There is a difference between a small tent and party discipline. The Dems don't have either. I agree that a big tent is a good thing, including fiscally and socially conservative Dems. But there are times when party members need to hold their nose and toe the party line. The Healthcare debate is such a time. If the party had a strong leadership the recent big tent debate could have gone on exactly as it has, then, at the end (say early October) there would have been a conference and a bill would have been written that was the Democratic bill and anyone who voted against it at any point would face severe repercussions (loss of committee seats, primary challenges, loss of party money at election time, etc). %90 of the time I feel that party diversity is good, but once or twice a year there are signature votes that show what the party stands for and if you don't vote the party line at those times you've left the party.

Posted by: briandolge | November 12, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

The Blue Dogs now perform the function once performed by the contingent of Southern Democrats, now non-existent thanks to the civil rights movement, to which we also owe the destruction of the public school system in the South. Without the Southern Democrats then and the Blue Dogs now the Democratic Party would become entirely a socialistic party. It would also become the instrument of black power. We thank the Lord for the Blue Dogs.

Posted by: ravitchn

///////////////////////////////////

The "destruction" of the Southern public school system?

That's rich. The South has never had much of ANY education system to speak of. Outside of a few cities, the entire region is about as close as you can come to a 3rd world country in terms of economic development.

If it wasn't for all the Pork that the Blue Dogs steered back to their home districts from other regions of the USA, these areas probably would qualify for 3rd world status.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

No, I disagree. I believe it's way past time to rid ourselves of Ben Nelson, and very likely Baucus as well.

Posted by: rbe1 | November 12, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Without the Southern Democrats then and the Blue Dogs now the Democratic Party would become entirely a socialistic party. It would also become the instrument of black power. We thank the Lord for the Blue Dogs.

Posted by: ravitchn

///////////////////////////

The double irony here is that you decry socialism.

Ending redistribution of wealth would cost blue dog districts BILLIONS in taxpayer money. The Blue Dogs talk fiscal responsibility when it comes to national priorities and other districts, but when it comes to their own districts, it's SUUEEYYYY time.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

To me the litmust test should be whether or not the Senator supports GOP fillibusters.

I have no problem with Dems occasionaly voting with the GOP. I don't like it, because I think the GOP since Reagan has been a disaster for America. But I can accept it. If the Dems can't get 50 votes on a bill, then they should go back to the drawing board and revise their bill.

But when a Dem goes along with the GOP's fillibustering, that's just wrong. When that occurs, I think they should be stripped of all committee chairmanships, and generally be punished for assisting the GOP in their blatant attempts at obstruction.

I also think the Dems should stop counting votes to see if they have 60 or not. As soon as they know they have 50 they should bring the bill up for a vote...and then let America see who is holding up progress at every turn.

Enough of this behind-the-scenes stuff. Make the GOP break out the adult diapers and read from phone books, so that America can see their true faces.

Posted by: wagner3792 | November 12, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Marcus' post completely misses the point. The so-called "Blue Dogs" are not being criticized for failing to toe some mythical party line, but for failing to support concrete reforms (such as the public option) that polls show a solid majority of Americans -- and in some cases, their own consituents -- supporting. They are being criticized for voting against the interests of those whom they supposedly represent, in order to curry favor with their big campaign contributors. And that is disgusting behavior, regardless of which party one belongs to.

Posted by: lydgate | November 12, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Good opinion piece and hits the subject on all fronts. First, the Blue Dogs are what give the Dems a majority. Ideological purity usually translates into minority status. Second, a spectrum of voices is what makes a party dynamic and flexible and also prevents extremism and rigidity of position. One need only look at the current GOP to understand these simple points. The quest for ideological purity has only resulted in GOP extremism and minority status. Forcing moderate or more liberal GOP members out of the party has led to rigidity and decline. The current GOP is the poster child for Marcus' argument. Why should the Dems make the same mistakes when such a striking example sits right in front of them.

Posted by: fwillyhess | November 12, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

The issue isn't about letting them into the tent. We do that. The issue is that they MUST tow the party line on key legislation, like health care reform. They are welcome in the party. They are not welcome to sabotage our major agendas. The price for that is lost committee assignments, offices in the basement, and lack of support on their own initiatives for their constituents, i.e., no earmarks for you and your district, Stupak.

