The Leftward Drift Of The Democratic Party
Oddly, the Democratic Party seems to be responding to the 2010 midterms by moving further left.
First, the L.A. Times reports today on a phenomenon that’s been ongoing since November, the number of conservative/centrist Democrats in the South who have switched to the Republican Party:
Since the midterm election, 24 state senators and representatives have made the switch in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Texas.
In some cases, the ramifications have been profound: In Louisiana, defecting Democrats gave Republicans a majority in the state House for the first time since Reconstruction; in Alabama, they delivered the GOP a House supermajority. Republicans have 65 votes to the Democrats’ 39, enough to pass constitutional amendments over Democratic opposition.
The trend continued through late January — when nine officials in Lamar County in northeastern Texas left the Democratic Party — and into last week, when Louisiana Atty. Gen. James D. “Buddy” Caldwell switched parties, leaving the GOP in control of every major state office in Baton Rouge.
Democrats may remain competitive in some parts of the South in 2012. The Democratic Party’s announcement last week that it will hold its national convention in Charlotte, N.C., may help President Obama’s chances in what has become a Southern swing state — and one that he narrowly won in 2008.
But peering farther South, he will face a sea of red that is increasingly deep: Republicans hold every Southern governor’s mansion except in North Carolina and Arkansas, and control most of the state legislative chambers.
“The truth is that this change of party is in line with thousands of everyday people who simply feel more comfortable with most of what the Republican Party represents locally and nationally,” Caldwell said in a statement.
This process of white conservative southern drift away from the Democratic Party and toward the GOP has been ongoing for decades, of course, but which accelerated during the 2010 elections. In fact, the phenomenon has led some Democrats to worry that the party needed to find a way to appeal to white southerns again. While it’s easy to make a racial argument out of this phenomenon, the main reason it’s happening is because the Democratic Party has, at least in the perception of these voters, drifted away from the centrism that typified during the Clinton Administration. And their perception is, it seems correct.
Just today, North Carolina Congressman Health Schuler stated publicly that the current House leadership is ignoring the Blue Dog Democrats that he leads:
Centrist Democrats have had “no communication” with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi since the start of the 112th Congress, one of the leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition said Monday.|
Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), who challenged Pelosi for the leadership spot, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “there’s been really no communication whatsoever” between his group and the California Democrat. “We still have not had the connection between the Blue Dog members and the leadership.”
Pelosi wouldn’t be welcome in his or other centrists’ districts, he said. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), could visit Blue Dog areas, he said, because they’re not as liberal as Pelosi. “I think Steny has been good at that task, understanding the districts we come from. To be quite frank, Steny’s the only one that can come to our district. He and Clyburn can come to our district.”
“We’re not about the ideologues of either political party. We’re talking about how we can bring our country back to the middle where we need to be and start with compromise,” Schuler said. “I think the Blue Dogs represent 80 percent of America. You look at the political structure on both sides — they only represent 10 percent on each side of the American people. Blue Dogs represent 80 percent of America.”
Of course, given the fact that the Blue Dog caucus is much smaller now than it was before the elections, and that the Democrats are now in the minority in the House and therefore far less able to do much of anything, this isn’t entirely surprising. Nonetheless, this kind of a disconnect between the two wings of the Democratic Party reflects both the fact that the House caucus is now actually more progressive than it was before the midterms, and the extent to which the party itself is abandoning the South, which is where most of the Blue Dogs are from. Would treatment like this cause some of these representatives to switch parties? Perhaps not immediately, but don’t be surprised if one or more Blue Dogs in the House jumps ship before 2012.
The final news item is perhaps the most shocking, at least to me, because it essentially represents the final defeat of the centrist strategy that got Democrats their first full two-term Presidency since FDR. Earlier today, the Democratic Leadership Council announced that it was out of money and would be folding up shop:
The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.
The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.
But Reed left the DLC last year himself to serve as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, leaving Ed Gresser, a trade expert, to lead the group in the interim. Since then the board “hasn’t been able to find someone who wanted to come on in a permanent capacity,” a person familiar with the group’s woes said, with the central problem the difficulty of raising money for a Democratic group that isn’t seen as an ally of the White House.
Given the DLC’s ties to the Clinton’s this isn’t entirely surprising. Nontheless, it strikes me as yet another example of how, for better or worse, the Democratic Party has abandoned the “center” part of the Clintonian “center-left” strategy, and has just decided to go further left. Given the election results this past November, that doesn’t strike me as the smartest strategy for political success.