by John Russonello, Fri Mar 20, 2009 at 10:57:45 AM EDT
(Cross-posted from Think it Through)
This week Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana announced he had organized 15 Democratic senators to form the "Practical Coalition" to work for more "moderate" policies.
My question is: Why?
- Have we seen the Senate pass wildly liberal legislation lately?
- Are the Democrats fighting to redefine themselves, at a time when the public has embraced the new Democratic President and the party controls both houses of Congress?
- Is it a political message training camp for centrists like Bayh and Mark Warner of Virginia to learn how to run for President while keeping their audiences awake?
- Is this just a tool for Bayh to run for majority leader after 2010?
- Does Bayh think he needs to do this to win reelection in Indiana?
What is it?
When Bayh says we need more practical policies it can only mean he wants more conservative, anti-government, and pro-business policies. This prompts the question: has Bayh been in Tahiti for the last five months?
We have a Democratic president and strongly positioned Democratic House and Senate because Americans want honest and responsible government that will take action for them against forces that are too large for individuals to tackle on their own. This means protect them from the abuses of big business, and provide programs that work. They are fed up with bail outs and bonuses. They are not against the government spending money on our schools and energy resources and transportation that will create jobs.
President Obama's victory created a new constituency consisting of the traditional Democratic liberal base, as well as a majority of moderates, suburbanites, and people earning over $200,000 a year. This new coalition was not drawn to Obama because he promised to be more pro-business, or more moderate in tackling the big problems that confront our country, but rather because he offered the promise to hold government and business accountable and to enact big changes like health care reform.
The Practical Coalition reminds me of the Democratic Leadership Council, a tool of Democratic governors and members of Congress who were searching for a new profile for the Democratic party in the 1980's when Ronald Reagan was president. Democrats like Bill Clinton, Bruce Babbitt, Al Gore, and Dick Gephart started the DLC because they felt the party needed to redefine itself away from what they perceived was its liberal cast. Reagan had won over working class Democrats who were fed up with Jimmy Carter's double digit inflation and unemployment. Anyone who disagreed with Reagan was dubbed a tax-and-spend Democrat. So the DLC set out to define the party as one that would not tax as much and not spend as much.
The DLC adopted much of Reagan's rhetoric about responsibility and smaller government, and started a think tank that cranked out half-baked ideas echoing the party they were supposed to oppose. The ideas were usually conservative and nearly always pro-business. I remember reading one DLC treatise on why Democrats should oppose raising the minimum wage because it would hurt the economy. A more famous DLC initiative was welfare reform, the idea of taking away health, nutrition, and child care benefits from mothers with dependent children who were trying to work. When it passed in Congress, President Clinton predicted it would decrease the welfare rolls. He was right, it did knock many single moms off public assistance. It also helped to increase the poverty rolls for families and single moms with kids. (for families, poverty rates rose from 9.3% of families in 1999 to 9.8% in 2007, and for single mom families, it rose from 27.8% to 28.3%).
It remains to be seen what bright ideas the Practical Coalition will put forth. Is their reason for being to reduce federal help to state governments during the recession? Is it to go slow on health care reform so we don't upset the insurance companies?
These are not the priorities of the broad coalition of voters that that elected Obama President to solve our nation's problems and bring about big change.
Message to Bayh and company - the DLC is history. If you truly want to be practical and move the country forward, disband and support the president.
John Russonello is a partner with Belden Russonello & Stewart:Public Opinion Research and Strategic Communications in Washington, DC. He writes the blog "Think it Through."