Home 2016 elections How a Blue Dog Resurgence can save the Democratic Party- and the...

How a Blue Dog Resurgence can save the Democratic Party- and the Country

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Note: This is a guest post by “Squire,” a bit unusual for Blue Virginia, but what the hell, we live in unusual times. I’m even going to allow the profanity, again because we live in unusual (horrible, deplorable) times, but also because I just like the way this guy writes. Enjoy…or not! 🙂 – Lowell

Now, hold on a second. I can already tell some of y’alls assholes are clenching just based on my title alone. And I know full well that everyone and their brother’s got an opinion as to why Hillary Clinton lost, and Donald Trump won, the Presidential election, blah blah blah. The old ditty about opinions seems relevant here… so how about we just skip it?

Instead, today, I’d like to opine on why the Democratic Party now holds the least power it’s held in… I dunno, forever? Maybe. And how a resurgence of real Blue Dogs, not the corporatist folk you saw go extinct around 2010, can save the Democratic party.

But first, I gotta tell you a big reason why I think things have gotten where they have- and it boils down to just one word. And that word, ladies and gentlemen, is “stigginit”.

What’s “stigginit”, you might ask? It’s a shorthand term coined to refer to people whose electoral preferences and policies stances revolve around your political opponent’s misfortune. And that’s not just their electoral misfortune- in fact, it’s much more personal than that. Ever seen the replays on Sportscenter, where they focus in on the crowd after the home team just blew the big game in the stupidest way imaginable, and you can watch in realtime as the emotions drain from their face and tears come to their eyes? As a University of Virginia football fan, trust me; I’m pretty much an expert on that. Well, so, “stigginit” simply applies that to our political system. If the person you’re voting for can supply that sort-of soul  crushing feeling to the other side, then, by God, that’s what you’re going to do. Even if it ostensibly flies in the face of your own personal best interests.

I don’t think there’s much argument that the past election has held the clearest evidence of the potential driving force behind “stigginit” as we’ve ever seen. It’s why you found blue-collar, working class folk voting for a guy like Donald Trump, who, until just a few short years ago, was the most stereotypical embodiment of a New York Limousine Liberal that ever existed.

Now, I know what you’re gonna say; that’s an asinine reason to vote for anyone. That dumbing our politics down so it’s effectively UVA versus Virginia Tech, Michigan versus Ohio State, or Duke versus North Carolina, isn’t a sustainable way to govern. And sure, you’re right; I ain’t gonna legitimize that sort-of thing. It’s dumber than a bag of hammers, but, listen… you hafta understand where they’re coming from, and why they feel that way. You sure as hell don’t have to excuse it! You just gotta
understand it.

A lot of the folks I see in my neck of the woods respected the hell out of Bernie’s message; I know a lot of folks around here like to go, meh, no way Bernie would’ve won, etc etc. But I ain’t so sure about that. See, because here’s the thing: a lot of this cuts across partisan lines. We have a phrase in my neck of the woods- and honestly, anyone who went to a non-Tobacco Road ACC school will be intimately familiar with it, so, trigger warning here- Carolina Refs.

The “Carolina Ref” phenomenom refers to the miraculously convenient calls or non-calls bequeathed to Duke and UNC during basketball season by ACC officials; heck, you can find entire webpages dedicated to the subject and cataloguing examples thereof. Ask any UVA basketball fan, and they’ll immediately recall Greyson Allan’s three-four-five-six-eleventy step travel from February ‘16 to pull off one of those “miraculous” wins.

Of course, everyone in the ACC Administration denies this wholeheartedly. Preposterous! The very thought! Why, it sets my jowls a-quivering and my monocle askew! Don’t you know every team in the ACC is treated exactly alike. How dare you suggest otherwise! What, are you just a poor loser? What, do you want us to start the game with a twenty-point handicap! You want us to give you a bunch of make-up calls? I’LL BET YOU DO!”

