Monday, May 15, 2006

Liberal Congress?

In a previous post I mentioned the opportunities and pitfalls for the Democrats if they regain Congress. Chris D. makes the following astute comment:

What makes this an interesting prospect is that the next Democratic Congress could very well be the first progressive majority since LBJ's good years. No old school Southern Democrats in the chairmen's seats. If we play our cards right, it could be sustainable--not one of those deals where you need to have a popular President to keep a third of the caucus from bolting at every chill breeze. I think 95% of the Democrats elected to the House and Senate today are truly progressive at heart--even if some of them have to vote CYA right now. The key to our success will be in how we structure our policy offerings to forge a center-left/liberal alliance rather than trying to appease the old center-right vs. moderate/liberal tension, which could never hold under pressure (e.g., 1992-94).

He's right, the Democrats today are a very different congressional party than they were even 12 years ago.


Matthew Shugart said...

I'm skeptical of this line of reasoning. Isn't their leadership very much old school? Not southern, for sure. But it seems to me (as a casual observer of that chamber) that the ranking members (who would become committee chairs) have been there a very long time.

I realize this is not the same dimension as the progressive vs. conservative policy dimension. And I also realize that the caucus could direct the leadership, rather than the other way around, if it wanted to.

But the vision Chris D. has would be a lot more realistic to me if the leadership were not so ossified.

Is my characterization incorrect? Please say yes.

Chris D. said...

I certainly can't speak for Mr. Klinkner, whose opinion I hold in high regard (and I certainly appreciate being called out by him on this site). But, as much as I would like to say your characterization is flat-out incorrect, I'm a bit ambivalent myself. In my comment I said that the "key to our success will be in how we structure our policy offerings..." That is to a large extent the role of the leadership. As a post-Boomer liberal/progressive, I'm a bit leary of these Boomer types in Pelosi, Reid, and Dean. Clinton defaulted to some very sloppy left-liberal tendencies (i.e., controversial nominees, gays in the military, and convoluted healthcare reform), which brought about the implosion of the Democrats' tentative center-right and moderate/liberal Congressional majority in 1994. So, in the end, I think there will be hiccups and mistakes as our leaders (who came of age politically in the 1960s and 1970s) find their way. We'll likely be dealing with slim majorities at best for a long time to come where even minor mistakes and minor losses (in terms of seats) could have major remifications on our agena. But, I think we've turned a corner (as a party) for good. Now, we've got to endure a political crucible that will refine us for the future. Personally, I believe we've got to find a way to be aggressively liberal/progressive in a way that is distinctly 2006 rather than 1966. Can Pelosi, Reid, and Dean do it? I think they can get us on that path even if it isn't they who see it to fruition.