The Psychology Of The Blue Dogs

The Left is furious with the Blue Dog Democrats for not voting their way on health care — yet. These comments from Maxine Waters seem to be fairly typical of the liberal sentiment that’s coming from the netroots,

Blasting the seven fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats who are stalling the reform in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Waters charged the politically moderate group with hypocrisy in protesting the bill’s $1 billion price tag but lobbying for increased Medicare reimbursements for rural physicians.

“On the one hand they don’t want to spend money, but on the other hand they want to spend money when it benefits them or their district,” she said on MSNBC.

Asked if she would recruit more liberal candidates to run against the Blue Dogs, Waters said, “That’s normally not done.” But she added: “There may be people out there listening and observing all of this who may get motivated based on what they’re seeing and throw their hat into the ring.”

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She also took aim at White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who chaired the Congressional Campaign Committee, for recruiting conservative candidates to run in swing districts. Though the election of Blue Dogs bolstered the Democrats’ majority in the House, Waters faulted Emanuel, then a congressman from Illinois, for telling the centrists they could vote their conscience.

Now, she said, the White House is having trouble getting its healthcare plan passed in Congress and “the chickens are coming home to roost.”

The liberal thinking here is that they have a huge majority in the House, 60 votes in the Senate, and a liberal President: if they can’t get socialized medicine through now, then when are they ever going to be able to do it? If I were a liberal, I’d be saying the exact same thing and doing everything I could to kick the Blue Dogs in the behind until they voted my way on the bill.

Additionally, my guess is that if they had their druthers, the overwhelming majority of Blue Dogs would like to support socialized medicine — and in the end, they may do it. However, unlike Maxine Waters, they have to fear for their jobs.

For example, Maxine Waters comes from the 35th district of California. According to the Almanac of American politics, that’s a Democrat +33 district. In other words, Waters could probably have a lesbian affair with an underaged intern, leave her to drown under a bridge, and still probably win her district by 10 points without even campaigning.

On the other hand, many of these Blue Dogs come from districts that are very evenly split or, in a large number of cases, even lean towards the GOP. If you look back over the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, the majority of the seats the Democrats took were in Republican leaning districts. However, the wind at the back of the Democrats in both of those election cycles was so strong that it just didn’t matter.

Now, fast forward to 2010. It seems likely that there’s going to be a strong wind at the back of Republicans this time around. Moreover, these congressmen may not be able to do much, but they can at least read polls — and what you see over and over is that the legislation Obama has pushed is unpopular and sinking further by the day. As is, a lot of the Blue Dogs are sweating bullets because they think they’re going to have to go back to their districts and defend their votes on TARP, the stimulus bill, and Cap and Trade in a hostile environment.

Now, they’re being asked to take another one for the team and this bill is particularly scary because it’s a very bad bill, there are a lot of contradictory promises being made about it, and because it may personally impact the people in their districts. You can only promise your constituents a pony for Christmas and deliver nothing but a package full of horsecrap so many times if you are in a competitive district. As is, the Blue Dogs are worried that they may have already gone too far to keep their jobs, even before the debate on the health care bill. They may be right.

Imagine this scenario, which is one that will be very common for the Blue Dogs in the House: it’s 2010. You’re in a district that has 52 Republicans for every 48 Democrats. You’re up against a well funded, blue-chip Republican candidate who decided to run this time around because he thought it would be a Republican year. Judging by how fired up the Republicans in your district are, he may be right. On the other hand, the moderates in your district have seen ad after ad hammering you on your votes for unpopular programs. They’re not happy with you. Neither are the liberals, who are mad you didn’t vote for everything they wanted.

Happily, the recession is over, but the jobless rate is still over 10%, the deficit is enormous, and the economic growth is more sluggish than people would like. Meanwhile, many of the black voters and young voters that Obama turned out in 2008 are expected to sit at home this time around because he’s not on the ticket. Maybe they’d be sitting at home anyway now that Obama’s once sky high approval rating has come down to earth.

If you want to know why the Blue Dogs are hedging on socialized medicine, that’s why. They’re afraid it could be the vote that costs them their jobs and they may very well be correct.

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