Posted by: seve2yoo | November 12, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Ruth Marcus: "Look at me. I'm a Very Serious Person!" I praise Blue Dogs and oppose prosecuting torturers!

Posted by: kingsbridge77 | November 12, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Democrats have room for the blue dogs, and many diverse groups. It si who the Democrats are as a party -- big tent, tolerant, diverse...

however, the republicons should continue to purge anyone who is not 110% behind the decrees of chairman limbaigh and luitenant hinity, or even corporal beck and koulter.
It is the only way they can show America what their real agenda is with a clear and pure conscience - pure and white as the driven snow

Posted by: John1263 | November 12, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

If the Blue Dogs would back the Democratic Party's platform and sell the issues to the voters in their District their constituents might very well re-elect them in spite of support for mainstream Democratic Party legislation.

Their constituents want someone that cares about them and will fight for them, not just duck doing the right thing because they have no spine.

Vote'em Out
If they drag down the party we don't need them.

Posted by: johnhkennedy | November 12, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

By all means, purge the parties of outliers. Those that don't agree with the public on most issues. If they did that, there'd be nothing but RINOs and Blue Dogs, and we might not be trillions in debt and perpetually acting like horses posteriors.

Posted by: steveboyington | November 12, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

.
.
.
The only way to make an all-covering tent is to have a system that gives people freedom to follow their own beliefs and consciences. Neither the GOP nor Dems allow that very much, but for my money the Dems do it slightly better.
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Posted by: egc52556 | November 12, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Great piece, Ruth.

There are 3 major issues that define our politics: Foreign Policy, Economics, and Social Issues. If you wanted to be a "politically holy congregation", we could have 8 parties of purists only, but our system won't support it. So the parties (and partisans) need to deal with what we have. It's not the Netherlands, folks.

Some people would call it "diversity". Funny how the "purists" in each party talk about how ideologically narrow (and thus in the long term, irrelevant) the other party is, and then they get enraged that Olympia Snowe/Bart Stupak is desecrating their party..... HELLO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: jro_nyc | November 12, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

By all means, purge the parties of outliers. Those that don't agree with the public on most issues. If they did that, there'd be nothing but RINOs and Blue Dogs, and we might not be trillions in debt and perpetually acting like horses posteriors.

Posted by: steveboyington

/////////////////////////////////

Actually we had a pretty good experiment along these lines from 2000 to 2006.

The net result was a trillion dollar unfunded tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent.

An unfunded new Medicare Part D program which costs about $400 billion over 10 years (a blue dog initiative).

And of course, we had the Iraq War which will add another $2 trillion to the budget.

The Blue Dogs and the GOPers effectively added over $4 trillion in new DEBT in just 6 years. There's still over a trillion in unfunded liabilities on the books.

These are the same people who resist cuts in pork-barrel military spending; and pork barrel federal spending in their own districts.

If we want to break the budget giving handouts to big corporations, yes, by all means put the RINOs and the Blue Dogs into control.

Part of the reason that guys like Stupak are so adamant about opposing abortion seems to be that they want someone else to be there to pick up the tab for their profligacy.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 9:33 PM | Report abuse

The so-called "blue dogs" are the only Democrats with a notion of fiscal responsibility and common sense.

In fact, I applaud them for at least trying to listen to what The People are demanding.

I suggest liberals embrace them to limit the coming 2010 election losses.

Posted by: clandestinetomcat | November 12, 2009 9:47 PM | Report abuse

The whole purpose these not-good Democrats and not-good Republicans serve is to give their nominative party a better opportunity at governing the House or Senate and setting the legislative agenda.

Beyond that, they have no real purpose. Unfortunately for the Republicans organized groups of RINOs (Republican in Name Onlys) managed to leverage themselves into positions of authority regarding management of the national and state party machinery.

The same as happened to the Democrats from time to time. For most of a century and a half (from the Civil War to the 1980s) the folks outside the core consisted mostly of Southern Democrats, but also, to a degree, Upper Midwest Communists.

More recently a non-core group consisting mostly of West Coast Communists has managed to ease itself into control of both houses of Congress, and they've been joined by one of Chicago's "own" ~ the local crime syndicate that calls itself the Democrat party. Other minority faction leadership elites have joined with them (see Henry Waxman for example).

The Democrats are currently voiceless as their 15% minority faction of extreme far left extremists controls the legislative agenda.

The Republicans earlier had a problem with the Gang of Seven who sought control, but were able only to STOP legislative initiatives.

