Atrios and Chris Bowers make the interesting point that Blue Dogs’ deficit hawkishness may cost them an election, since their opposition to a jobs bill is going to lead to higher unemployment and more voter dissatisfaction.
This might be true, but I think that the deficit hawk bullshit is more of a convenient excuse than a heartfelt position.
The Blue Dog re-election formula is pretty simple: work the levers of power to provide the most pork possible to your constituents with the least possible regulation to your corporate sponsors. Portray yourself as an outsider who hates government. And — this is important — do nothing else.
The riskiest thing a Blue Dog can do is to vote for change in any form. Change endangers constituent pork and corporate profits, and it gives opponents something to put in attack ads.
So when you see a Blue Dog opposing HCR, the energy bill, a new jobs bill or anything else, it’s important to recognize that they’re not really opposing deficit spending. They’re just endorsing the status quo.
Bill E Pilgrim
So wait, pork, dogs, hawks– does anyone else notice that our political discourse sounds more and more like it’s a discussion of some online farm sim?
@Bill E Pilgrim: Hold your horses!
They’re not supporting a status quo. They are genuinely in favor of using any excuse available to attack any sort of social spending which helps the poor and working classes and which makes it more likely that the super-rich can one day gain access to the Social Security and Medicare dollars, directly or indirectly.
They would happily gut Social Security for a privatized system if the political opportunity presented itself — that by no means is ‘status quo’. It’s true that they’re not ‘principled’, per se, but it is true that they share a good old fashioned Republican distaste or hatred for post-New Deal reforms.
The ‘deficit hawk’ thing is just a stage act to give them a good excuse to focus on cutting the sorts of spending they hate in favor of things they want, like local pork, and boondoggle contracts, and more money and tax cuts for their wealthy backers.
It’s true on some level. My problem really is that being a deficit hawk has become an ideological rather than a practical matter.
I care about the deficit and the national debt. I would be considered a “hawk” in some respect, and a government that is in good financial shape probably should operate by PayGo rules that allow us to pay for everything we need outside of capital investments needed to keep infrastructure functional.
This position is situational, and really reflects a strong economic climate. Right now, however, it’s simple economics to know that the government needs to be the driver of growth by spending money to create new jobs and keep money flowing while the private sector gets reenergized. Being an absolutist deficit “hawk” in this climate doesn’t do anything but prove your bonafides as an ideological hack.
If you’re fiscally conservative but base your decisions on the needs of the nation as they exist in reality, then the conversation necessarily must shift from debating whether the government should spend money. Instead, knowing that government spending is necessary right now, the right conversation for the hawks to have with more liberal members of Congress is how much spending is truly appropriate.
Interestingly enough, we’ve seen that in action just in the past year. I know everyone wants to criticize Ben Nelson et al for slimming down the stimulus package. I know I did, just because I felt his cuts were fairly arbitrary. But the conversation wasn’t whether the government needed to spend money, it was how much money we needed to spend. In that vein, $780 million isn’t vastly different from $950 million, and money was pushed into the economy either way.
That’s the logical conversation to have. Instead, the right-wing Dems and every Republican are acting as absolutists, and no different than religious absolutists as well. It’s just not helpful.
@El Cid: Blue Dogs want to gut Social Security? No way.
Social Security and Medicare are sacred to Blue Dogs and their blue-haired constituents.
I think “deficit hawk” is something of a dog whistle, which sounds like “I won’t spend your money on those people” once you run it through the conservative propaganda processor. Functionally, they’re corporatists, not fiscal conservatives (which most progressives are).
@Bill E Pilgrim:
Life as Farmville. Sadly, we can’t just click “hide”.
First, give me some credit — I mentioned that they would do so if the political opportunity presented itself.
There are others who feel like there’s pretty good evidence to suggest that cutting Social Security & Medicare spending (and not just through ‘efficiency’, etc.) and attempts at privatization is an ideological preference by Blue Dogs.
