Earth to Blue Dogs: Time to Stand Up and Be Counted
Health care reform is presently being obstructed in the House and Senate by a coalition of conservative Democrats that call themselves “Blue Dogs.” If we don’t get real health care reform this year, it will be because of them. Therefore, I thought this was a good time to examine what it means to be a “conservative Democrat.”
In 2005, the bipartisan Pew Center did a study called “Beyond Red Vs. Blue,” about the American political spectrum. After polling people who self-identified as “conservative Democrats,” Pew found that they defined themselves somewhat differently from the traditional libertarian notion of a small-government conservative. According to Pew, conservative Dems have old-fashioned liberal views on economic issues, but views farther to the right on religious and social matters. They are essentially populists, and, in a previous Pew study, were described as the surviving New Dealers.
If this is true, it makes sense to expect a “conservative” Democrat not to support gun control, gay marriage, or the kinds of abortion policies I think are fair. But on the issue of health care, they should be stable and dependable. Health care is a populist, kitchen-table issue that affects everyone in this society from the poorest of immigrants to people with a good deal of disposable income. Why? Because health care is really freakin’ expensive and because it’s extraordinarily hard to get good coverage from insurance companies. Because a handful of people are making a ton of money at the expense of most Americans’ health. That’s why, in a recent study, 76% of Americans supported health care reform with a public option. They don’t trust the health insurance companies any more than they trust bankers.
The bottom line is: health care reform is a mainstream issue. It is a populist issue where a conservative Democrat should not be siding with the Republicans. The only way conservative Dems can get away with siding against health care reform is by helping the Republicans drag out the old argument about how government spending is bad. But has the private sector done any better? They’ve had it all their own way for years in the area of health care, and they have created a bureaucracy that Stalin might have envied, out-of-control costs, and limitless human suffering: an inefficient, expensive, out-of-control system that takes away people’s right to make their own health care choices. They have done everything that Blue Dogs and their Republican counterparts claim that a government-run program will do. And these are the people in whose hands the Blue Dogs want to leave the country’s health.
It might not be sensible for me to expect John Tanner or Kent Conrad to support a handgun ban. It might not be reasonable for me to expect them to consider gay marriage a civil right. But it damn sure is sensible for me to expect them to address the suffering of such a wide swath of Americans. As the inheritors of FDR’s “New Deal,” one might even think the Blue Dogs should be leading the charge, not helping the Republicans stop the show. Alert to Blue Dogs: it’s time to decide who you really are: heartland populists or servants of various corporate boards. You can no longer be both.