One of the most frustrating things about self-described “centrist” Democrats is their general unwillingness to face up to the fact that they’ve been the dominant faction in the Democratic Party for decades. Jimmy Carter was a different kind of Democrat, a southern moderate. And Bill Clinton was a southern moderate in the Jimmy Carter mold. So was Al Gore. John Kerry hailed from a different New England liberal political tradition, but in 2004 ran straight out of the moderate playbook—support for both beginning and continuing the war in Iraq, incrementalism on health care, no serious cap and trade agenda, etc.
I think Barack Obama’s campaign sort of broke with that mold, as does Speaker Pelosi in the House, but the reality is that the pivotal members of the House are moderate Blue Dogs and the pivotal members of the Senate are moderates like Mary Landrieu. Consequently, governance in the Obama era has been determined by what moderates like Mary Landrieu are willing to do. Which is fine as far as it goes, but it means that if voters don’t like the results Landrieu doesn’t get to complain that someone else screwed things up:
Other centrist Democrats said the results in Massachusetts could become a blessing in disguise by forcing Democrats to rein in their legislative agenda and focus on less expansive policies than the health care overhaul now teetering with the loss of the Democratic majority’s crucial 60th vote.
“The loss in Massachusetts should serve as a wake-up call to the wing of the Democratic Party that wants the federal government to overreach and overspend,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. “We need to get back to the basics.”
You can easily imagine an alternate universe in which the Senate Democratic Caucus took an oath of party loyalty, that all 60 Democrats would vote for cloture on all leadership-supported bills, allowing measures to pass with just 51 votes. Had that happened, we would have gotten a bigger, more liberal-friendly stimulus. And the Senate would have finished up with a more liberal version of health reform some time ago. And the Senate probably would have passed some other liberal stuff in the meantime. Had that happened, and had the voters been displeased with it, then it might make perfect sense for Landrieu to complain about some non-Landrieu “wing” of the Democratic Party.
But in the world that exists, the only “wing” that matters is the Mary Landrieu wing. They decide how much stimulus we get. They decide their can’t be a public option. They decide their needs to be a months-long quest to get Chuck Grassley to offer “Republican cover” for a health care vote. Either the strategy is working better than the alternatives, or else it’s the Landrieu wing that needs to change things up. But defeats can’t be the fault of the people who haven’t been in the driver’s seat since the seventies.