The Democrats are going to lose big this fall, especially in the House. I don’t think anyone is disputing this. What is worth debating is why we’re going to see such a dramatic reversal of the gains that were won in 2006 and 2008.
Recently, the Cook Report downgraded ten incumbent Democrats on their likelihood of retaining their seats. For two of the ten (Loretta Sanchez of California’s 47th and Jim Marshall of Georgia’s 8th), the typical midterm drop in minority turnout is the main culprit. But for the other eight, it was the conservative nature of their district.
For example, Chris Carney is in jeopardy in Pennsylvania’s 10th because of “the district’s strong GOP tilt and Carney’s vote for health care reform.” And Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota is blasting the “Romper Room” antics of Congress as she trumpets her votes against “all the bailouts and the trillion dollar health care plan.”
On the surface, then, it appears that many of the seats that the Democrats will lose were never really theirs in the first place. The easy analysis will be to minimize their significance by calling it a typical correction after a power shift. With the anti-Bush backlash now a thing of the past, these districts will return to their natural home on the Republican side. This swing, therefore, might be seen as largely irrelevant, because these conservative districts, even when they turned blue, were still sending conservative representatives that largely have opposed Obama’s “liberal” agenda.
But perhaps there’s more to the midterm predicament of the Blue Dogs. The traditional categories of liberal and conservative only partially describe the electoral climate this year. The emergence of the Tea Party on the right and the growing criticism of Obama from the progressive left indicate a new brand of dissatisfaction with “business as usual” in Washington.
Although the two movements have vast differences, they do share one significant trait: the belief that corporate influence in Washington needs to be limited. Both groups are furious that corporate donations, and not the interests of the people, dictate the legislative process. Of course, the Tea Party and progressives have wildly different understandings of what the “interests of the people” are – but at least they agree that it’s not corporate-controlled government.
The 2010 election will be an interesting barometer of this shared anger from opposite ends of the spectrum. Perhaps the Blue Dogs are in trouble not because they are Democrats in conservative districts, but simply because they are such corporate hounds. They are alienating both the left and the right with their consistent support of policies that serve mainly to enrich and empower large companies.
I’m hoping that media coverage and polling this fall will reflect this new anti-corporate dynamic, but I’m not holding my breath. We’ll likely be fed the same old conservative-liberal narrative, and the Republican gains will be interpreted as a rejection of liberal policies. But eventually, they will catch on to what many of us already know. The American political landscape is shifting, and those who side with corporations, whether Republican or Democrat, will have to answer to anger from both sides of the spectrum.