Politics

Second Thoughts on the Dixiecrats

July 30, 2008

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In my recent piece on the return of the conservative Democrat, I observed, “It remains to be seen whether the Dixiecrat revival will last.” If Glenn Greenwald has his way, the answer will be no:

If simply voting for more Democrats will achieve nothing in the way of meaningful change, what, if anything, will? At minimum, two steps are required to begin to influence Democratic leaders to change course: 1) Impose a real political price that they must pay when they capitulate to—or actively embrace—the right’s agenda and ignore the political values of their base, and 2) decrease the power and influence of the conservative “Blue Dog” contingent within the Democratic caucus, who have proved excessively willing to accommodate the excesses of the Bush administration, by selecting their members for defeat and removing them from office. And that means running progressive challengers against them in primaries, or targeting them with critical ads, even if doing so, in isolated cases, risks the loss of a Democratic seat in Congress.

Salon‘s subhead for Greenwald’s piece says it all: “Pushing conservative Democrats out of Congress could help the party stand up to the GOP.” When liberals no longer need conservative Democrats to pad their majorities, the new Dixiecrats will wear out their welcome fast.

Greenwald’s piece is also a useful reminder that some of these conservative Democrats are of limited use to the independent right as well. Many of them, like their Republican counterparts, define “conservative” as pro-Bush and pro-war. They are worse on foreign policy and civil liberties than the better liberal Democrats and worse on limited government and economics than the better conservative Republicans. Then again, most Southern conservative Democrats are sound on immigration and anything that moves conservatives beyond blind loyalty to the GOP—or at least forces Republicans to actually fight for conservative votes—is of some value.

The key is to be specific about which conservative Democrats we are talking about. For every pro-war John Barrow, there is a Bob Conley who is antiwar without the leftism. Travis Childers ran and won in a Mississippi conservative district while favoring withdrawal from Iraq. “We’re spending our money, folks, in Iraq,” a local newspaper quoted him as saying. “We need to be spending our money in America.” Don Cazayoux’s platform wasn’t all surge ‘n’ stay the course either:  “I believe we need to change directions in Iraq and bring our troops home responsibly and with honor while continuing to focus on national security and winning the war on terror.”

Whether Democrats like Childers and Cazayoux get purged with the Liebermans will say much about liberal priorities too. Do Roe and gay marriage trump peace?

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