A Future for the Congressional Blue Dogs?

Posted: Nov 28, 2008 12:01 AM

As long as I can remember Representative John Dingell (D-MI) was one of the toughest committee chairmen in Congress. His father preceded him in Congress though the Great Depression. I had the pleasure of visiting with him one day while Republicans controlled the Congress. He made it clear he was staying around because he again wanted to be a committee chairman. Now that Democrats have added liberals to their ranks, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) challenged Dingell and upended him as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which Dingell for years had used as a vehicle to help the automotive industry. He didn't always agree with the industry, mind you. There are classic exchanges between Dingell and industry executives which always will remain in the annals of Congressional lore. Dingell represented blue-collar Michigan. Waxman represents Hollywood. Waxman is an extreme environmentalist. Despite some evidence to the contrary, he is full speed ahead on global warming. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claimed she was neutral in the Dingell-Waxman contest. Reliable sources said she twisted arms in favor of Waxman and did not appreciate Dingell's independence. The vote was 137 to 122.

This is a signal. There has been speculation that the President-elect will govern as a moderate. It presently appears otherwise. With an activist leftist like Waxman winning in the Democratic Caucus he surely was the Obama preference. Had the President-elect, with his strong mandate, indicated he needed Dingell to help govern as a moderate, Dingell would have prevailed. The President-elect now has that kind of credibility. He did not so indicate so poor Dingell became the first sacrificial lamb of an Obama move to the left. It appears that he will govern not as a moderate but as a leftist. Some issues he may defer. He doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot as both Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did when they had heavily Democratic Congresses. When he does select policy options they may be the furthest left he would believe he could go. Think about it. He relied upon the hard left for his early victories in his run against a variety of Democrats. Later when it came down to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama, as she moved right he again depended upon the left to carry him to victory. From the beginning leftists were his friends. He hung around with Bill Ayers and attended a church for 20 years where the pastor preached a Black version of liberation theology. He has a mutual comfort zone with the left. However, what positions he will take remain to be seen.

A big question is this: What of the so-called Blue Dogs? These are Members who ran as moderate and some as somewhat conservative. If they are for real they will work with Republicans to defeat the leftist challenge. Years ago Representative Joe Waggoner (D-LA) had an organization comparable to the Blue Dogs. He had around 45 Members upon whom he absolutely could count. His count went as high as 82 on some votes. I coordinated victorious coalitions with him. The same would be more possible today. A sizeable part of the GOP Caucus then was somewhat liberal. Those Members would not vote with us. We had just enough conservative Republicans when combined with Waggoner's Democrats that we drove the Administration crazy. If the President-elect as President tilts left it will be a real test to see if the Blue Dogs are for real.