Bush Jr. era Republicans didn’t get to privatize Social Security, either, but that’s only because it wasn’t politically possible.
Bill E Pilgrim
@Michael: Agh, it’s getting worse!
Soon we’ll all just be making woofing and oinking sounds, in code, instead of using words at all.
I think Blue Dog politics is mostly about trying to preserve their position as the deciding votes in the Congress, and the power that gives them.
For most of the Clinton years and through the Bush
eraerror until 2006, the conservative Democrats were the most courted votes in Washington, either to give a bill the sheen of bipartisanship or to get it passed at all. If Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, Max Baucus or Charlie Melancon get in line with the Democratic leadership, they have no more power than anyone else in the caucus. They become invisible.
This, and they get away with it because the press never calls out how they really do not vote as deficit hawks (i. e., for Bush’s tax cuts).
I’m not really sure I agree with Chris and Atrios. it’s a nice expectation, but indeed some polls have shown Blue Dogs (Herseth-Sandlin, Bright, Minnick) in better positions that more liberal representatives in swing districts (Driehaus, Shea-Porter)
For one thing, problem Blue Dogs tend to come from districts with lower unemployment, and in those districts the deficits matter to constituents…and even in some high unemployment areas, people have been brainwashed to think the deficit matters. In Chris’ diary someone mocked Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar saying his constituents are concerned about the deficit. I live and work in a county where unemployment is hovering at 10%,(and went nearly 60% to Obama) and everyone I talk to is concerned about the deficit, many because they erroneously believe, thanks to our failed media experiment, that the deficit is THE REASON for high unemployment. Blue Dogs in districts with high unemployment and a bad economy (Jim Costa, Chris Carney, Baron Hill, John Spratt, Melissa Bean) have not been trouble.
Blue Dogs may have trouble in primaries, but I have no doubt they’ll get reelected for the most part. People like Tom Periello, Alan Grayson, Carol Shea-Porter, they concern me.
Nick, I don’t know if you were around in 1992, but the question that famously confounded Bush I in the Town Hall debate was a young woman asking how “the national debt” had affected each of the candidates personally. Bush, utterly lost, fumbled with some talk about interest rates. Clinton then stepped in and, rightly assuming the young woman was using “national debt” as catch-all for “the crappy economy”, did a full “feel your pain” spiel that many felt ended the election right there.
Polling is dangerous when it asks people to judge areas on which they’re murky. It’s true you can get a high reading for people worried about the deficit, but I wonder if most, like that young woman, are using it as a term to describe their overall miasma. I don’t think cutting spending — or refusing to spend enough, as the Blue Dog coalition proposes — will do anything to cure that angst. The greatest deficit reduction plan of my lifetime — the ’93 budget act — led to Dems losing the House for the first time in 40 years; and of course we all know what happened to FDR in 1938. Meantime Reagan was canonizied for running deficits to infinity. There’s simply no history to suggest deficit-hawkishness is a political winner.
I’m not overlooking your specifics. I certainly worry about Shea-Porter and Grayson et al. But if they lose, it’ll be because they represent districts where the overall gestalt tilts GOP, and they won’t have the turnout skew that helped them in ’08. I really doubt insufficient attention to the deficit will be the cause of any defeats.
Here’s an alternate take:
Blue Dogs tend to come from places where there are at least as many as many people with conservative-to-right-wing political sensibilities as there are liberal-to-progressiverers, and more people still who fall somewhere in between. So who exactly are representatives from places like that supposed to be there in congress to represent? Me, an east coast liberal, or the folks back home? I submit that in a functional representative democracy it would be the latter.
But it’s kind of a moot point anyway, because we’re never going to elect real liberals in places like that no matter how hard we cry. So, Blue Dog or Republican, take your pick. Blue dogs annoy me too, but I can’t deny that they sure can come in handy when you need to break a Republican filibuster. And in the House, Mrs. Pelosi is quite adept at lining up enough of them one way or another, by hook or by crook, to pass an occasional bill. So things could definitely be worse and in fact have been, fairly recently.