Vichys, DINOs, Blue Dogs: different species, same genus, and it's about time to start explicating the role the Congressional Blue Dog Coalition plays in the social economy of Vichyism. The immediate impetus for this post is this good essay (in HuffPo) by Representative Major Owens (D-NY) (in turn inspired by this WaPo editorial) on how the Blue Dogs (note: specifically the Blue Dogs, not merely "conservative Democrats") are pushing porkbarrel spending that helps agribusiness, not family farmers.
My rule of thumb on farm legislation: if it doesn't help Wendell Berry's neighbors in Port Royal, KY, it's not really a farm bill. But both articles are worth reading, even if you don't care about esoterica like farm bills, because they help explain how the Blue Dogs can block truly helpful policies from taking hold (and Vichys hold on to power).
Here's a clip from Owens' essay:
Who are these Blue Dogs? Why are they the most powerful caucus in the Congress? Be advised that two of their Democratic founders were so conservative that they voted even for the impeachment of President Clinton. They are so clever that, despite their long-term demonization of the poor and Civil Rights, they now have four members of the Congressional Black Caucus in their ranks. This is the body that sponsored Harold Ford III's challenge to Nancy Pelosi when she ran for Minority Leader. So many members have been clamoring to get in that the Blue Dogs now operate like an Ivy League fraternity. You must be sponsored by five members and you must write an essay to achieve membership.
In other words, the horror of the facts of the farm program waste can never be understood without examining the power of the agricultural industrial complex which has its center of command in the Blue Dog Coalition....
Now, I'm not against Democrats moving right to gain election in conservative districts. That's politics, and while it smacks of triangulation when a faux-progressive national candidate like Hillary Clinton does it, it's actually a good thing in the House of Representatives. It's small-d democratic and "representative" (as in, we want Congresspeople generally to represent their constituents' interests, if not always their media-influenced views).
What's more, I'm ecstatic to have anyone oppose the Democratic Leadership Council's neoliberal policy on free (but not fair) international trade. I'm glad the "Blue Dogs" were able to help the Dem party make electoral gains in the South. I'm aware that if the Blue Dogs all shifted allegiance to the Republican Party, as many of their forebears did in the 50s and 60s when the Democratic Party started embracing civil rights legislation and as the founders of that coalition did just a few years back, then we wouldn't have majorities in both houses. But, as I've asked before, what good does it do to gain the majority, and then weep and cry and wring our hands about winning in the South and holding together the "Big Tent" instead of actually taking action to end the war, rescue Afghanistan, start rebalancing the budget, help homeowners avoid foreclosure, and stave off the pending recession (depression?)? If the Blue Dogs and other Vichys helped us gain the majority but now are stopping us from accomplishing any of the things voters expect Democrats to accomplish, then what the hell's the point? It's just more lukewarm spit (scroll down to point 2.5), and it just confirms voters' impression that Democrats are gutless on everything from domestic policy to the war on terror. And gutlessness wins neither hearts, nor minds, nor elections.
Here's the point that Democratic "centrists" can't seem to get: one can be a fiscally responsible, socially moderate, troop-supporting, pro-agriculture, slow-progress (as distinguished from no-progress), relatively protectionist Southern or Midwestern Democrat without opposing the election of anti-war Democrats, opposing mortgage foreclosure relief legislation, making it harder for working folks to declare bankruptcy when job loss or medical bills create catastrophic debt, or supporting the more racist forms of immigration reform -- let alone voting to impeach Bill Clinton or even flipping to the Republican Party (all of which Blue Dogs are currently doing or have done recently).
And what the hell are the Blue Dogs -- whose one legitimate policy stance is "to promote what they see as fiscally responsible budget reforms and accountability for taxpayer dollars" (Wikipedia) -- doing supporting a fiscally disastrous war, or lining the pockets of big agribusiness at the expense of real farmers? Maybe the Blue Dogs need saving from their own devolution into crony conservatism as much as the overall Democratic Party does...
(Image credit: copyright George Rodrigue. Mr. Rodrigue is not associated in any way with the Blue Dog Democrat Coalition. The founders of that coalition happened to meet in offices decorated with Mr. Rodrigue's wonderful "Blue Dog" paintings, and misappropriated the "Blue Dog" name without his permission.)
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