If that doesn’t sound like what happens on Wall Street, with the political elite, 1% in this country, I don’t know what else would. See, in our analogy here, Donald Trump and his ilk are absolutely Duke, UNC, etc; the blue bloods. And whenever we complain about officiating, we get a scoff and a statement like “I’ll bet you just like SOCIALIZMSS!!!”

And that’s actually not true, on either the left or right, of almost anyone! We might be a “Somalia State” team compared to these folks, but all we want is a fair shake! We don’t want makeup calls, we just want everyone to get the same calls. We don’t want a handicap from the refs- WE JUST WANT THE SAME GODDAMN CHANCE TO WIN.

Nine years ago, when President Obama got lambasted for saying folks from my neck of the woods “(clung) to their guns and religion”, I don’t fuckin’ understand why nobody made this point. Because that’s the Goddamn truth. The folks around here understand pretty implicitly, I think- even if they don’t admit it outright- that Republicans aren’t going to do any better than Democrats at fixing those “Carolina Refs”. But, fuck it, maybe- just maybe- they’ll make sure nobody comes to take my
guns, or will do something good for me about abortion. And then the “stigginit” came in; “stigginit” to the Republican establishment, to the Democrats, to everyone who
they’ve been told for years, both right and wrong, are looking down on them.

So here comes some asshole, who promises them whatever they want to hear, like a high-school boy promising he really loves you, baby, don’t worry. Just the tip. We’ll get married. And you want to believe it- it’s everything you’ve wanted to hear, right down to a tee- so you ignore anything else and just go with it. You
literally have nothing else to lose, or so you think. So you’ve been told by the echo chamber you inhabit. The bigger issues of running the country, like trade with China or something, is so far removed that they can’t even comprehend it. So if he wrecks it, what do they care? And nobody bothers to explain to ‘em why, again, they’re told to look it up themselves (if they even know how to, chortle chortle).

If you think that I’m wrong, that liberals haven’t been looking down on these folks, then I gotta ask- what’ve you done to disabuse it? For instance, I live in central Virginia, and the Dems I talk to around here tell me it’d be a cold day in hell before you’d see a Charlottesville-area Dem find their way to Scottsville, or Kents Store, or Stanardsville, or Elkton. It’s not something I’ve seen personally- for full disclosure, I spent the couple months before the election working with the Evan McMullin campaign- but I certainly could believe it’s true, because we were targeting the same sort-of folks Democrats needed to, and we were often the first and only boots on the ground.

And I can see the next retort already generating; it’s not your fault these stupid-ass hick rubes can’t use the Internet, right? All the information is right there, if only they’d care to access it. Well- you’re partly right. I’m not saying their ignorance is your fault. But how about not being a part of the solution? At times like this, I go back to a post my friend Dawn wrote some eight and a half years ago, that caused quite a stir around here at the time.

She notes, pretty succinctly and very presciently, that:

A person can learn to use a web browser and an email client and still not have the information competencies needed to obtain and process information from reliable sources on the Internet. This is why substantial numbers of people get most of their online political information from the chain emails that the rest of us filter into the Trash folder. It’s easy to gain enough technical competence to send, receive, and even forward emails, but it’s harder to learn how to distinguish between good and bad sources of information. If you don’t believe that, just ask anyone who’s
ever taught a class that requires students to write research papers.

It’s true! Anyone here ever used the site “Let Me Google That For You?” Hilarious, right? I mean, how stupid can you be, not knowing how to Google something. Or anyone ever had your blue hair Great Aunt call you and tell you she tried to find some-sort of widget website on the internet but gave up after a couple hours, and you found it in three seconds? Or had your mother-in-law almost give out all her financial information to a phisher or scammer; I know I had that happen with mine. They found out she was a widower and stole the photo of an attractive, fit fifty-something ex-military guy from Facebook and started flirting with her over Facebook, and finally progressed to asking her for money. She was about to send it, too, before lady luck intervene. Anyway, my friend hits on that, too, noting:

