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Should Progressives Care About 2010?

Two of my favorite online writers, Chris Bowers of OpenLeft and Nate Silver of 538.com, had an interesting exchange that touches on a perennial issue of concern to Democrats: should self-conscious progressives (using the Progressive Caucus definition of that term) care if a bunch of "centrist" or conservative Democrats in the U.S. House lose in 2010?

Chris says, basically, no. His reasoning is that there is already a "non-progressive majority" in the House, and that non-progressive Democratic losses might well strengthen the hand of the Progressive Caucus in the Democratic Caucus at large. He also suggests that some of the seats lost by the kind of Democrats he doesn't like might be picked up by the kind of Democrats he likes down the road.

Nate offers a rejoinder that looks closely at the 39 most vulnerable House Democrats and argues that Chris' generalization of them as non-progressive is quite questionable. Choosing the three most difficult (and significant) House votes as a measure, he notes that 18 voted with the leadership and the administration on all three; 27 voted "right" on two out of three; and only two went the wrong way on all three. Since Speaker Pelosi undoubtedly gave some of these Members a "pass" on one or more of these key votes, they seem less than monolithically rebellious, and the idea that replacing them en masse with (typically) right-wing Republicans as a matter of indifference is a dubious proposition.

Neither Chris nor Nate directly addresses the obvious issue that it matters to Democrats if they actually control the House or not, and neither really gets into the question of whether at least some of the endangered Democrats accurately represent the views not only their districts, but of Democrats in their districts. Chris is clearly focused on the relative power of the Progressive Caucus vis a vis the Blue Dogs, but as Nate points out, 39 of the 53 Blue Dogs aren't endangered at all.

I understand that OpenLeft was founded with the explicit goal of moving the congressional Democratic Caucus to the left, and is determined to get progressives to place a higher premium on ideology (and real-life policy results) than on blind partisanship. But Nate's right to question the sort of one-step-back, two-step-forward logic that is indifferent to gains by a rabidly conservative GOP so long as it damages ideologically "unsound" Democrats. It's not clear we as a party or a country can afford that sort of "long view."

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There is another approach. Solicit challengers to run in primaries against the Blue Dogs with the least progressive voting records in moderate districts/states. Look at Spector as a model case. Sure changed his voting pattern pdq, gives a chance to elect a more progressive Dem while not hurting the incumbent that much -- or even helping the incumbent should Spector still win the primary.

Should progressives care about members of a group who derive their name from the idea that progressives are choking them to death, causing their face to turn blue?

I don't think so.

On any progressive measure, a conservative Democrat will negotiate with progressive Democrats, but a Republican will issue non-negotiable demands and (after being appeased) vote 'No' in any case. Therefore, we should strive to elect all Democrats, conservative or progressive, and defeat all Republicans, who are uniformly reactionary and xenophobic.

The most important vote cast by any Member of Congress is the first vote, with which political control of the both houses is decided. In that vote even the most conservative Democrat will vote for the candidate of the Democratic Caucus and secure the selection of chamber and committee leadership that is made up of progressives.

Democrats hold a the majority in Congress because the party spent years developing an electoral coalition that can take and hold a majority of seats in both houses of Congress; and since we are a diverse coalition sometimes we disagree. But if we insist that the House Members and Senator’s to a specific line on every issue we end up losing power.

To anyone who insists on ideological purity I suggest a look at the current state of the Republican Party where ideology seems to be more important than any other factor, on any issue. Democrats hold power because we have built a coalition of like-minded but independent voters and as long as we hold that coalition together we will keep the political power that is required to do all the things that must be done to move this country forward.

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