The “Bush Dog” Campaign/”Leashing” Conservative Democrats | August 30, 2007

Here’s a great idea for putting the “leash” on conservative “Blue Dog Democrats” who act as enablers for the Bush administration political agenda.

Step One in The Bush Dog Campaign: Creating a Public Record

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Aug 22, 2007 at 08:00:00 AM EDT

(This post will stay at the top of the page for a while today. New content can be found below it – promoted by Chris Bowers)

Cross-posted on Dailykos

I’m hearing more and more frequently a sense of rage with the Democratic leadership in Congress.  From failing to stop the war to expanding Bush’s wiretapping authority, the swing vote of conservative Democrats in the House are forming an effective conservative majority that is enabling Bush to govern as he wishes.  The polls show that this is a very bad political move for Democrats.  Congress has an 18% approval rating, from Democrats, and 60% of all voters strongly disapprove of Bush’s new wiretapping authority.  Democrats haven’t stopped the war, haven’t stopped torture, haven’t curbed corporate abuses, and haven’t really done anything except raise the minimum wage as part of a package to send $100B of taxpayer into the sands of Iraq.

By and large, the conservative Democratic elites really don’t care, and they think they are going to win in 2008 without having to lead on anything the public or the activists in the party thinks is important.  For instance, DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen complained about progressives upset with Chris Carney, even though Carney lied to get campaign contributions in 2006 and just endorsed a Republican for President.  This is part of a pattern.  DCCC recruitment chair Artur Davis complained earlier after the blank check bill passed that Moveon was criticizing Democrats, saying, “I would urge MoveOn and others to recognize that the person who is extending this war is George Bush.”

There’s no doubt that Bush is a very bad man and a very bad President, but this excuse to not lead will no longer fly.  I think we’re all tired of conservative Democratic politicians thinking that their goal in life is to get better parking spots than they did last cycle.

Matt Stoller :: Step One in The Bush Dog Campaign: Creating a Public Record
And so, you may have noticed a lot of chatter about ‘Bush Dog’ Democrats over the past few days.  That’s not an accident.  We’ve been working to identify the group of conservative Democrats in the House who are holding back progressives from being able to effectively govern.  These are concentrated in two main caucuses, the Blue Dog Caucus and the New Democrat caucuses.  Blue Dogs consider themselves heirs to the Southern conservative wing of the party, and tend to vote for socially restrictive policies and a hawkish foreign policy.  The New Democrats tend to be more partisan, but often are key to passing important pieces of right-wing legislation, such as the Bankruptcy Bill. In the last few years, these two caucuses have expanded their numbers, and the Blue Dogs have become the swing vote in the House allowing for effective conservative control of the Congress.  We want to put a stop to the embrace of conservative values among House Democrats, and make sure that when Democrats are elected, they act like Democrats. So who specifically are these people?  As Chris Bowers noted, the two biggest defeats for House Democrats so far in 2007 have been the capitulation vote on Iraq, and the vote to allow Alberto Gonzales warrant-less wiretapping powers. We’re calling the Democrats who capitulated on both bills ‘Bush Dogs’, as these are the most likely to capitulate on important fights in the future.

The first step in stopping this behavior is to identify the people engaging in it and offer up criticism.  There are a few reasons for this.  One, many of these members feel no pressure to vote correctly or uphold progressive values.  Criticism is the signal they are relying on to let them know when they err.  Two, some of these members may need to face a primary challenge, and it’s useful for potential primary challengers to know that there is criticism of these members.  Three, other members considering joining the Bush Dog caucus may be dissuaded if they know there will be criticism.  Four, candidates running for office will finally have a signal on how they should talk about being good Democrats that are willing to take tough votes.

So here’s my ask.  Would you profile one of these Bush Dogs?  What we need is a brief profile of the member, their voting record, their personality, and the district and its politics.  Is there a primary challenge?  Is the member well-suited for his or her district?  Did the member do something to mitigate this criticism?  Remember, this is not an attack, it’s a profile so we can get to know these people and eventually persuade them to do the right thing.  It doesn’t have to be comprehensive or long, just enough to get a sense of who this person is and how they do their politics.