How many times have you heard someone say that something won’t come up in a Google search when you know darn well that particular search yields thousands of related web pages. Many people with low-level literacy can work a web browser but don’t have the vocabulary to perform effective web searches. Not everyone has time to learn about the political process, the candidates, or the issues. The fewer resources (e.g., time, money) someone has, the less likely that person is to have the ability to understand the political process or the people involved. Most of the people reading fake news are not willfully ignorant or willfully misinformed people, although there are plenty that I encounter who are definitely willfully misinformed). These are hardworking Americans who are doing the best they can with the hand they were dealt (and the education they had access to).

I dunno; I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have put that any better myself. Not just pretty sure, in fact, damn sure- she gets right to the heart of the matter.

So, look, you can whinge about how it’s not fair this or that, and you might even be right. Heck, you probably are. But we need to make sure we’re working to circumvent the issues I noted above. We need to show everyone there’s no broad stereotype that can be applied; that we’re all human beings, regardless of political affiliation, and nobody is maligning anyone else just for the hell of it. And it’ll be circumventing those issues, and focusing on a core message we can all agree on- like the Carolina Ref one above- that, combined with a new Blue Dog coalition, is where we’ll track down a Democratic resurgence.

Now, I suppose, the question is: what does such a candidate look like? Well, that’s a great question- I’m gonna just go ahead and point to myself. I’d like to think I could fit into the mold of a prototypical new “Blue Dog”, because if Jim Webb, Tom Perriello, Evan McMullin, Jon Tester, and Trae Crowder read abunch of Robert Heinlein books and then combined their genetic material into one ugly-ass love child, that’d be me. While I was born and raised a Republican, cutting my political teeth caucusing for Lamar Alexander in 1996, there’s nothing left in the Party of Lincoln for me any longer. I mean, for fuck’s sake, are we really calling “conservatives” people who are cheering a guy who bragged about doubling Hillary Clinton’s spending proposals, wants to massively increase the size and power of the Federal Government, and thinks the government ought to directly intervene in the free market picking winners and losers based off who hurt his fee-fees? The first time one of them tries to sneer “librul” at me, I swear to God, I’m going to lose it.

Where do I differ from what is traditionally associated as being liberal orthodoxy? Well, for one, I’m fervently pro-second amendment. But I guess I’m pro-Bill of Rights, if you want to call it that. I feel like you need to treat restrictions on the second amendment about the same as you would the first amendment- or any other amendment. You need to err on the side of keeping it as open as possible, because any rights or power you give the government, they never give back. Sure, just like you can’t yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, it’s not an unlimited power. But it needs to be as close to that as we can feasibly get, and any restrictions we place on any of our constitutional amendments need that eye kept to ‘em.

I’m also fervently pro-life. In fact, if I were a Democrat, I’d advocate for the addition of a plank to the Democratic platform to eliminate abortion in the United States as soon as possible. But you have to note my wording there- eliminate abortion… not make it illegal. Just make the abortion rate as close to zero as possible. I want to do everything we can to strengthen foster care and adoption programs; increased funding, increased exposure, increased institutional support. I want high-quality prenatal and pediatric care to be as available as we can make it.

I’d love for some form of health insurance reform to go along with it; Medicare-for-all is a tad more “government-controlly” than I would prefer, but how many people have you heard say: I’d leave this job, I’d open my own business, I’d spend more time with my kids… but I can’t afford to lose my health insurance.

Having a base level of insurance available everyone can rely on only furthers the ability of people to meet the entrepreneurial ideal of the American Dream. Why the Democrats absolutely refused to use this as a message, to smack people over the head with, I’ll never know. It makes perfect sense, and if we ARE gonna run a program like that, I want people who give a damn to be running it, not folks who get elected to help break the government so they can prove their central premise of the
government being broken.

