The end of the Blue Dog Democracy

June 29, 2011

They were the key to Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic majority. Their rise marked the resurgence of the Democratic Party. And their demise illustrated the sweeping loss of the Democrats’ power in the House. Meet the last of a vanishing breed: the Blue Dog Democrat.

At their highest point, Blue Dogs numbered 54 in 2010 before losing more than half their ranks — 28 total — after the 2010 election. Six of the 28 Blue Dogs saw the writing on the wall and retired from the House, while 22 faced the wrath of voters who rejected them as loyal followers of the Democratic tax, borrow and spend agenda.

Last Congress, 24 Blue Dogs voted for the failed trillion-dollar stimulus. Nine Blue Dogs voted for the job-destroying cap-and-trade bill. Fourteen Blue Dogs voted for Obamacare. But all voted for San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi for speaker, shattering their centrist facade with rightfully outraged voters. John Tanner. Baron Hill. Earl Pomeroy. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. And many more names for the political history books.

Will the 26 Blue Dogs who survived to this Congress meet extinction by 2012? The National Republican Congressional Committee is paving the way for their departure.

First went Jane Harman from California, a known nemesis to Nancy Pelosi, who had no appreciation for her differing views. Harman quickly retired to the private sector this year after Nancy Pelosi was reelected as the Democrats’ House leader. Next was Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who announced his House retirement this spring after nearly losing the last election, opting to gamble on higher office after seeing the tide turning against him for 2012.

And next was Dan Boren from Oklahoma. Right after the 2010 elections, the NRCC named Boren as a top target for 2012. Now with the NRCC closing in, he is retiring from Congress at only 37: “Just hours before his unexpected retirement announcement, the NRCC launched a series of robocalls in Boren’s district hammering Democrats over Medicare. ‘You would have been assured that he was going to have a well-funded opponent, perhaps the best-funded opponent he has ever faced,’ said John Rowley, a Boren media consultant who counts many rural Democrats as clients.” (“Another Blue Dog Bites the Dust,” POLITICO, June 9)

Dan Boren could see in the political crystal ball that 2012 will not be as rosy as some in his party are predicting. The NRCC is holding every Democrat accountable — tracking every vote, every statement — to expose the true agenda of a Democratic Party and Democratic president whose policies are wildly unpopular with the American people. With the truth coming out, three Blue Dogs have already chosen the exit door.

So make that 23 Blue Dogs now chasing the wind. Who will be next? Maybe Jim Matheson from Utah, sitting in the most Republican seat currently held by a Democrat. Or Mike Ross from Arkansas’s second most Republican district. Or Jim Costa of California, who could lose his marginal Democratic footing with redistricting. Or Mike McIntyre and Heath Shuler of North Carolina or Ben Chandler of Kentucky, who may face their most competitive races yet in 2012.

But what is the real reason for the dwindling Blue Dog count? There is no room in the Democratic Party for moderate Democrats, and both Blue Dogs and American voters know it. Led by Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco liberalism and Barack Obama’s Chicago-style politics, the Democratic Party has run so far to the left that Blue Dogs have little ability to fool voters with their moderate dog tag.

Voters see the two-faced politics of the Blue Dog breed: barking moderate rhetoric while running with a Democratic pack of pure-bred liberals. Their true colors have been exposed, as Nancy Pelosi has no space for moderate pretense in her Big Government caucus.

After historic losses in 2010, House Democrats reelected Nancy Pelosi as their leader and are pushing the same agenda in 2012: more spending, more taxes and more debt. With this direct denial of the American people’s voice, Blue Dogs must be seething that their leader, Nancy Pelosi, will no longer throw them a bone.

As a sign of the times, now Republicans and Democrats are, in their own ways, telling Blue Dogs: If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.