"Bush Dog" Dems Undermine Progressive Majority
Anyone who has spent any time with progressive activists knows that there is widespread disenchantment with the Democratic Party. One notices it in its mildest form when liberals mumble under their breaths that “the Democrats are no better than the Republicans,” but at its worst moments it can have devastating effects, such as Al Gore’s narrow loss to George Bush in Florida in the 2000 election. In the past I would have discarded these criticisms as unfair, but with the 2008 elections approaching, they require reexamination.
From 1994 until 2006, Democrats were significantly outnumbered by Republicans in the House, which most likely played a major role in Bill Clinton’s failure to sign any really progressive legislation into law. Instead, Democrats simply fended off the worst of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. Despite a resounding victory in 2006, and Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, we see little progress now. The large Republican minorities and President Bush’s newfound affinity for his veto pen are certainly stymieing some good legislation, but Democrats should not be let off the hook.
Voting patterns in the House of Representatives show that again and again, dozens of Democrats vote with the Republicans on important bills. This has recently led some online activists to label about 40 representatives as “Bush Dog” Democrats, a play on the conservative “Blue Dog” caucus. Initially, these Democrats were chosen because they voted to continue to fund the Iraq war without a withdrawal timeline and because they voted to allow Bush to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Yet the betrayal of Democratic values goes far deeper than that, and it is unfortunately much more widespread that just those 40 Bush Dogs.
On economic issues, Democratic congresspeople stab their working-class constituents in the back whenever they can get away with it. “Liberal” Senator Chuck Schumer recently voted to preserve a tax loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes at a lower rate than the people who clean their offices or our dorms. In the last Congress, 73 Democrats voted for a Republican bill that made it much harder for people to declare bankruptcy. It was great for the credit card industry, but it is also contributing to many people being devastated by the collapsing real estate market. And in this Congress, eight Democrats in the House voted against a bill to provide health care to children.
No doubt the influx of corporate cash to the Democrats in Congress is motivating many of these betrayals. Strong campaign finance laws that will limit corporate influence should be an urgent priority for progressives. But in the meantime there is a lot of activism going on that may make all the difference in the world. Democrat Al Wynn, who represents a completely safe Democratic district in Maryland, has a primary challenge from a progressive activist named Donna Edwards. She only narrowly lost her challenge to him in 2006 despite a huge fundraising disadvantage, low name recognition and her position as a first-time campaigner. In 2006, a progressive Democrat named Darcy Burner lost to Republican Dave Reichert with 49 percent of the vote in a Washington State district that has never elected a Democrat — and she is currently out-raising her opponent ahead of the 2008 elections.
Our majority is going to grow next year, and activists all over the country are working hard to make sure it is made up of congresspeople such as Burner and Edwards who will stand up to the big corporate donors and end the war. That’s why, when I hear people grumbling about the Democrats, I can only assume they are unaware of the grassroots revolution happening at the base of the party. We’re not just working to elect more Democrats anymore, we’re working to elect better Democrats too.