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Column: Defending The Blue Dogs

This story was written by Stuart Baimel, The Stanford Daily

The Netroots, or whatever it is they call themselves these days, have latched upon the ludicrous idea of expelling Blue Dog Democrats from the Democratic Party. The Blue Dogs are a grouping of moderate and conservative House Democrats who tend to represent more conservative, rural areas. Glenn Greenwald, a well-known leftist blogger, revived the expulsion idea; Daily Kos and other fanatical sites have been talking about it for years.

Greenwald argues that the Democrats have failed to stand up to President Bush on issues like Iraq, spending and FISA, which then gives Americans a low opinion of Congress. Greenwald wants to target Blue Dogs seats and run more liberal primary challengers. He trumpets the case of Georgia Rep. John Barrow, a well-known Blue Dog who received considerable pressure from leftist political action committees and faced a primary challenger.

Barrow won the primary by a huge margin, but nevertheless Greenwald seems thrilled that he had to devote far more resources to defending his seat for November. That is what it means to attach a price to trampling on the political values of Democratic supporters. Making it tough for Democrats to win Republican-leaning districts seems to be his mission.

Greenwald and the Netroots are living in a fantasy world. Yes, the Democrats have a big majority in the House already and will expand it in November. Yes, Democrats have a 15-point lead on generic ID over Republicans. What Greenwald fails to realize is that Democrats already hold pretty much all of the liberal-leaning Congressional districts. Any more gains will have to be won from Republican-leaning districts. The three by-election victories that Democrats have won this year in rural Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi are not districts that Netroots-approved progressive Democrats can win.

Besides poor electoral math, the Netroots ignore the important role that Blue Dog Democrats play in intra-Party dynamics. House Democrats have already moved too far to the left on trade, foreign policy and domestic spending. Maybe not this election, but at some point, these liberal positions will most likely come back to bite Democrats. It has been a lesson time and time again that as soon as the Democrats go too far to the left, they get crushed in presidential and Congressional elections witness the 1968 riots, the 1972 McGovern campaign or 1988s disastrous Michael Dukakis campaign.

Liberal Democrats lose elections; moderate Democrats like Bill Clinton win them. The reason why Barack Obama is barely leading John McCain, even though Democrats have a huge advantage overall, is mostly because he is perceived, rightly, as very liberal. Same for John Kerry in 2004. If the Democrats had nominated a centrist candidate like Mark Warner or Evan Bayh, either of them would be leading McCain by 15 points.

The Netroots overwhelmingly positive view of Democrats chances to build a lasting majority stems from their own inflated view in building it. The Democrats elected in 2006 until now have been mostly moderates, not progressives. The Netroots-approved John Edwards was crushed in the presidential primaries, much as Howard Dean was in 2004. They have not yet won the debate that beating the protectionist drum or demanding immediate withdrawal is the right direction for the Party, especially considering how much good globalization has done for the economy, and how well the Iraq War is going. Like it or not, the Netroots are weak on economically sound policy proposals that wont balloon the deficit or hamper economic growth.

Blue Dogs currently number 49 members. If the Democrats lose even 17 f those seats, Republicans will regain control of the House. The Party does not have the luxury of controlling 300 seats, and it never will. If the only image Democrats can present to America is of liberal urbanites, then its hard to imagine the party doing well in future elections. For all of the lefts hand wringing about how the Republican Party is far-right or controlled by fundamentalist evangelicals, the Democrats have had the virtue of being the big-tent party, happy to welcome disgruntled Republicans.

Like it or not, in this country, liberal is a bad word. If Democrats cannot present multiple faces to the American people, then it will be much more difficult to win independents and disillusioned Republicans in normally red states, which are essential to expanding the majority and winning the White House this year.