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Can Congressional Democrats Save Themselves?

Blowback from voters as a result of the party's liberal agenda may make a mockery of all that "realignment" talk.

by
Jennifer Rubin

Bio

August 13, 2009 - 12:16 am

The Democrats, just as the Republicans did a few short years ago, control the Congress by a large majority and the White House. But they, or rather their congressional leadership, are putting that at risk. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, either by conviction or miscalculation, are bent on pursuing a far left agenda. And that may end the era of “Democratic dominance” far sooner than anyone imagined.

Kim Strassel recently zeroed in on the impact of ObamaCare on the Blue Dogs. What’s a poor moderate freshman like Rep. Walt Minnick from Idaho to do? She explains that he’s tried his best to insist the plan be paid for, control costs, and omit the public option:

The irony is that a majority of politicians agree on this path, but are hostage to Mrs. Pelosi and her ruling liberal minority. And Mr. Minnick’s problem is that his fate is lashed to that leadership.

He can disavow this bill until the Idaho elk come home, but his voters see the big picture. They might applaud his votes, consider him a great representative. Then again, they might look at Mrs. Pelosi’s ambitions, and decide a vote for Mr. Minnick isn’t worth the risk of keeping her in power.

And this is a rerun of the cap-and-trade vote. Moderate House Democrats were strong-armed into voting in favor of a jumbo energy tax and job-killer to satisfy Pelosi’s ego — to show she had the votes and could work her will in the House. Now the measure is stuck in the Senate and those Democrats, especially from energy-producing states, have to explain their support for Pelosi’s agenda to the voters back home. They can’t quite figure out how cap and trade is going to help the Ohio, or Michigan, or Virginia economy. Politico reported:

Those likely to find themselves with targets on their back after the 219-212 vote: freshman Reps. Harry Teague of New Mexico, Betsy Markey of Colorado, John Boccieri of Ohio, Thomas Perriello of Virginia and Alan Grayson of Florida and second-termer Zack Space of Ohio.

The GOP’s hope is do to these vulnerable Democrats what Republicans famously did to former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, the Pennsylvania Democrat who ensured that her career was limited to one term when she cast the deciding vote for President Bill Clinton’s budget package in 1993.

Perhaps this is why the Obama team has been so insistent on rushing through its ultra-liberal agenda. They may well run out of cannon fodder after the 2010 election, as voters in swing districts exact their revenge. Once the herd is thinned after the election, there may be no effective liberal majority, no matter how many arms are twisted, to pass the remainder of the Left’s wish list.

There are, as Karl Rove reminds us, 66 House Democrats who represent districts that either voted for John McCain in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2004. These are voters who are not wedded to the Democratic Party. And they may be quite amenable to the notion that 2010 is the moment to slow down the train and permanently hobble Obama’s efforts to enact a big government-high tax agenda.

It wasn’t going to be this way, was it? After 2008 all the talk was of a permanent realignment, a shift to the left and the end of a center-right political culture. We were at the dawn of an historic shift akin to 1932. Well it may be that this was more like 1964, when a Democratic president ran over his opponent and lifted his party’s majority in both houses of Congress. In that year the Democrats picked up 36 House seats to reach a huge 295-140 majority. But in 1966 Republicans roared back, picking up 47 seats in the House and three in the Senate. Two years later, the White House was back in Republican hands.

In short, a political majority is only as viable and enduring as its ability to command the support and trust of the great middle of the political spectrum. If, by mismanagement or overreach, political leaders abuse that trust, they will be summarily shoved aside.

In the case of Reid and Pelosi, they have not restrained their most extreme and partisan instincts. Pelosi has gone to war with the CIA, unleashed the old bull committee chairmen, and embarked on a spending spree the likes of which we have never seen. What she hasn’t done is look after her own, the moderate and conservative members who are most vulnerable in 2010. The result may be increasing acrimony within the Democratic caucus as her members scramble to save their own skins. They, too, can read the polls and sense their constituents’ ire.  They must quickly find some way to reassure the voters and protect their political future.

After all, no one else is looking out for them.

Jennifer Rubin blogs at the Washington Post.
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