Progressive Majority Rising
by Chris Bowers, Tue Oct 10, 2006 at 05:28:41 PM EDT
One thing few people ever bother to point out about the 1994 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives is that "the South" never lost control. Democrats still have a majority of non-southern seats in the House of Representatives, just as we had before the 1994 election. Although it happened to little fanfare, Democrats re-took their non-southern majority in the elections of 1998, and have never lost it since (although it was tied from January of 2003 until February of 2004). However, when the south switched to majority Republican control in 1994, Republicans took over Congress. Whatever transfer of power took place between the two parties in 1994, the majority of the south has remained in unbroken control of the House of Representatives since 1955, the year after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court.
If Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in this election, there is basically no way that they will control a majority of southern seats. While Democrats need fifteen seats to win a majority in the house, they actually need seventeen seats to win a majority of congressional districts in the south. The Cook Political Report only lists 11 southern seats among the top 59 Democratic targets, meaning that in order to win back majority of the south this year, Democrats will need to pick up something like 75 or 100 seats. That just isn't going to happen. Thus, if Democrats win control of the house, it would mark the first time in the post-civil rights era that a party has built a majority coalition in the House without a majority of the south.
A Democratic win in the House would thus have the side effect of geographic shift of power in this country away from the South, and toward places often-maligned by conservatives such as San Francisco and Massachusetts. In fact, in addition to San Francisco's very own Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker of the House, some of the most progressive locales and representatives of all would control committee chairs: Currently, the ranking members on 29 committees and subcommittees are CPC members [Congressional Progressive Caucus], and progressives are in line to chair at least seven committees if the Democrats take over. Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the ranking member on the Government Reform Committee, is a progressive, as are Reps. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), the would-be Ways and Means chairman, and Barney Frank (Mass.), the ranking member on Financial Services. New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Hollywood--these would be the new seats of power in the House of Representatives. That sort of blue state and blue district domination of power will be made possible largely because most of the incoming seats for Democrats will not be in the south, and because no matter what happens in this election, Republicans will maintain a comfortable lead in southern congressional districts.
This geographic shift has brought with it an ideological shift in the Democratic Party, as the southern majority has always been a conservative majority (despite several clear exceptions among some southern reps). While both the Blue Dog and New Democratic Caucuses in the House are shrinking, the Progressive Caucus is expanding in size. In fact, the Progressive Caucus, with 62 members, is almost the same size as the Blue Dogs and New Democrats combined, which boast 63 members. If Nancy Pelosi were still in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which she left in order to become minority leader, it would be a tie (and having the party caucus leader on your side more than breaks the tie). Only two years ago, there were 38 more Blue Dogs and New Democrats in the overall House Democratic Caucus than Progressives (source). For it to now be tied is a thunderous and rarely noted shift within the ideological center of the Democratic Party. For it to happen concurrently with a major reversal in Democratic electoral fortunes over these past two years could not be any stronger a rebuke of the notion that Democrats must move to the center, the right or the South in order to defeat Republicans. The House Democratic Caucus did the exact opposite over the past two years, and our electoral fortunes are soaring.
It could be argued that there are other reasons for Democratic improvement in 2006 other than the general progressive shift in the party. Clearly, the netroots, the Democracy Alliance nexus, and the people-powered progressive movement have provided unprecedented infrastructure support to the Democratic cause over the past two years (more on this here). Still, it can be clearly argued that the left-wing shift has not hurt House Democrats in any way, shape or form. We hold our largest lead in the generic ballot in over three decades. We have by far our best chance to retake the House since 1994. We have a good chance to take more Republican-seats than in any election since 1974. And we did it all while the House Democratic Caucus moved decidedly to the left in a short period of time.
The gains Democrats are making in this election are not the result of becoming more moderate. The gains Democrats are making in this election are not the result of doing a better job of talking to "values voters." The gains Democrats are making in this election are not coming from rebuking the party's liberal wing. The gains Democrats are making in this election are not coming from moving to the right on national security, immigration, or taxes. The gains Democrats are making in this election are not the result of recapturing "the Bubba vote." It is easy to tell that the Democratic gains in this election are not the result of any of those things, because Democrats have not done any of those things. We have, instead, built significantly improved political infrastructure, moved to the left, and rallied a broad, people-powered coalition against Republican extremism. Most importantly, unlike all the CW advice I listed above, this has actually worked. When the media starts discussing how Democrats won this election, they will not be able to honestly turn to the familiar CW they have swallowed for two decades on how Democrats must win. This will be the first post-Dixiecrat, post-Blue Dog, post-DLC, post-triangulation, post-moderation victory for Democrats in a long, long time. It will be the first victory of the people-powered progressive era. At the rate we have moved over the past four years, it certainly does not appear that it will be the last.