DEMOCRATIC "DISARRAY" --...

DEMOCRATIC "DISARRAY" -- COMPARED TO WHAT? I'll join with others in strongly recommending Amy Sullivan's bracingly counter-intuitive argument that the Democrats don't actually suck. Amy is very right here. Much of her focus is on the mainstream media narratives that continue to portray Democrats as invariably weak, divided, and feckless. But MSM cluelessness is an old story -- what's frankly more troubling and frustrating is the unyielding scorn and hostility that Democratic activists and netroots folks heap on the Democratic congressional leadership.

Take the question of caucus discipline. The lack of comparative context underlying liberal critics' incessant carping on this front is glaring -- compared to both recent and much more longstanding historical precedent, the current Democratic opposition has not only been disciplined and unified, but effective. Improvements can always be made, but it's simple ignorance to portray the state of the congressional caucuses under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as indistinguishable from what we saw under Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt in the early Bush years or, for that matter, what we saw from Democrats during the 1990s, when first Democratic congressional majorities confirmed Clarence Thomas and completely flubbed a major opportunity for universal healthcare legislation, then later Democratic congressional minorities joined ranks with Republicans on any number of illiberal, corporate-friendly initiatives. The current Democratic caucus is more ideologically unified, more disciplined in their votes, and on most scores more liberal than it has been in recent history.

Many factors have led to that, including long-range ones like the dwindling ranks of the last conservative (mainly southern) Dem hold-outs as well as the effects of George W. Bush and Tom DeLay's brand of GOP hyper-partisanship, which deliberately shuts out traditional Democratic collaborators from participating in legislation and attempts to cut off K Street funding for Democratic lawmakers. But it's also the result of important shifts in both personnel and strategic outlook within the Democratic leadership. Enforcing party ranks is extremely difficult in the American political system; on both sides of the aisle, it is done to a greater extent than we've seen in a long time, perhaps ever. And to the extent that we're now seeing cleavages and disarray growing among the GOP on things like budget bills, that's in part a credit to unified opposition by Democrats, which sets a context in which all Republicans must hang together or nothing passes.

The pervasive scorn for Pelosi is particularly odd, because on issues where there really remain intra-Democratic divisions, she's on the same side as liberals. When 72 Democrats voted for the bankruptcy bill last year, outraged bloggers cast it as still more evidence of Democratic cravenness and disarray. But that same faction of Democrats -- generally, K Street-friendly members aligned with Steny Hoyer -- had been quietly voting in favor of that same bankruptcy bill since the late 1990s. It was only under Pelosi that, for the first time, an actual intra-party fight broke out, with Pelosi leading the liberal faction, arguing that it's bad policy and bad politics for the caucus not to maintain united opposition to such bills.


Obviously more can always be done, pressure should always be maintained, and complacency should always be avoided. (TAP subcribers, of all people, know that.) But it remains the case that the actual state of the Democratic congressional caucuses, from the perspective of ideological liberals seeking disciplined and effective opposition, is better than it has been in awhile. That's worth acknowledging from time to time.

--Sam Rosenfeld

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