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Why don’t the Dems keep their blue dogs on a leash?

Joe Manchin, probably the most right wing Democratic Senator, has clearly gone off the rails:

The U.S. Senate should be a polite membership club rather than a contentious governmental body whose balance of power shapes the lives of millions of human beings, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) argued Tuesday.

Manchin went to the floor to beg his colleagues to sign a bizarre pledge of mutual loyalty to one another. “Washington will be dysfunctional until we all draw a line of truce and say we’re here for the same reason, we take the same oath,” he said. “If you’re willing to serve, you’re my comrade and I’m willing to work with you.”

He decried the endless fundraising that fills politicians’ nights and the vitriolic politicking that crowds their days, before taking out a pen and signing a formal pledge of his own design. “I’m pledging to the people of West Virginia and to the American people that I will not campaign against a sitting colleague,” he said.

Manchin’s document calls for the 100 stinking-rich members of the most prestigious, least prolific legislative body in the developed world to down tools. Pledge signers would give their word to never campaign against another sitting senator, raise money for their opponents, and “not use or endorse social media campaigns that attack them.”

One bizarre element of this is that it is simply unbelievable that at this point Manchin could believe that he can trust any Republican who signs his pledge to keep his or her word, given recent history.

But lets set that particular quibble aside.

There is a backstory here, and it’s one that helps explain why the Democrats have been, and will continue to be, losers. It’s not likely that any Democrats will sign Manchin’s pledge, but they will continue, as they have in the past, to attempt to appease him.

In the Democratic Party, the most right wing members get constant deference. Witness, as one small example, the DCCC’s invitation to the Blue Dogs to please recommend some more DINO candidates for seats that should be in play in November. It’s a bit different with the Republicans. I remember when I first started blogging, passing on a report about our “moderate” Republican Congressman, Rob Simmons. He was kept on a tight leash, permitted to go off the reservation only when it was absolutely clear it would make no difference. The leaders called the shots, and “moderates” like Simmons did what they were told. The called it “catch and release”; that’s right, they even had a name for it.

Simmons position in Congress was analogous to Manchin’s and to many of the Blue Dogs. He was in a relatively left leaning district in which he had to appear to be at least “moderate”. Manchin is in a right leaning state in which he has to appear to have no brains. If this suggestion about the pledge is any indication, then he doesn’t have to work hard at that appearance. But the fact is that unlike Simmons, he’s not on a leash, he’s calling the shots, as do the Blue Dogs. This spells trouble for the Democratic Party, both in the short and long term.

If the Democrats are going to be an effective alternative to the Republicans they need to be more than Republican-lite. That just doesn’t sell. They have to play the long game, as the Republicans have done. If Manchin or his fellow Blue Dogs don’t want to be team players, then the Democrats should be prepared to cut them loose. If they want to wander off the reservation, they should do so only with the express permission of leadership; permission that should be seldom granted. We have to be prepared to lose a few of them either by election loss or conversion to their true colors if we want to build a solid governing majority. In the short term, accomodating the Blue Dogs means dampening the ardor of the base in November, which may turn the “blue wave” into a “blue dribble”. In the long term, it means giving up on any chance of getting a working progressive majority in either House.

I’m already convinced that the Democrats are all in for November. They think they can lose big if they just try, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They can’t stop themselves from assuming a defensive crouch, and their constant deference to the Blue Dogs simply compounds the problem.

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