Blue Dog Democrats’ Imperil Themselves, Liberal Agenda With Obamacare Sabotage
The Republican Party may be easy to hate, but there is perhaps no lower political life form than a Blue Dog Democrat. Actual dogs are loyal, brave, predictable and enjoy pissing all over the place to mark their territory. Blue Dogs, in contrast, are disloyal, cowardly, unpredictable and have a tendency to shit all over the Democratic Party. With a series of misguided attempts at self-preservation, the Blue Dogs have already inflicted great damage on themselves and the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda. They claim that political necessity forces them to adopt more moderate positions in order to stay in office. While it would be unfair to expect relatively conservative states to yield Elizabeth Warrens and Barney Franks, this is no excuse to abandon liberal priorities at the first sign of danger. For one thing, doing so prevents a Democratic Party already hampered by GOP abuse of the filibuster and unprecedented obstruction of everything from widely supported legislation to routine judicial and executive nominees. Despite the so-called GOP Civil War, the differences between the “moderate” and conservative wings of the Republican Party are largely a matter of strategy. For example, is it better to force a government shutdown unless the Democrats make substantial concessions on Obamacare, or is it better to play the long game and chip away at it piece by piece? Nevertheless, when it comes to fundamental goals – repealing Obamacare, protecting the interests of the 1% and sabotaging President Obama – the Republican Party is in agreement.
The Democratic Party can claim no such unity, largely because Blue Dog Democrats are inclined to jump ship when their party needs them the most. In 2009, their opposition forced Obama and congressional leaders to whittle away at the Affordable Care Act. Passing a public option may have been a steep climb to begin with, but the Blue Dogs’ opposition made it impossible. In spite of their efforts, conservative Democrats were demolished in the 2010 midterm elections. One might have assumed that, moving forward, they would have abandoned their misguided approach and rallied around the centerpiece of their party’s agenda. Alas, after supporting Obamacare for a few years when it was easy, Blue Dogs have succumbed to old, destructive habits following the law’s bumpy rollout. They have even gone so far as to introduce legislation aimed at dismantling some of the Affordable Care Act’s vital components. Most notably, Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) introduced a bill that would allow individuals to keep sub-par plans indefinitely, thwarting Obamacare’s attempt to improve the quality of healthcare for all Americans by imposing higher standards on insurance companies. Instead, in a harsh rebuke of President Obama, many Blue Dogs joined Republicans in voting for a similar bill in the House. These actions have served to exacerbate a PR disaster that has threatened the credibility of the Democratic Party. Republicans can now brag that even some Democrats have seen Obamacare for the “train wreck” it is.
The issue is not so much that any changes to Obamacare are, by definition, wrong. Like all ambitious programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, it has proven necessary to make alterations and improvements over time. Far from inflexible, the Obama Administration has instituted many fixes, including one very similar to Mary Landrieu’s legislation. Just today, the Obama Administration extended the deadline for small businesses to sign up for the Affordable Care Act by one year. If Blue Dogs want to help Obamacare work better, they should work with Kathleen Sebelius and the Department of Health and Human Services, giving input and suggestions aimed at improving a law that they invested so much political capital in passing. The Blue Dogs’ failure to do so and insistence on airing the party’s dirty laundry for an already-skeptical public to see suggested that they are more interested in making a political statement than offering constructive feedback. Once again, the Blue Dogs hope that their cynical posturing will secure the votes of independents in 2014. Once again, they are woefully wrong. If anything, their strategy is even less likely to succeed now than in 2010.
Even accepting the dubious notion that independents and moderate Democrats have irrevocably turned against Obamacare, it is unlikely that bucking the administration at this late stage will salvage their reputations. Voters frustrated with Obamacare are not likely to forget that their congressmen have supported the program since its passage in 2009. Far from coming across as bold and bipartisan, the Blue Dogs will look weak, unprincipled, and dismissive of voters’ intelligence. There is perhaps no one more reviled in American politics than the flip-flopper; if John Kerry and Hillary Clinton couldn’t get away with changing their positions on the Iraq War, what makes Blue Dogs think it will work out for them? Their best course of action is to take the long view and help maintain a unified front. Americans who don’t yet fully comprehend a complicated program will not have faith in the Affordable Care Act if the politicians who put it together don’t have faith in it. Its failure will not just discredit progressive legislation for a generation; it will also result in their own political downfall, beginning with the 2014 midterm elections.