Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Redefining centrism OR Why does Blue Dog = Bush Dog?

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-SD, with two South Dakota Sioux.

Following my post the other day, I've been thinking more about what centrism is and isn't.

And when I do, I find myself thinking about strangely silent GOP centrists, both in and out of office. What do they make of the cesspool their party has become? And then I remember that if they really were concerned, they would've spoken up years ago. So forget them.

Instead, let's turn our attention to one of those Bush-enabling Blue Dogs, Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota. She supports that stupid Federal Marriage Amendment. She voted to give Bushco more power under FISA, she voted to make the Patriot Act permanent, and she voted for that horrible Military Commissions Act. She's the kind of Democrat that progressives hate, not because she's a moderate, but because she supports laws and policies that are anything but moderate.

And, like too many moderates, she involves herself in ineffective "bipartisan solutions," especially regarding Situation FUBAR.

So...Is Stephanie Herseth Sandlin one of those scary Lieberdems? Is she a (shudder) DINO? Not quite.

Judging from this profile, Herseth Sandlin is a strong populist who doesn't fit traditional definitions of left or right. For one thing, she's campaigning for John Edwards, one of the more progressive 2008 candidates. As an advocate of rural issues, she feels that Edwards is the best candidate for rural America. She supports biofuels and family farms. Since taking office in 2004, she has sponsored countless legislation to benefit Native Americans. (For a rundown, see here, here, and here. She is pro-choice and supports SCHIP. A quick look at Project VoteSmart, that great political cheat sheet, shows that she gets high marks from many liberal groups--as well as an A from the National Rifle Association. She also receives high scores from Progressive Punch.

In fact, Herseth Sandlin is exactly the kind of Democrat who might appeal to voters who feel let down by Republicans. She's cast some atrocious votes, but GOP-lite she ain't.

Alas, it's the crappy votes that stand out more prominently than her populist stance. And yes, at least one SD centrist has a big problem with her FISA vote. What to do when a moderate supports immoderate policies?

Well, maybe the problem is bigger than one individual Blue Dog Democrat. Or even the voting block of Blue Dogs who break with the rest of the party and vote for these crappy policies. Maybe the main problem is that the concept of "centrism" has changed in the Bush years. Instead of aisle-crossing pragmatists in both parties being productive and building a consensus on issues, there are a bunch of Republicans who don't dare break with their party, a lot of Democrats who consistently vote with theirs because the other party is stupid, and the Blue Dogs, who are the reason why a lot of Bush's laws get passed.

Blue Dog defenders point out that these congresscritters represent purple to crimson-red states and districts. Even so, they're out of step with national mood. Bush's approval rating pretty much sucks all over the country. At this point, the Blue Dogs have nothing to lose by refusing to play along with the administration's fear-mongering, Constitution-shredding antics.

In the words of one South Dakotan:

Things are looking pretty grim for the Republicans in the Congress. C'mon Rep. Herseth Sandlin, please please please... for our South Dakota guys and gals...

Just say it...

"Our soldiers have done well and fulfilled their mission. And, it's become crystal clear that it's time to redeploy from Iraq. Now."


The Bush/Blue Dogs are a diverse bunch, ranging from Southern Zell Miller wannabes to populists like Herseth Sandlin. In the latter group, we can add her North Dakota neighbor, Congressman Earl Pomeroy, who went so far as to call President Bush a clown. Notes the Rural Populist:

Earl Pomeroy knows some of the same rhetoric used by new darlings of the West such as Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). He needs to learn how to use that good-old-populist rhetoric to justify standing up and voting against the Bush Administration on issues such as the war and the invasion of personal liberty though expanded wiretapping authority. His constituents are already sympathetic to a populist argument for doing so.

The Republicans seem content to continue on their merry party-before-country way. But there's no reason for a moderate or even conservative Democrat to follow (see John Murtha for proof).

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin claims to be "an independent voice for South Dakota." She and her fellow Bush Dogs should be independent enough not to fall in line behind Bush's dangerous policies. How do you convince them? I'm not sure.

For more about Bush/Blue dogs, check out Open Left.