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Blue Dogs: A Progressive's Best Friend

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In my last blog post, I tried to lay out an argument about why it is critical that my progressive friends in the Democratic Party take steps to help the more conservative members of Congress. I was pleased to have over 100 reader comments, but sadly, many of those comments seemed to misunderstand me.

My point was simple: progressives and moderates need each other to retain political power in Congress. And if you truly care about progressive principles, then you need moderate Democrats like the Blue Dogs in Congress because they ensure that key progressives control the power levers on Capitol Hill. For example, consider Domestic Policy Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Kucinich -- a true leader in the progressive movement. If Republicans were in control of Congress, the chairman of this Subcommittee (with jurisdiction over issues like labor, education and criminal justice) would likely be one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress.

I also stated in my last blog post that progressives should reconsider advancing legislation that requires Blue Dogs to take unpopular stances, especially when there are viable legislative alternatives that Blue Dogs could vote for. One example that hits close to home for me is the call by some progressives to eliminate offshore drilling in the energy bill because of the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Rather than insert a ban on offshore drilling and force Blue Dogs from states like Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana to take a vote that would mean thousands of lost jobs back in their districts, Congress and the White House should seek to reduce the dangers of oil exploration through increased government oversight and safety measures. As a native of the Gulf Coast, I am deeply upset by the devastating environmental impacts of the oil spill. But I am also keenly aware of the economic benefits of oil exploration in the region.

Another piece of legislation which could be bad news for Blue Dogs is the food safety bill. It already passed the House, and many Blue Dogs voted for it because it is a good bill that protects Americans. But now, in the Senate, some progressive Senators are trying to add a provision to that legislation to ban a chemical known as BPA. The FDA has not banned BPA for being unsafe or told people to stop using products that contain it. But if Congress does impose a ban, it will result in thousands of lost jobs in the canning and food preparation industry. Many of those jobs are critical lifelines for Americans living in economically depressed Congressional districts represented by Blue Dogs.

If the Senate inserts this ban, it means that Blue Dogs may be forced to oppose the food safety legislation in its final form or vote for it and suffer the political consequences. Either way, their Republican challengers will surely hammer them. If the Senate leaves out this provision, Blue Dogs could vote for the food safety bill. When the control of Congress is so closely tied to the fate of Blue Dogs in November, it only makes sense to leave this provision out.

Lastly, the reader comments from my previous column that caused me the most concern were the assertions that a Democrat who isn't a progressive isn't really a Democrat. I strongly object to that belief. Conservative Democrats have stood with progressives on countless issues, and when they don't, it simply means they are voting to reflect the beliefs of their constituents. For Democrats, requiring strict adherence to party principles means being in the minority and not controlling Congress or the White House.

Shows was a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition when he served in Congress.

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