Bayh and the Blue Dogs

BAYH AND THE BLUE DOGS…. We knew center-right Democrats in the Senate were planning a Blue Dog-like caucus for the upper chamber, and today, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) made it official.

Bayh gave an exclusive to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough — no one seemed to appreciate the irony of Bayh making the announcement on the show of a former far-right Republican congressman, who’s been making ridiculous attacks on Democrats — to talk about his new group:

“About 15 of us in the United States Senate — moderate Democrats for lack of a better description — have been gathering, and we finally decided to make an announcement that we’re coalescing in a group to try to focus on making the changes the American people need, but to make sure that they’re done in a practical way that will actually work. We’re not ideologues, we’re pragmatists. We’re not strident partisans. We care about our country more than our party.”

Bayh made it sound as if this group expects, in effect, to dictate the entire public policy agenda of the U.S. government for the next year in a half. They want to work the White House, Senate leadership, and committee chairs, but made it clear that this nameless “centrist” caucus believes it will make or break any and all legislation. Who’s in this caucus? Bayh said some of the names are secret. Seriously.

Joe Scarborough (conservative Republican) was thrilled to hear about Bayh’s new venture. Pat Buchanan (conservative Republican) was glad to hear it. Far-right blogs think this is a great idea. This should offer a fairly significant hint to Bayh about the value of this endeavor.

It’s all rather painful. The president — you know, the one who just easily won a national election and enjoys strong approval ratings — will face governing challenges in a Senate in which his own party has 58 (eventually, 59) members. Part of the problem is Republican obstructionism, and part of it is Bayh and the Blue Dogs who feel more comfortable driving with their foot on the brake.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Yglesias had a great item explaining how “moderate” Democrats like Bayh view the policymaking process.

[T]he key legislative players aren’t reasonable, moderate people they’re “reasonable” “Senate moderates.” A “Senate moderate” is someone who takes his party’s proposals, objects to them, waters them down a bit, and then congratulates himself on a job well done. Which is great if his party’s proposals are unduly immoderate. But it’s big-time trouble if his party puts a reasonable, moderate agenda on the table.

After all, you don’t maintain the painstakingly achieved Nelson/Bayh “Senate moderate” brand by clapping politely. You need to bitch and moan and be quoted in inside-baseball only media outlets that none of your constituents pay attention to, and hold conferences and have meetings at the White House where people hold your hands. You need to be praised by the opposition party, and extract your pound of flesh from the proposal. Then when it looks like it might go down to defeat, you can vote for the somewhat-watered-down version and be the hero who saved the day and nobody will mention that you saved the day from yourself.

But you really do need to do that stuff. You can’t just say “well, this is a reasonable proposal so I’ll back it.” Then your moderate license gets taken away.

The answer, then, is for President Obama to readjust his approach to negotiating. The president seems to believe in honesty — work hard to create sound ideas, and then encourage reasonable lawmakers to vote for them. What nonsense. Obama apparently needs to high-ball every proposal so Bayh and the Blue Dogs can water them down to “reasonable” levels and feel good about themselves.