Pity the blue dogs -- those Democrats in Congress labeled moderates or even conservatives because they depart from the party line on occasion. As on Obamacare or the next big spending program (always call it Economic Stimulus!) or the Bailout of the Day. A show of independence from time to time can be smart politics: The blue dogs' deference to public opinion back home -- even while they support the administration on key votes -- was supposed to assure their re-election.
But the natives grow restless, perhaps because they've caught on to the double game that some of these ever shifting Democrats have played. Case in point: Blanche Lincoln, senior senator and shape-shifter from Arkansas. One day she's conservative, the next liberal, and where she'll land you never know. Having no fixed principles leaves her plenty of room to maneuver, but by now she's all maneuver, no substance. The exquisite pointlessness of her politics is impressive even in a professional politician.
For example, Sen. Lincoln has voted both for and against Obamacare. That way, she can remind those wary of its higher taxes and less competition that she did after all oppose the Public Option -- even as one emerges from all the new restrictions on private health coverage.
At the same time, she can assure those who wanted a more socialized system of medicine that she wound up voting for that, too, after all was said and done and negotiated. For she was one of those senators who can claim to have cast the decisive 60th vote that let Obamacare get to the floor of the Senate.
Having taken both sides of this issue, Sen. Lincoln can now take either, depending on the audience she is addressing at the moment. All she has to do is keep flapping, like one of those giant, inflatable figures you see promoting some used car lot or discount store, always changing with the wind. They catch the eye, but only for a moment. Then interest in their contortions wanes, and we drive on.
This (not so artful) dodger from Arkansas has taken both sides, if not more, on the Bush tax cuts, too. Should they be extended? In whole or in part? And if not now, when?
For a time, the senator was sticking with the party line and class war: Keep the tax cuts for the Struggling Middle Class, take them away from the Awful Rich, who'll only invest them.
But that line grows untenable as this recession lingers and the recovery maintains its snail's pace. Besides, the economically literate, those insufferable know-it-alls, keep pointing out that it's those awful investors who meet payrolls and create jobs, needed jobs, for the rest of us.
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