The Liberal Path to Power, ctd

I think the most compelling response to my previous post was from FlipYrWhig:

“Democrats” are a coalition between liberals, populists, defenders and champions of minority rights, and (especially in “red states”) this other kind of smiley pro-business Republican-who’s-not-hardcore-wingnut. It’s always volatile. But if Democrats insist on more discipline and more unanimity from their membership, those Blue Dog/DLC types will walk right out of the coalition. And it’s exciting to think, fine by me, good riddance to bad rubbish. Except without them you basically get stuck at around 40 “Real Democrats” in the Senate, at best. And then if you want to piece together a majority — let alone a filibuster-proof one — you need to peel off and horse-trade with… the most liberal of the Republicans. Which is WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE, except that the most liberal of the Republicans have been elected as the most conservative of Democrats.

There’s something to this, but I think it’s indicative of a misunderstanding on the part of conservative Democrats rather than other things. Lets forget about other issues for a second. The critical issue for a party in power during an economic downturn, the one one which their future depends, is to manage the macroeconomy correctly. If you can’t do that, then you’re going to get thrown out of office.

Democratic centrists seem to think that since they live in swing districts, they need to be more conservative (which seems to mean mostly extracting a pound of flesh from liberal proposals), and who knows, when it comes to things like abortion or gun rights they may be right. But when it comes to the economy, this is very much a “hang together or hang separately” situation. Who took the biggest hit in the 2010 Republican landslide? The Blue Dogs in the House. More than half of them lost their seats. Ben Nelson repeatedly caved to the right, and in the end it was for nothing.

I would think that professional politicians would above most things want to stay in office. They should understand that no matter what their district looks like, if their party is in power and they can’t deal with a colossal unemployment crisis, they’re toast. Full stop. (Also, these days there’s no chance an ex-Democrat is going to be pure enough to win a Republican primary, so party-switching isn’t going to help anyone either.)

PS: To those who took exception to my characterization of Johnson, I agree that there was some nuggets of genuine idealism in his character. I was wrong to imply that all the civil rights stuff was pure grasping ambition. I actually admire Johnson a good deal. But he was still a ruthless, unscrupulous man. He stole the 1948 election, betrayed Sam Rayburn (his most important early patron), crushed good people who got in his way, and abused his staffers mercilessly. Not a nice person.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.