The trick is to remove the convenience-only Democrats and Republicans from the levers of party control ~ that's Purge #1.

Others want to just give up on voting such people into office, and that's Purge #2.

Posted by: muawiyah | November 12, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that the majority of the discontent with our two party system is that there are two parties. There are no rules that say we are limited to two parties, it is rather the construction of our vote tabulation, first-past-the-post. If the US used a parliamentarian system of proportional representation, there would be no blue dogs and no RINOs, no red or blue, but a spectrum of colors, beliefs and ideologies. More Americans would be truly represented, but legislation would become more byzantine and slow. Those that wish the Republicans were more "truly" conservative, and the Democrats more "liberal" (and I count myself as one) would find that their ideas are more often discussed, but less often effected as law.
It is difficult to envision what would happen... The anti-state racists may have a small portion of votes in the house, and the full-on marxists would probably have some as well, but on the brighter side some viewpoints currently overlooked may be paid more attention and, furthermore, may heighten the citizenry's awareness of the legislative process.
As for now, barring either famine or civil war, I think we're stuck with the system we've got. The last election, if it has proven anything, is that while Americans may have supported a change, we are, fundamentally, creatures of habit that become cranky when our rituals are disrupted.

Posted by: ntedrow | November 12, 2009 11:18 PM | Report abuse

I know! I know!. ... It's like sitting in the middle of a see saw. Somewhere along the way, 'Ya just gotta' make up your mind and MAKE A DECISION. ... Or get off and try the "Merry go round".

Posted by: deepthroat21 | November 12, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

The so-called "blue dogs" are the only Democrats with a notion of fiscal responsibility and common sense.

In fact, I applaud them for at least trying to listen to what The People are demanding.

I suggest liberals embrace them to limit the coming 2010 election losses.

Posted by: clandestinetomcat

//////////////////////////////////

A person might believe this if they ignore evidence.

The blue dogs may PREACH fiscal responsibility, but they don't PRACTICE fiscal responsibility.

The people who get snookered by them are like the suckers who believe that Fox News is "fair and balanced" just because they say so, again, and again, and again.

It would actually be admirable if the Bought-off Dogs practiced what they preached.

They don't. The evidence on that account is absolutely damning.

Those hypocrites have no problem opposing spending packages outside of their districts, but when it comes to their own they want more, more, more. They take more money out of the kitty than they put back in.

Who knows, maybe their constituents admire their hypocrisy.

Posted by: JPRS | November 12, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

rush_b_right:
"You and the rest of the democrats have gone way way way.......way too far to the left and you just keep digging that hole bigger."

The irony of this statement is that many of today's Democrats are further to the right than many of yesteryear's Republicans.

"Perhaps Sarah will be our reward for enduring this commie's sacking of the US."

Haha.

Posted by: presto668 | November 12, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

The secret is out. The RNC has provided Medical Insurance with ELECTIVE ABORTION COVERAGE to it's employees for the past 18 years. Does that make the RNC "RINOS" or just a bunch of HYPOCRITES?

Posted by: JoeNTx | November 13, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

theobserver4,

You might remember that Lieberman didn't just renege on health care -- he reneged on his promise during the 2006 campaign to end the Iraq War (as soon as he got into office he backed the surge).

My own read is that Lieberman sees the writing on the wall -- he will not win re-election in 2012. He's essentially trading on his office at this point in the expectation of pulling a full-on Billy Tauzin.

Posted by: JPRS

---------------------------------------

I'm in 100% agreement with you. I worked to get him out of the Democratic primaries due to his stance on the war. The health care turnabout is just his most recent insult to the people of CT.

Posted by: theobserver4 | November 13, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

theobserver4,

You might remember that Lieberman didn't just renege on health care -- he reneged on his promise during the 2006 campaign to end the Iraq War (as soon as he got into office he backed the surge).

My own read is that Lieberman sees the writing on the wall -- he will not win re-election in 2012. He's essentially trading on his office at this point in the expectation of pulling a full-on Billy Tauzin.

Posted by: JPRS

---------------------------------------

I'm in 100% agreement with you. I worked to get him out of the Democratic primaries due to his stance on the war. The health care turnabout is just his most recent insult to the people of CT. I could write on and on about his fall from the days before 2000 to now. Maybe someone put a chip in his brain.

Posted by: theobserver4 | November 13, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

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