Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Time for Blue Dog Democrats in House to Disband

I was gratified to see the outrage and pure fight displayed by Democrats in the House of Representatives on Friday following the slew of Republican attacks on John Murtha (D-PA), after Murtha turned from his hawkish past to courageously calling for a gradual withdrawal from Iraq -- but starting immediately.

What we saw the following day was typical GOP attacks in which Murtha – a highly-decorated Vietnam combat veteran, with two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star on his record -- was said to be "aiding and abetting the enemy" and "cutting and running" from the terrorists. The conservative attack machine hit its low on Friday night, when Jean Schmidt (R-OH), the most junior person in all of Congress, took to the House floor to imply that Murtha was a coward, delivering a message allegedly from a solider that said "Cowards cut and run. Marines never do."

The House floor erupted, with Martin T. Meehan (D-MA) shouting "You guys are pathetic! Pathetic!" at the Republican side of the aisle and Representative Harold Ford (D-TN) physically rushing across the chamber's center aisle during a heated exchange with Tom Tancredo (R-CO) that followed.

I mention Ford in particular because he is a member of the Democrat's Blue Dog Coalition in the House.

The Blue Dog Coalition was created in 1995 and came about to promote positions "...which bridge the gap between ideological extremes" according to their House web site. "Many of the group's policy proposals have been praised as fair, responsible, and positive additions to a Congressional environment too often marked as partisan and antagonistic," say the Blue Dogs in their mission statement.

Yes, it is predicable that a Yellow Dog Democrat like me would have little use for Democrats who still go around back-slapping with the Republicans. But it should now be obvious to everyone that, as Murtha so aptly said, "the future of our country is at risk" and it's time to stop reaching across the aisle to a GOP that does not share our values, makes little effort to be honestly bipartisan and has no respect whatsoever for those who make such efforts.

In other words, the time has come for the Blue Dogs to put their organization to sleep.

Where has that cooperative spirit been as the vast majority of legislation created by House Democrats dies before it even reaches the floor for a vote? How about in the Senate where, of the Democrat-sponsored measures that somehow manage to make it to a vote, 90 percent are killed by the Republican side of the house?

How warm and fuzzy have the Blue Dogs felt when they watched their Republican colleagues hound Bill Clinton for his entire presidency, steal the national election from Al Gore in 2000 and swift-boat their way to a second George W. Bush term in 2004?

And, as Democrats, how can they stand by and be so formally compromising when they see the GOP gutting social programs, refusing to heat the homes of the elderly and disabled this winter and fighting a minimum-wage hike every time the Democrats try to raise it from poverty level?

Finally, as Congressman Ford's outrage spilled over on Friday night, we have to ask how the Blue Dogs can continue to exist with the stated purpose of reaching across the aisle to Republicans who smear our patriotism, question our loyalty to country and, most heinously, attack Democratic combat veterans, despite the overwhelming lack of military service on the GOP side of Congress.

How much more must the Blue Dogs see to comprehend that the time for equivocation and compromise has gone and the time for a resolute stance on Democratic values has arrived?

We all saw the repulsive pictures of Republicans on the floor of their convention in 2004 wearing purple heart bandages as a way of further demeaning John Kerry's military service. We saw how they got Saxby Chambliss elected in Georgia by calling Democrat Max Cleland – who lost three limbs in Vietnam – unpatriotic and running television ads of Cleland's picture next to one of Osama bin Laden. As I've said, if Audie Murphy himself were a Democrat today, the GOP would find a way to smear his service as well.

Now we see the likes of Schmidt calling Murtha a coward and the White House issuing a press release on the Congressman's thoughtful call for action on Iraq saying that "...he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party" in an effort to depict a conservative Democrat as far out of the mainstream.

And it's not like most of these Blue Dogs need to belong to such a group to be politically viable. Of the 37 Blue Dog members, only half are from strongly-Republican states like Utah and Georgia, while the rest are from swing states or solidly-Blue states like California and New York.

Another raison d'etre for the Blue Dog Coalition is to fight for the cause of fiscal conservatism and to make sure our country keeps its financial house in order. Given that a Republican president hasn't balanced a budget in 40 years, wouldn't these guys be better off strategizing on the nation's financial health with their Democratic colleagues?

If nothing else, these Democrats should see the treatment of Murtha who has, for 30 years, been one of the most compromising and conservative Democrats in the House, as yet another sign that they are being played as political chumps.

So come home, Congressional Blue Dogs. Now more than ever, we can use you in the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.