In all the hoopla over the election results, one outcome that should concern both Democrats and Republicans is the beating taken by the Blue Dogs. The Blue Dogs are the moderate-to-conservative coalition of Democrats in the House of Representatives, and just a day ago they were 54 strong. After the final results from the elections, they were down to 26. The caucus lost two members to retirement and two others who ran for higher office, and out of the remaining 50 members, 24 Blue Dogs lost.
Why should we care? Because over the past 10-15 years the Blue Dogs have been the only entity in American politics that have consistently tried to reach across party lines on a variety of issues. Unless the Democrats and Republicans can (for the first time) do as they say they will do and work together, we are potentially on our way to another two years of gridlock. The Blue Dogs could have held an important position in Washington for the next two years. They were in a prime position to be the mediators between the newly Republican House of Representatives and the Democratic White House.
Thankfully, Two leaders of the group – Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah – survived the bloodbath, probably because both voted against President Obama’s health care bill in March, although that didn’t seem to help 11 others who lost.
Not everyone, however, will be shedding tears for the Blue Dogs. They have consistently frustrated their more progressive colleagues and activists within the Democartic Party, especially during the health care debate. Blue Dog members pushed to limit the scope and the cost of the legislation and resisted some of the mandates of the bill. Last summer, seven of the eight Blue Dogs on the House Energy and Commerce Committee even threatened to block health care reform unless it met their cost requirements.
Still, anyone who had hopes to see any bipartisanship in Washington for the next two years should be disappointed. It can be done, after all. Witness the 1994 mid-terms that (similarly) swept the GOP into power in congress to the dismay of the Clinton White House. The next two years actually saw substantial legislation get through both Congress and the White House, though Mr. Clinton did veto welfare reform twice until the Republicans produced something he felt that he could live with.
Overall, what did the results tell us? I think the New York Times summed it up perfectly in an editorial even before the election took place:
It is clear that Democrats over-interpreted our mandate. Talk of a "political realignment" and a "new progressive era" proved wishful thinking. Exit polls in 2008 showed that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives and 44 percent as moderates. An electorate that is 76 percent moderate to conservative was not crying out for a move to the left.
Too bad so many of the Blue Dogs won’t be around to see what happens over the next two years. America’s moderate voice is a little quieter today.