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Blue Dog Democrats and Republican Triangulation

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Senator John McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, has served up a devastating critique of the direction the Republican Party has taken recently. "If figureheads like Ann Coulter are turning me off," Ms. McCain writes, "then they are definitely turning off other members of my generation as well." She understands that when the GOP's dominant personalities are a bleach-blonde banshee, a loud-mouthed shock jock, a "plumber" who writes "books," and a "hipster" chairman who can't get the party line straight, most people, regardless of political affiliation, can see that the "Party of Lincoln" has devolved into the "Party of Limbaugh."

But be forewarned, the rot from within the Republican Party doesn't mean Republicans can't still win elections. They know how to drive up the "negatives" of their opponents. In a rare display of candor, North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry said: "Our goal is to bring down the approval numbers for [Speaker] Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint." He boasted about the GOP's "strategy" going forward: "We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010." This Republican "communications" operation is already in full swing with the corporate media playing the usual enabler role.

Even though we're facing what Alan Greenspan called a "once in a century" economic cataclysm, the public airwaves are still filled with the familiar Republican boilerplate: cut taxes, cut spending, deregulate, let the market work its magic, and so on. And for some bizarre reason Blue Dog Democrats have chosen to ape these discredited Republican doctrines. These elite-serving ideas permeating the political discourse are dangerous. Remember, we're still dealing with an electorate that elected Richard Nixon twice, Ronald Reagan twice, George H.W. Bush once, gave the House of Representatives to Newt Gingrich, and then re-elected George W. Bush.

The Blue Dogs provide an opening for the Republicans to "triangulate" against the progressives inside the Democratic Party. They're calling for "belt tightening" at a time of severe under-consumption and high unemployment. Republican leaders in the Senate will try to use the Evan Bayhs and Blanche Lincolns of the Blue Dog faction as a wedge to defeat vital parts of President Barack Obama's legislative agenda.

One thing the current economic crisis has taught almost everybody is just how little control we have over our lives. The three-decade era of largely unfettered capitalism tore apart communities, outsourced jobs, forced us to work harder for less, and pile up debt just to stay in place. And how about those crooks over at AIG? After a taxpayer bailout of $170 billion they continue to dole out hundreds of millions in "bonuses" to the same people who brought down the whole company through their mismanagement of the "financial products division." Wow! Whatever capitalism's merits, "conservatism" is clearly not one of them, (unless you see credit-default swaps as expressions of Norman Rockwell's America). Ironically, now that the social dislocations have multiplied a hundredfold, the Republicans might be able to benefit politically by exploiting the pervasive fear and uncertainty caused by their own laissez-faire policies. (About this prospect, somewhere, some place, William Kristol and Grover Norquist are saying: "Sweeeet.")

We need to reverse decades of the maldistribution of wealth and usher in a more just era for working people through passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). We need a new international economic order that brings in China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the other countries awash in dollars after decades of "free trade" policies that hollowed out American manufacturing while creating astonishing trade imbalances and current accounts deficits. We need a new set of rules imposed on corporations that gives investors not only the "transparency" we hear so much about, but a real share in corporate governance, including determining the amount of compensation CEOs and other executives extort from institutions they've been hired to serve yet in recent years have only looted.

Finally, progressive Democrats must continue to press the Obama administration to end the costly occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Blue Dog Democrats voted for Bush's wars knowing they would balloon the deficit. Now they're deficit hawks. We can't afford the open-ended occupations of these countries. The bottom line is this: the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan have the right to rule themselves -- even badly -- and the United States should step aside and give them the chance to do so.

Republican congressional leaders have been wasting time on stem cells and "earmarks" when we face an economic crisis the likes of which we haven't seen before. It's still uncertain whether the United States and its institutions have the capacity or the political will to pull the country out of this morass. And with Blue Doggery rearing its ugly head President Obama could end up losing some crucial battles with the Congress. We must not allow the Blue Dogs to slow down President Obama's momentum or water down the sweeping reforms the nation needs in these trying economic times.