An example of a profile is this one on Congressman Brian Higgins of New York’s 27th district (who is not quite a Bush Dog, but comes close).  My method of researching and writing a blog post on a member is as follows, and relies on our friend Mr. Google.  First, I looked for mentions of Higgins on local blogs via technorati.com and the Albany Project/Rochester Turning.  Second, I looked at the district by checking the party registration numbers, which I got from the Secretary of State’s web site.  Some states don’t have this kind of data, but if you can find out the margin between Kerry and Bush in 2004 or Gore and Bush in 2000, that gives you some sense of what the district is like.  Third, I looked at some high profile votes – the authorization for the use of force in Iraq, the Bankruptcy Bill, the blank check bill to fund the war, the FISA vote, etc.  I use Progressive Punch to quickly identify where Higgins broke with progressives, and then drilled down into the votes to see when they are significant.  Fourth, I read about ten articles on Google news and got a sense for when he’s in the local papers.  I also made a few calls to contacts, but those didn’t turn out to be helpful.

All in all, it took about two or three hours to research and write the post.  It might take a little longer if you’re not used to doing this type of research, but when you’re done you do have a sense for who this person is.  It’s also fascinating that the conversation in the comments led to a good sense of how Higgins is received in the district.

A list of core Bush Dogs is as follows, though as I’ll explain in a bit, I’m sure we’ll be expanding the Bush Dog pool as the fall Congressional period begins.  Chris has a lot more stats on who these people are on his post here.

Jason Altmire, PA-04
Brian Baird, WA-03 (he didn’t vote for FISA, but he just switched his position and now supports the surge)
John Barrow, GA-12
Melissa Bean, IL-08
Dan Boren, OK-02
Leonard Boswell, IA-03
Alan Boyd, FL-02
Chris Carney, PA-10
Ben Chandler, KY-06
Jim Cooper, TN-05
Jim Costa, CA-20
Bud Cramer, AL-05
Henry Cuellar, TX-28
Lamar Davis, TN-04
Joe Donnelly, IN-02
Chet Edwards, TX-17
Brad Ellsworth, IN-08
Bob Etheridge, NC-02
Bart Gordon, TN-06
Stephanie Herseth, SD-AL
Baron Hill, IN-09
Nick Lampson, TX-22
Dan Lipinski, IL-03
Jim Marshall, GA-08
Jim Matheson, UT-02
Mike McIntyre, NC-07
Charlie Melancon, LA-03
Colin Peterson, MN-07
Earl Pomeroy, ND-AL
Ciro Rodriguez, TX-23
Mike Ross, AR-04
John Salazar, CO-03
Heath Shuler, NC-11
Vic Snyder, AR-02
Zack Space, OH-18
John Tanner, TN-08
Gene Taylor, MS-04
Tim Walz, MN-01
Charlie Wilson, OH-06

So far, Tim Walz and Jim Costa have been profiled.  If you have a few hours and know one of these members, grab them and do a profile on your blog or on a diary here or elsewhere.  And put the link in the comments so I can update our list.  There’s no limit on the number of profiles per member, this is about conversation and education, so the more views the better.  You can defend your member, if you think the criticism is unfair.

When we’re done doing these profiles, we can begin to track these members, engage in online advertising to let their constituents know their record, and/or help local activists in their districts.  This is going to be a completely open process, and as votes come up this fall, we won’t hesitate to add new Bush Dogs or honorary Bush Dog titles based on political games played by leadership.  I’ve had conversations with sources in the House who think that this wasn’t the fault of the Bush Dogs, even though they were the ones who voted for FISA.  So fine.  There’s more than enough wankery to go around.

Already, there’s a contempt vote in the House that I’m going to watch closely, and of course, there’s the Petraeus PR ploy.  So grab a member from this list and profile him (all but two are men).  And I’m sure, based on the newfound aggressiveness we’re seeing among liberal advocacy groups like the ACLU, that the work we do in profiling these members will be useful to other progressive groups as well.

This is going to be uncomfortable for many of us.  Criticizing the people we just elected, people who may even be nice to us personally, is never easy.  And shifting away from raw partisanship, which was necessary from 2002-2006, towards the idea that we need good Democrats and not Bush Dog Democrats, is going to take some slight adjustments.  We’re going to be told that we are jeopardizing candidates in swing districts, that we are hurting the possibility of retaining the majority.  We’re going to be told we’re bad Democrats.

