Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Last Gasp?

As they inch closer to minority status, House Democrats will hold leadership elections tomorrow. Nancy Pelosi, whose tenure as Speaker was ended by the GOP landslide two weeks ago, is the preemptive favorite to become Minority Leader. She faces a nominal challenge from North Carolina Representative Heath Shuler, who believes his party needs a new leadership team, after losing 60 seats in the mid-term elections.

Obviously, Mr. Shuler is right, but he has virtually no chance of beating Pelosi. And, no Democrats have announced plans to run against her top deputies, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and South Carolina's James Clyburn. In fact, Pelosi even created a new leadership position for Clyburn, avoiding a potential showdown between the two men--one that might further erode Pelosi's support among members of the Congressional Black Caucus. So, when the new Congress convenes in January, the same old House Democratic leadership team will be in place.

Needless to say, Republicans are delighted. Ms. Pelosi is the most polarizing figure in American politics (President Obama runs a close second), and she's a godsend for GOP fund-raising and political strategy. Somewhere, Republican consultants are probably testing ads on focus groups, depicting Pelosi and her team as the main obstacles to a balanced budget and economic prosperity. Call Ms. Pelosi the political gift that keeps on giving.

But her rebound from this month's electoral shellacking also signals something else: the death knell of the moderate-to-conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Americans under the age of 40 may find this difficult to fathom, but once upon a time, there were Democrats who were in favor of a strong national defense, and equally conservative on social issues. For decades, they dominated the southern and western wings of the party, and you could find them in many northern districts with large numbers of Catholic voters. If names like John Stennis and Scoop Jackson ring a bell, then you actually remember the conservative branch of the Democratic Party.

So, what happened to them? Well, the GOP began targeting the South, and found a receptive audience for its (more) conservative principles. Democrats claim the "southern strategy" was a form of veiled racism, but that ignores awi couple of inconvenient facts. Republicans didn't begin making big strides in the Deep South until the late 1970s/early 1980s, more than a decade after the civil rights era.

And more recently, southern voters have elected Black Republicans to the House of Representatives in majority white districts in Oklahoma (J.C. Watts); South Carolina (Tim Scott) and Florida (Allen West). That doesn't exactly square with the image of the southern GOP serving as the last bastion of racism and discrimination.

Truth be told, the fate of moderate and conservative Democrats was effectively sealed by their own party, and its decades-long march to left-wing extremism. With the ranks of Blue Dogs decimated by the 2010 GOP tsunami, the House Democratic Caucus of 2011 will be more liberal than ever, one more reason that Nancy Pelosi will cruise to victory as minority leader. As a group, surviving House Democrats believe they lost because (a) their message wasn't communicated properly and (b) it wasn't liberal enough.

That's why Heath Shuler's challenge of Nancy Pelosi may represent the last gasp for Congressional Democrats with even the most moderate leanings. In the Pelosi wing of the party, there is simply no room for anyone who doesn't follow the socialist agenda. Mr. Shuler is hardly a conservative, but he's well to the right of folks like George Miller, John Lewis, and Steny Hoyer. For his troubles, he'll be drubbed in the leadership vote, and stripped of plum assignments by party leaders. We'll predict that Mr. Shuler will be a rather lonely fellow for the next few years.

And if that's not bad enough, Ms. Pelosi (and for that matter, President Obama) seem to have no regard for the damage they've inflicted as the state and local level. If you accept Tip O'Neill's axiom about all politics being local, then the Democratic Party is in serious trouble in states it once owned, like Alabama and Texas.

In a recent piece for The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes detailed the collapse of Democrats in George Wallace's home state. As he writes, Alabama went "crimson" in this year's election, with Republicans capturing all statewide offices, taking control of both houses of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, and winning six of the seven Congressional races. In Shelby County, a suburb of Birmingham, Republicans won all 39 races for county and state office. Thirty years ago, there wasn't a single elected Republican in the entire county.

To be fair, there are places in the country (California comes to mind) where the GOP faces similar problems. But demographic trends and population shifts favor places like Texas, Alabama and Florida, where Republicans have achieved political dominance. Meanwhile, Democrats in those states--and others--face an uphill climb just to reappear on the political landscape. And if they achieve that goal, their candidates still must contend with national figures who are political poison to local candidates.

That's why Mr. Shuler's leadership bid represents the last, fading gasp of Democratic moderates on the national stage. It will certainly fail, and in the process, push the party even more to the left. We can only wonder how many of the remaining Blue Dogs will become Republicans in the coming weeks, finding they have no future in their own party. And outside the Beltway, Democrats are becoming extinct in places they dominated for decades. Not that Nancy Pelosi cares. Places like Alabama and Texas are best viewed from the window of her Boeing 737 Business Jet, the same "ride" she'll be giving up in just a few more weeks.


Paul G. said...

The democrats lost because they voted for something they believed in, not what was politically proper. It was enjoyable to watch republicans defend medicare and even better watching conservative protestors spit on John Lewis for voting his conscience.

Here's another perspective on this recent election: the republicans won 60 house seats. In November 2008 a majority of Americans elected a young, relatively less experienced black man with a muslim name to be President over a military veteran long-serving senator. That will make liberals smile for many midterm elections to come.

Oh, you're probably right, the GOP will be the party of inclusiveness of all minorities and immigrants in the future. (By the way, JC Watts retired a while ago)

And Sarah Palin is probably tied for Nancy Pelosi when it comes to being polarizing. I do hope Palin runs in 2012.

Ed Rasimus said...

The classic definition of insanity. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result. How fortunate we are that they don't seem to learn from their mistakes. Maybe the Dems need some sort of political 12-step program. Until they are willing to admit errors, they can't be cured. And, it starts from the top, doesn't it!

WV: oxago...Now, Oxyclean for your colon.

MarkD said...

It has become obvious that if you support any of these moderate Democrats, you are supporting the entire agenda of the Democrats. Oh, he might be allowed a token vote against a safe bill, but when it matters, your representative is reliably Mr Nancy Pelosi.

Unknown said...

Nice try Paul, but you omit some rather obvious facts. First of all, there is a standing reward of $100,000 for anyone who can prove that Congressman Lewis was cursed on spat on during his still to the Hill for the health care vote. At last report, that money was still in Andrew Breitbart's bank account.

As for 2008, the majority of Americans who voted for "hope and change" now realize they were sold a bill of goods. Nothing but old fashioned socialism, repackaged for the internet age. No wonder the President--and his agenda--were so strongly rebuked on election day, 2010.

Finally, I'm well aware that J.C. Watts left Congress a few years back--keeping his pledge not be become a career politician. Still, Congressman Watts (along with Allen West and Tim Scott) have achieved something that Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters and James Clyburn never could--winning election in white-majority districts.

sykes.1 said...

Earlier in my life, I was a Kennedy/Johnson Democrat. The modern socialist/communist party that calls itself Democratic is an abomination. The modern party would not tolerate Truman, John and Bobby Kennedy, Johnson or even Humphrey in its ranks.

Ted Kennedy is the modern exemplar Democrat. To his eternal shame, he repudiated his martyred brothers and embraced their enemies.

BruHa said...

@ the above:

Bravo Zulu '86