Sunday, April 14, 2013

from progressive to blue dog-- my own evolution

I am not much of a blogger anymore, as anyone who reads a date can tell (my first post in 2.5 years). I'm still a Democrat, but I would not longer self identify as the Outspoken Liberal. Having worked on four Democratic campaigns in rather conservative districts, my own views have become more conservative over time. Maybe this is an attribute to getting older (aka being on the wrong side of 30), but I see it more as leaving the liberal bubble that is the New York metro area and being sent to what Sarah Palin famously referred to as the "Real America." (I am sure that I just lost even more of my progressive credentials by quoting Sarah Palin.) What sparked me to come out of blogging retirement is the growing civil war within the Democratic Party between Progressives and Blue Dogs. On one forum I frequent, several posts can be summed up by the following sentence-- 'Rah rah Progressives, boo hiss Blue Dogs." I haven't looked at profiles to see where many of the posters are from, but my guess is that many are from liberal enclaves like parts of New York and California.

Since my last blog post, I'm not focused on issues as much as I once was. As a campaign staffer, I am focused on my next race and what it takes to win that race (with the exception of labor, which lead me to Wisconsin in 2011). What I have learned is that in many districts (even more now due to GOP gerrymandering), an ideological Progressive is simply not electable. When I interviewed for my first race in 2010 (a Blue Dog district), I was asked if I was okay working for a Blue Dog congressman. My response was that I'd rather have a Blue Dog who votes with the party 85% of the time than a Republican who votes with the party 0% of the time. This holds true for me now more than ever, having been to four Blue Dog districts in four different states. While I am not on a race this year yet (I have my fingers crossed that this changes soon), if I had my choice I would go to a Blue Dog district. I like the challenges that Blue Dog districts present and I feel they're a good fit for me.

There's been a purity move in politics on both sides of the aisle. On the Republican side, you have the tea party movement, who primaries the establishment (sometimes successfully) with extreme conservatives (more on this below). On the Democratic side, the purity movement is not as widespread and vocal. You have groups like Progressive Democrats of America aka PDA (I went to a conference of theirs before working on campaigns and while I agreed with what they stood for, I was extremely turned off by their tactics), who spend their time and effort into going after Democrats because they're not liberal enough. An example of this was complaining about the healthcare bill (prior to passage) because it was not single-payer (even though single-payer could not pass). Instead of accepting a baby step in the right direction, they fought it and made the perfect the enemy of the good. Perhaps they'd be a lot more successful if they spent half as much effort going after Republicans as they do Democrats.

When ideological purists are nominated in primaries, you have races that one party should have held or picked up go to the other side. If not for the tea party, we would have a Republican controlled Senate right now. But the tea party gave us candidates like Christine "I am not a witch" O'Donnell and Todd "legitimate rape" Akin. As a Democrat, I made the popcorn, sat back, and enjoyed the show as the GOP squandered these opportunities to lose races they should have won. As a political professional, I learned the lesson that a candidate is only as good as the district he/she is running in. If the candidate is too ideological for the district/state, he/she will not win period.

A good example of this is Richard Mourdock, a tea party Republican that primaried a longtime GOP senator in the red state of Indiana. At the end of the day, Indiana voters decided that Blue Dog Joe Donnelly was a better fit to represent them than the extremist Mourdock. If PDA had stepped in and decided that Joe Donnelly needed a liberal primary challenger (primary voters-- especially in states with closed primaries--tend to be the most ideological voters), then we would probably be looking at Senator Mourdock.

As a Democrat, I want the most progressive ELECTABLE candidate to represent the district. The keyword here is electable. The last thing I want my party doing is nominating our version of Todd Akin and turning into a laughingstock. 2014 (and 2013) is looming and we've worked too hard to blow our chances. As for Progressives who would like to see other Progressives elected, in many districts that is a long-term strategy. I will have a future post on that.

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