Foiled by the Blue Dogs

The other day, Eve Fairbanks wrote:

Yes, the Democrats are poised to expand their House majority — but by electing conservative Democrats who, in some cases, have ideologically more in common with John McCain than with Nancy Pelosi. These conservative Democrats — many of whose districts will vote McCain — won’t feel that they owe Obama, will be well-organized as a faction under the “Blue Dog” banner, and, if their actions in the 110th are any indicator, won’t shirk from bucking their party’s leadership.

There’s an important element of truth to this. But one should recognize that it’s not as true as some people seem to think. Substantial Democratic House gains will make for a much more progressive House of Representatives even if the bulk of the new members are relatively conservative Blue Dogs. Note for one thing that according to DW-NOMINATE the parties are currently perfectly sorted and the most conservative Democrat (Rep. Barrow of Georgia) is more progressive than the most liberal Republican (Rep. Gilchrest of Maryland). So replacing any number of Republicans with Barrow clones would still make the House more progressive. And of course not all the new members will be Blue Dogs. In 2006, the conservative-to-moderate Democrats who picked up seats in conservative-to-moderate districts got all the press, but you also had several examples of liberals beating moderate Republicans in moderate districts and that will happen again in 2008.

Beyond that, at the moment the 219th most liberal member of congress — the one who, generically, would be the last vote for progressive legislation — is Rep. Tanner of Tennessee. Tanner is a Blue Dog. And Tanner is also quite conservative. But “more Blue Dogs” and “More Tanners” are not equivalent. At the moment, only 16 Democratic Representatives (of which twelve are Blue Dogs) are to the right of Tanner. By contrast, there are 29 members of the Blue Dog caucus to the left of Tanner. And every new House member, whether Blue Dog or otherwise, who’s to the left of Tanner is pushing the median member to the left.