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Katrina vanden Heuvel Headshot

Nothing Centrist About Them

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At this moment -- when 72 percent of the nation supports a public plan
option and 14,000 people lose their healthcare every day -- the House
Blue Dogs and conservative Democratic Senators are doing just about
everything they can to cripple real health care reform.

So why does the media keep ceding them the label of "centrist" or
"moderate" as if they are the guardians of mainstream values?
In a recent profile on reform slayer Max Baucus -- Chairman of the
Senate Finance Committee and creator of his majority Republican
"Coalition of the Willing" -- Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen
refers to Baucus as "a longtime centrist in the Democratic caucus."
Even Harold Meyerson -- who along with E.J. Dionne and Ruth Marcus
keeps the Washington Post op-ed page from being neocon central and is
one of the best in the business at understanding the ideologies at
play in Washington -- in a recent op-ed repeatedly decries the
"centrist Democrats" such as the Blue Dogs who fight against taxing
the richest 1 percent of Americans and promote a "can't-do" view of
government.

All Things Considered host Guy Raz recently introduced a story on
"forty centrist House Democrats from the so-called Blue Dog Coalition
[who] are threatening to block the proposal in its current form...."
He also spoke of "Congressman Mike Ross [who] heads up the Health Care
Taskforce for the centrist Blue Dog Democrats." Want to see how
"centrist" Mike Ross is? Check this out.

Even a good regional paper like Louisville's Courier-Journal -- in
rightly blasting the Blue Dogs as "deplorable" for being "unable to
muster the spine to pay for health care reform with even so innocuous
a measure as higher taxes on the richest 1 percent of
Americans" -- calls them "centrist".

The danger is that promoting the view that these conservative
Democrats are somehow at the center of our politics plays into the
hands of those who would like to marginalize progressives as far
outside of the mainstream. (And I have no doubt K Street is advising
Republicans to constantly refer to their Democratic allies as
"moderate" and "centrist".) It also misrepresents what most Americans
want from the government in these times.

As Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University, founder
of Westen Strategies, and author of the invaluable The Political
Brain
, told me: "The average American, according to all available
data, has largely moved slightly left of where it was in the Reagan
years, and with changing demographics, it will be far left of Reagan
and Bush in twenty years. So to call Democrats who are substantially
right of the center of the electorate (let alone of their party), like
Heath Shuler, 'moderates,' is both to misrepresent the center of
political gravity in the general electorate and in the Democratic
Party."

How we tell the story of this battle for health care reform matters
and will impact whether the battle is won or lost. So-called
"centrists" are far from the center of this debate. They are, in fact,
out of touch and out of the mainstream -- like the rest of their
conservative brethren.

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