Monday, July 27, 2009

What true Democrats need to do

It is getting to be crunch time for Democratic party leaders. The President must decide whether to continue efforts to woo Republicans as well as conservative members of his own party -- the so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats.

I think that, with few exceptions, the Republicans are beyond reach. It is important to remember that, as a party during the Great Depression, they opposed nearly every New Deal program, including Social Security. They have been trying to destroy Social Security ever since, not to mention opposing every bill designed to help anyone but the most wealthy. If anything, the current crop of Republicans, elected during the Reagan and Bush years, are more reactionary -- conservative isn't even the correct word -- than their counterparts of FDR's time. They overwhelmingly voted agains Pres. Obama's stimulus plan just months ago. If he is trying to work a reasonable compromise with them, he will end up being betrayed and disappointed again. Look at the nonsense they are spouting about Justice Sotomayor, Obama's pick for the Supreme Court. They simply have nothing on her, yet yammer about statements she made that are no different from those made by conservatives Roberts and Alioto.

There is simply no future in working with the vast majority of the minority party. As many as possible must be defeated in the next election. The organizational and electoral work was not concluded with Obama's election. The "filibuster-proof" 60 votes the Democrats have in the Senate is an illusion.

Which brings us to the Blue Dogs. FDR had a similar group of southern "Dixiecrats" to contend with, but during the Depression their states were suffering greatly, and the New Deal programs were a tremendous boon -- think TVA e.g. Although their racist politics were horrible by today's standards, they had a good chunk of populism also mixed in. Today's Blue Dogs are, in some sense, the opposite. They don't represent Jim Crow (Nixon's "southern strategy" sewed that up for the Republicans very neatly), but they do represent the Reagan-Democrats -- groups organized and whipped up by the Gipper to think they were fighting Washington bureacracy and "Big Government" when, in fact, they were voting for Big Business. We can now see the disastrous results of their policies of cutting regulation and services.

Just as it is important to defeat Republicans in the next election, it is important that President Obama and the majority of Democrats enforce party discipline in bringing around the Blue Dogs. President Obama must use his national position to make clear, over and over, what the issues are and who is being obstructionist, even if they are members of his own party. Losing all but 3 or 4 Republican votes, as well as several dozen Democrats will kill his health reform initiative just as surely as having a Republican majority.

A situation with a similar message is playing out in Massachusetts. Here the Democrats enjoy an overwhelming majority, but Governor Deval Patrick, a friend of the President, has projected a very weak image. He has bowed to all sorts of special interests. When he proposed a long-overdue increase in the gas tax, he immediately caved in to the opposition, meekly signing a sales tax increase (unpopular but also needed) that got the job only half done, leaving public transit still twisting in the wind. At the moment it looks like his lack of grit and leadership will cost his party the Governorship when his term is over.

If progressives are to enact progressive policies they must exhibit toughness and discipline. Check out what President Harry S Truman had to say more than 50 years ago:

When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn't believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time...

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