None of that is true, and it is loser talk.  There is no such thing as a Republican district, and Democrats only get stronger when we stand confidently for our values.  Criticism makes us better, not weaker, and demanding that our candidates stand for ideas and not just party labels will make the Democratic Party a more vibrant and effective vessel for change.  After all, at the same time as we push against Bush Dog Democrats we are also trying to elect Democrats all over the country.  I mean, beating Lieberman in the primary in 2006 was just the spark the party needed to focus on Iraq.  Perhaps this is the spark that progressives in the House and Senate need to get some ferocity of spirit.

In other words, this is a new project for many of us, but it’s part of the continuum of what the netroots is all about.  Such is how movements get stronger.


  1. As a staffer for a Blue Dog, I just want to thank you guys for solidifying my boss’ reputation for putting his district ahead of the partisan pressure and interest groups.
    As a group, you could profile the Blue Dogs as skilled politcians who win districts where partisan Democrats would get their asses kicked. They are not elected on someone else’s coattails. They have to establish their own identities and agendas to appeal to the center in their districts. Only blogging dopes with no grassroots political experience would describe them as Bushies because of a few votes; they are relentlessly attacked and targeted by the partisan Republicans in their districts and states. Their districts know them much better than you do, so criticism from partisan Democratic idealogues reinforces the Blue Dogs’ centrist status in their districts. Thanks again for the help.

    Comment by JBM — August 31, 2007 @ 4:18 am

  2. “criticism from partisan Democratic idealogues reinforces the Blue Dogs’ centrist status”

    You aere missing trhe point of Matt Stollers post.
    It is indeed difficvult, maybe unfair, to judge freeshmen congrssspeople on a scant number of votes. On the other hand on issues like the FISA renewal the 41 House Democrats and 16 Senate Democrats absolutely need to have their feet held to the fire for their vote…they handed Bush a victory he never should have had, on a issue that is part and parcel of a looming Constitutional crises.

    Take the time to read the cross posts on this issue, look into what other are saying. Stoller is not out to “get” the people on the list, but to do RESEARCH on their records. Some names do not belong there, other that are not on the list should be.

    Your Blue Dog congressman’s “centrist” positions may be “safe” in your district, but safe does not necessarily mean correct. Leaders LEAD, they take positions that draw people further into a progressive/populist stance.
    Playing it “safe” is no longer good enough…we need Democrats who are leaders, not followers.
    I hope that your’s evolves into one, whoever he/she is.

    Comment by leftofdayton — August 31, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

  3. “Bush Dog” is not a neutral term. It shows your bias. You guys are just like the Bushies – you want to divide everyone into us vs. them and anyone who is not 100% with you is with “them.”
    The Blue Dogs are not Republicans pretending to be Democrats nor are they liberals pretending to be moderates. They are what they say they are – moderate Democrats who try to build consensus to solve problems rather than trying to exploit them politically. They were elected because they fit their districts, not by pretending to be something they are not.
    As for the votes you do not understand – you just are not trying to understand them. Most Blue Dogs, and most Americans, support something in between the Bush surveillance plan and no surveillance plan. The Blue Dogs all voted for H.R. 3356, the Democratic alternative, but it was not going to pass the Senate. So before Congress adjourned for a month, they were faced with the decision of the Senate bill or nothing. Only then did some Blue Dogs and a few others Democrats support a temporary extension of the surveillance program. This was never their preferred solution.

    Comment by JBM — September 4, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  4. “So before Congress adjourned for a month, they were faced with the decision of the Senate bill or nothing. Only then did some Blue Dogs and a few others Democrats support a temporary extension of the surveillance program. This was never their preferred solution.”

    This is the dividing line between “moderates” and being a member of the principled opposition. Voting for the FISA extension was an act that will be very difficult, if not impossible, to undo, and, raises serious questions about House members commitment to the 1st and 4th amendments of the Constitution.

    Yes, we do need a methodology that protects us against “terrorism”, but, when the protections enacted undermine fundamental principles of civil liberty we are once again on that “slippery slope” that leads into the pit of despotism.
    I don’t have the citations right in front of me but we both know that there have been numerous and major violations of the old law. This administration consistently and successfully uses fear as an intimidation tactic, and with your House member it apparently worked.

    Let’s be realistic, what do you think the chances are that the more onerous provisions of the FISA act will actually be undone? Speaker Pelosi has said she will introduce legislation to repeal the law as it stands and modify it again. Will your Congressperson vote for this?? How about the Military Confinement Act from last year, a bill that stripped Habeas Corpus rights from many prisoners. Decried as another act on fundamental rights by civil libertarians it nonetheless became law, and, most importantly, despite the mea culpa’s of people like Senator Sherrod Brown. who voted for it, , it remains law, and will be very difficult if not impossible to re frame.