Anyway, there’s plenty more there- but if the more traditionally “liberal” wing of the Democratic Party can live with that sort-of thing… if we can convince everyone o get along and fight for one another… I think we can pull this thing through. But it’s sure not going to be easy. We need talented and tenacious folks fighting against districts that have been gerrymandered past the point of even Republican shame, knowing it’s a nigh-on Sisyphean task but taking our message to the people and making the Republicans bleed everywhere.

And we need Blue Dogs, especially in my neck of the woods in Virginia. Right now, Democrats are running a 16-seat deficit to the Republicans, largely thanks to gerrymandering and coziness with the Republicans in charge. It’s widely presumed that Democrats in safer districts often, if not outright collaborate with, don’t challenge it when Republicans eke out new district niches to keep all incumbents safe. In fact, last election, every single incumbent in the Commonwealth got re-elected in our House of Delegates. All 100. None with a particularly serious challenge.

I dunno about ya’ll, but I think if we’re serious about this, that seat should go unchallenged, anywhere. Period. End of story. Hillary Clinton spent, what, $600 million on the election? I hear stories she came into our area, her folks demanding to take control from the locals; had them phonebanking in places like Omaha instead of GOTV stuff for our local folks, or helping to set up party infrastructure.

Seriously, plunking $10k in 20-30 of those races where Republicans hold seats, even if they’re gerrymandered to be R +10, would’ve been a drop in the bucket to her and would’ve given our local strength a serious shot of credibility.

But- our statewide elections are in 2017, we’re one of the odd-year seats. We need to be finding serious candidates and giving them the support to challenge incumbents in a serious way, not just to be Don Quixote tilting at windmills. They need to challenge local issues, using Trump as a wedge, not as the issue. All politics is local, after all.

This support doesn’t have to be monetary, or even if monetary, doesn’t have to be a lot. The way my state is gerrymandered, more than a handful of pickups even if the political winds shift correctly, would be astounding. But this is a long-term plan; helps us develop a bench of talented candidates, gets our message out there, and provides a blueprint for other places in 2018. And we need to keep these incumbents on our toes; we need them to break into warchests so big they could write a check to God, or else they’ll just keep getting bigger.

We need to fight with a concentrated message; meet people, learn what makes them tick, get out there, not be afraid to talk to anyone. This is an insurgency; we’re the Wolverines, they’re the Soviets. We have to fight on a shoestring budget and make Republicans bleed everywhere we can. We need to hold their feet to the fire on Trump. We need all hands on deck for this evolution, ya’ll, or there’s a damn good chance our country could go by the wayside. Even if we only win a couple of those seats, if we can attack in a coordinated way, put the Republicans on the defensive, make a show and build up support for the next go round…

I surely don’t have all the answers. And, again, I’m not a Democrat- not right now. But if we can gear up that sentiment in the Rust Belt, in Virginia and North Carolina, in Arizona and Texas, Georgia and Iowa, I think we can skew us back from this 1930s Germany vibe we’ve had going on. And, by God, if that’s what we gotta do to get that done, count me in.

  • JDL

    Clinton lost the EV by less than 80,000 votes in three states (and of course she won the popular vote by almost 3 million). And she lost due to unprecedented interference by the FBI and 30 years of GOP-sourced media propaganda. The message the Democratic Party has is a winning message and I don’t think we should change it to appeal to people who have very little chance of switching sides. We should take a page from the GOP playbook and appeal to our base, the people that come out religiously to donate, volunteer, and vote for Democrats. We should not try to be all things to all people. And abandoning our core values, like freedom of choice, reasonable restrictions on gun ownership (like mandatory registration and waiting periods), is not the way to win. It is a sure plan for depressing the Democratic vote though.

    I’m reminded of how Mark Warner almost lost his last election. Why? Because instead of targeting his message towards core Democratic constituencies, like minorities and women, he spent so much time in rural parts of VA trying to win the votes of people who will never vote for the Democratic party because their information comes from Fox News and Breitbart. I’ll bet Kaine won’t make that mistake (and Warner won’t make it again).

    • ragekage117

      Why not both? Who says you have to ignore one group to the exclusion of the other? Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have to play for the whole state. Delegates don’t, and shouldn’t. If you wanna win back the House, I don’t see how you do it without something like this blueprint.

  • Quizzical

    it’s a good thing to get other viewpoints on what went wrong in the 2016 election, so I welcome this one.

    I have to confess, I’m not exactly sure what a Blue Dog Democrat is. I did Google it, but that didn’t clear it up for me. I assume it is a conservative Democrat – conservative in some ways and liberal or progressive in others. I’m not sure what the mix is though. One thing is clear though, the Blue Dog Democrats couldn’t keep their seats in Congress. That seems to weigh against the idea that Blue Dog Democratic candidates are the answer. Maybe it was the gerrymandering that picked them off. But it is a good idea to contest every election with a candidate who is electable. The next “change election” won’t be long in coming.

    That takes a lot of money, over a long period of time. The Clinton Campaign is getting some criticism for not having a ground game in rural areas, and I’m wondering whether that was due to tactical decisions as to where to put their resources. They did raise a lot of money, but not an infinite amount.

    • ragekage117

      I could see a new “blue dog” being a mutt, which all healthy dogs are; as long as their good traits outnumber their bad, it’s good to have around, right? The old ones sold out on corporatism. The news ones, I think the thought here is, can find common ground on lots of issues, even if they disagree on a few.

      • Quizzical

        I guess I could call myself a Blue Dog Democrat. I am deeply conservative on some issues. For example, I believe that if the nation has to go to war, there ought to be taxes to pay for the war. As another example, I believe that as a nation, we need to be energy self-sufficient, and that goal is reason enough for an all out program to adopt solar power — wholly apart from any considerations of climate change.

        Likewise, most successful Democratic politicians also have some deeply conservative views of their own. Isn’t that the norm, rather than an exception? Even Hillary Clinton was like that — she always was explaining how she planned to pay for the programs she was proposing.

  • Elaine Owens

    This is a fact of politics, both in Virginia and in the United States, especially in presidential elections right now: Rural and more conservative areas of the country and the state have a disproportionate amount of power relative to their numbers. That isn’t going to change right now. So, this post seems to me to be speaking truth to the situation the Democrats have right now. People in small town and rural areas frankly are more conservative in their outlook than people in large metropolitan areas. Thus, Democrats have a great chance in statewide elections in Virginia, but the General Assembly is another whole ballgame. I can give you examples from my own county, which is a mix of suburban and rural populations just outside of Roanoke City, which is a Democratic stronghold. Out here, gun control is anathema to the majority of the population, opposition to abortion is much higher than in the city, large government programs are suspect, even when they help the very people who are suspicious of them. The population also is much whiter than in the city and is getting older. So, my county is Republican by a large majority. Yet, we have two members of the board of supervisors who are Democrats in their governance, but they just don’t talk it up. One ran as an independent, the other as a Republican who successfully primaried a Tea Party supervisor. I personally would love to see someone run, either as an independent or a blue dog Democrat against Steve Newman, who “represents” us in the state senate. I would love to see a state party that recruited Democratic candidates to run in every district Lowell recently pointed out that could be flipped with the right candidate. If those people have to run as more conservative Democrats, so be it. When we had a “blue dog” wing in the party that matched the viewpoint of the areas they represented, we were the dominant political party. Let’s look at that again.

    • ragekage117

      Absolutely. I don’t think it’s a “republican lite” message to point out that folks these days are working harder than their parents and grandparents did and getting less for it.

      • Elaine Owens

        To me, “representative government” means that the person who holds office should reflect the views of those he/she represents. I don’t mean that a politician should reinforce prejudices
        or wrongheaded views held by their constituents, but the representative should at least be somewhat in tune with the constituents. Otherwise, how can it be “representative government”?

  • kathleen

    Yes, because what the Democratic party really needs is advice from a right-leaning politician to run more right-leaning politicians.

  • woodrowfan

    no one is taking your f-ing guns dude. get a grip. but you don;t need an AR15 (or whatever) to hunt deer.

    • ragekage117

      Not everyone knows that, because they’ve been stuck in an echo chamber where that’s absolutely true, and we don’t have enough folk who’re going out to engage the people who are stuck believing that.

  • Quizzical
  • Anonymous Is A Woman

    This is a brilliant rebranding of the term Blue Dog and a reframing of a basically progressive message. Read it carefully.

    Squire is pro life. So am I, actually, but I don’t want to see women forced into back alley abortions, shackled to hospital beds while being forced to give birth, dying and being maimed because of desperation. I am pro life, if you include better access to birth control, better sex education courses for young people, and full medical support to women. But abortion must remain legal and safe too. However, any effort to help prevent the need for abortion in the first place, I’m on board.

    Likewise guns. I don’t want to take them away from rural farmers. But just as there are limits on the First Amendment – you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater – there are a few sensible limits that should be put on the Second Amendment to protect society. Let’s start with the principle of sensible limits. On the First Amendment, not only can’t you yell fire in the theater, you also can’t knowingly spread lies and slander private citizens. The bar is somewhat higher for gossiping about public figures. But in the end, even a newspaper can lose a lawsuit for defamation. There is protected speech and speech that is not considered protected.

    Same way, there should be a basic right to own a gun, but limits on people with felony records (we have no trouble prohibiting them from voting in Virginia, and that is another normally sacrosanct right). Mentally ill people, those who have been involved in domestic violence, could and should be disqualified from owning guns. And background checks should remain robust. Also, the Constitution may protect your right to own a gun, but not your right to display it at a school or Walmart. So, open carry is not a constitutional right. I even know a lot of gun owners who understand that.

    What I am saying, is one can frame the cultural issues in ways that can appeal to more moderate rural people. And yes, they do exist. And a lot of those people understand that what works for rural areas, like guns, doesn’t work in urban environments and some of the restrictions on gun use and display should be local decisions, different on a farm than in the middle of Fifth Avenue, New York.

    But where Squire gets interesting is on the economic issues. He is right about his frame of Medicare for all. It would free up an entrepreneurial spirit that would allow people to start new businesses. Good point, good non-socialist frame that people can relate to. The whole issue of economic fairness resonates more among the white working class than it does for the bi-coastal elites.

    Trump did not win the Midwestern Rust Belt whites because they cared that he was taking their guns or was anti-abortion. He won because he came out strong against bad trade deals. And he wasn’t really even completely anti-trade. He just convinced those people he would negotiate better trade deals that were fair to them and would bring their jobs back. He won on fairness and the economy in those areas. Yet most liberals I know insist on lumping the Rust Belt voters with the rural Southerners. Actually, that’s one thing I disagree with Squire on. They are not the same voters. There is some cultural overlap, but they really voted different issues than the voters in rural Southwest Virginia.

    But Squire also is not wrong that we need to win more than just the White House or the Richmond Governor’s Mansion. Just winning statewide, or nationwide, still leaves the Democrats with little power to enact lasting legislation. It’s what has made McAuliffe struggle so much and what has rendered him ineffective at some of his favorite initiatives. It’s what in the end defeated President Obama’s agenda, which will now be rolled back and repealed after all those hard fights. That can only be prevented when we win more than the White House or the State House. We’ve got to have more legislative victories. And that means we’ve got to be able to run successfully in the districts we’ve got now in order to make them more favorable later. It’s just a fact of life.

    So, yeah, though I am a bit skeptical about how far I want to embrace the “Blue Dog” label, I think Squire has a good point. Certainly, it’s worth debating and not dismissing out of hand.