    I have two essential points for your Congressperson. Leaders LEAD, in our case moving people to a more progressive/populist perspective by dint of our actions. Which brings me to the 2nd point, principle. Allowing a chipping away of fundamental Constitutional rights is NOT standing on principle. There are times in a political battle when “losing” may actually do more to advance the cause of liberty than capitulation and a vague hope for later reform will ever do.

    One of the greatest failings of the Democratic Party is the fact that it is so large a “tent” that almost anyone who agrees with one or more tenets expressed in the national platform can call themselves a “Democrat”. It is my belief that, from the base on up, we lack a solid grounding in what it is we stand for. This is a struggle will not be resolved anytime soon. Here today, however, I sincerely believe that the principles embodied in the 1st and 4th amendments that are so important and so violated by the vote to pass the
    FISA act, as to call into question the principles of those members of Congress who did so.

    This IS the dividing line, my bias if you will. It is naive to think that the passage of the FISA act is a
    “a temporary extension of the surveillance program.” It is now law and will be very very difficult to change. Having stood on principle and not allowing the President to force a rush to judgment would have been a far better course to have followed. A debate could then take place in the current Session that would have more forthrightly brought out the crucial issues that are at stake and allowed for a more informed and principled decision on the surveillance question

    Comment by leftofdayton — September 4, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

  5. The Blue Dogs did vote for a better process. As with many issues, the House was left with the choice of approving what the Senate passed or passing nothing. Why aren’t you raising hell about the Senate? Passing nothing was not an acceptable option for some people. You obviously do not share their concern that we need to monitor terrorist communications. Do not be so full of yourself that you confuse your opinion with a higher devotion to principle. Again, you are the Bushie – thinking that those who disagree with you are by definition less moral and less principled. Democrats on both sides of the bill made principled decisions. No one took this vote lightly or voted against his/her conscience out of political expediency. Why is it impossible for you to understand that some Democrats believe the terrorist threat is real? They voted for the bill, but not for a blank check for the Administration. They fully expect Congress to conduct diligent oversight and to use the next few months to build a consensus in the House, the Senate, and the country for a FISA court review program similar to H.R. 3556.

    Comment by JBM — September 4, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

  6. “Why aren’t you raising hell about the Senate? Passing nothing was not an acceptable option for some people.”

    The 16 Democrats in the Senate who voted for the FISA bill have been under equal amounts of fire from those who opposed it. Further, the Senate, in contrast to the House, does not have a “Blue Dog” caucus…

    “You obviously do not share their concern that we need to monitor terrorist communications.”
    Re-read my reply above…that is clearly not a true statement. The issue at hand is whether such methods of combating “terrorism” undermine the very liberty’s that we are supposed to be defending. To use a Vietnam era analogy, we cannot be in the position of having to burn down the village in order to save it.

    To call me a Bushie is utterly laughable. Have you read anything else on this Blog?

    You are correct, Democrats voting on the FISA bill did make principled decisions on this issue. That’s not the point…the issue is on what principles were the decisions made.

    No where in Matt Stoller’s or my posts is there any indication that we do not believe that there is not a real thread from “terrorists ” of various persuasions…that’s a straw dog you needn’t put forth in a serious discussion of real issues.

    You say that your Congressperson and his allies did not vote a blank check for the Bush administration, yet virtually everything that the President wanted was in the bill that was passed.
    That may not be a “blank check” but it surely is a cash able money order that will be used and abused. A law, though flawed, was in place, with a court that approved virtually every government request that came before it, yet
    Bush was able to stampede the Congress into enacting a broader and expanded range of powers through his ongoing use of fear tactics. As it turns out NOTHING happened [publicly known] during the Recess that would have required the use of any more options than were available under the old law.

    I am glad that your Congressperson and allies “fully expect Congress to conduct diligent oversight”…unfortunately, the history of this law tells a much different story, with abuse after abuse having been exposed. I would hope that such due diligence would include a relentless effort to protect the basic civil liberties contained in the 1st and 4th amendments to the Constitution. Strongly worded public assurances from the Blue Dog caucus would seem to be in order.

    I cannot comment on the Bill you cited, HR 3556 as the text has not yet been made available to the Library of Congress.

    Comment by leftofdayton — September 5, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About author








%d bloggers like this: