July 30th, 2009

Congress and health care reform: the hive and the worker bees

As you probably know, the Democrat majority in Congress contains quite a few so-called “Blue Dog Democrats,” representatives of the party elected in districts that are relatively conservative. To a certain extent they are the mirror image of RINOs in the Seante such as Snowe and Collins of Maine—supportive of their party’s viewpoints on certain issues, but divergent on others (however, I get the impression the Blue Dogs are more true-blue Democrats on most issues than Snowe and Collins are true-red Republicans).

When we elect a representative, we tend to vote for whomever we think is the best person among those nominated for the job. Since most of us are not Washington cognescenti, we don’t usually think strategically about the way things work once those people go to DC and take their seats in Congress. But in that latter process, Party is King. And a party hierarchy determines the way the power flows.

I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable about all the details of the jockeying for position in the halls and dens and warrens of the House and Senate. But I do know that those who end up on top—Pelosi and Reid at this point—are hardly the ones with the most integrity or the deepest commitment to serving the people. They are the ones who know how to wield the power and crack the whip.

Exactly how they do so—what threats and what promises they offer, what methods they use to control their underlings—I’m not certain. Some of it must involve the awarding of perks such as committee placements and the like, as well as support in future elections vs. being hung out to dry, and the placement of local pork in bills of various sorts.

At any rate, we know that sometimes there is a huge disconnect between principle and pragmatism for members of Congress—that is, for those who still retain some smattering of principle. Sometimes they vote with the party and against their principles, in order to placate the Congressional powers that be. Sometimes—and this is perhaps true for at least some of the Blue Dogs right now—both their principles and their constituencies (and therefore their re-election chances) line up together to dictate a certain vote, such as one against Obama’s health care bill in its present form or anywhere near it.

But party unity has its own strong pull and a different sort of pragmatism, helped along by those behind-the-scenes threats and maneuvers. And yet, wouldn’t it seem to be counterproductive for party leaders to tell the Blue Dogs to vote with the party and yet in such a way that it would be likely to lead to those same Blue Dogs losing their bids for re-election in 2010, and their districts being represented by Republicans instead?

It would seem so, but I think it’s a case of priorities. And it defends how many votes the party has to spare on this bill. If it will pass handily without all the Blue Dogs, some of them will be allowed to defect. But if not, watch for the party to whip them into compliance (see this, for example).

The bottom line is that the party cares most about the party and its goals right now, not the fate of its individual members at some future date. Although the way the party gets its power is through the numbers, and of course this requires that many individuals from the party be elected, the identity of each of these people doesn’t tend to be especially important, nor would every single one of them ordinarily be required to be re-elected in order for the party itself to retain power (unless, of course, the party’s majority is very small, which is certainly not the case at present).

Pelosi and Reid know they are probably at their strongest point right now in terms of these numbers, and so its important for them to enact what they see as their agenda while they can. And this is the moment they think they can, so the individual principles and/or electoral fate of any one particular member of Congress is no concern of theirs.

Does the hive care about what happens to a worker bee or two (or three or four)? No, it’s the work itself that matters.

This is one of the reasons that, once a party has huge numbers in Congress, it tends to enact (or attempt to enact) an agenda the extremity of which causes it to lose popularity with the American people, which can lead to a backlash against the party in the next election. This overreach seems to be almost built into the system. The party is bargaining that the backlash won’t be great enough for it to lose control of Congress, and/or that the legislation they pass that is so important to their agenda now will be difficult to repeal once it has become law.

7 Responses to “Congress and health care reform: the hive and the worker bees”

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    which can lead to a backlash against the party in the next election.

    you are describing the ratchet of normalization..

    to quote rocky horror, an abstract story of this journey we have been on in archtypes…

    [brad and janet represent american culture as it was. frank furter is the frank furt school... and the idea is that tehse are used and they believe they are something, but after the tools usefulness is gone, they find the truth]

    the process is described in “time warp”

    its just a jump to the left.
    then a step to the right.

    obama made a big jump to the left, there will be a smaller step to the right…

    except the song was talking about the demoralization and sexualization phases, which is why the song is so sexual, as the normalization that the 50s culture went through was sexual deviancy made normalized.

    what your not paying attention is the their overreach on both sides is unconstitutional.

    no one commented on the link of the young man telling off a senator and dishing a lesson on constitutional law.

    the reason they make big plays is NOT because its built in…

    its becasue we are now innured and normalize to them making big plays that are completely unconstitutional.

    too bad no one is watching and gettnig it when i dont explain it. and when i do its too long.

    its a 1:42 minute video…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y98HxYbsdBM

    and i wish i knew what the respons was…

    and this young man has it right.

    the sentators and house only have the power to oppose such a bill, not the power to create such.

    but if we think big unconstitutional power swings are normal, maybe we wont throw them out on both sides for even attempting it.

  2. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    A few ideas need to be kept in mind.

    Many of the educated colonists who were instrumental in the Revolution, became members of Congress and ended up running our early government were–most of them–well schooled in the Classics, and had a keen knowledge and appreciation of political philosophy, the history of England, of Greece, and particularly the history of Rome and of Roman government, Roman statesmen, Roman philosophy and Roman ideals.

    America then was also a land that was fundamentally Christian and generally very religious, and Judeo-Christian ideas formed the bedrock upon which our new nation and government were founded; these ideas and values permeated and informed American thinking and behavior in general.

    In the early years of our new Congress, members of Congress were citizens—many of them businessmen and farmers, with the frugal and practical outlooks of businessmen and farmers—who, given the ideas prevalent then, saw work as a Senator or Congressman as a necessary and rather onerous civic duty—men who made the often long, arduous and uncomfortable trip to the Capital, lived in crowded temporary accommodations, and wanted to do the minimum that needed to be done, and then go back to their primary occupations; their farms and businesses. All that changed with the rise of professional politicians, who had permanent residences in the national capital area.

    Those Judeo-Christian ideas have faded and the Roman concept of civic duty too. It must be remembered that it takes a certain type of person to want power enough to go through the grueling election process; usually not a philosopher king, not even someone necessarily smart, but likely a narcissist and a power junkie.

    Next, to be remembered is that winning an election and then legislating take two very different skill sets.

    Once members of Congress get to Washington, they discover a whole new world, which revolves around them; they are sought after, deferred to, they are pampered, often feared, and often bowed and scraped to by their staffs, and they enjoy a whole slew of perks and benefits. My view is that many of them become seduced by this world, and that whatever the beliefs and plans were that they arrived in Washington with, these beliefs and plans are slowly eroded, and for many of them staying in power replaces them, and becomes their chief goal and only plan—and that means getting donations and making deals in exchange for support, so that they can win elections and stay in office.

    In the present case, I think that the far Left wing of the Democratic party is in charge and that they do, indeed, see this as a go for broke chance to get all of the main points of their agenda enacted, so, they will sacrifice however many individual members it takes to win.

    The problem is that they have moved too ambitiously and too fast—a little premature legislation–and despite their propaganda arm, the MSM, covering for them, these actions have aroused sufficient suspicion that people are not willing to take Congressman Conyer’s advice and not read the bills; and once the details start to come out, citizens become horrified and dedicated opponents of the Democrats and their bills.

  3. Tim P Says:

    “The [democrat]party is bargaining that the backlash won’t be great enough for it to lose control of Congress, and/or that the legislation they pass that is so important to their agenda now will be difficult to repeal once it has become law.”

    Neo,
    It’s more than that.
    They are betting that…
    a) that the decades long dumbing down of public education will provide more under educated/over indoctrinated sloganeering democrats.
    b) that by co-opting the census process, they can help generate a greater apportionment of representatives to democrat districts.
    c) that by providing voting rights to felons and eventually illegal immigrants, they will enlarge the democratic constituency.
    d) that by opposing stronger positive voter identification measures, they can game the system in their favor, as they did in Minnesota in 2008 (Franken) and Washington in 2004 (Governor Gregiore’s election), both just practice runs.
    e) that by steering porkulus money to democrat districts, they will insure continued loyalty.
    f) that by demagoging class resentment, racial division, identity politics, they can keep us divided.
    g) that by exerting control or influence on the mainstream media, they can prevent or restrict and repackage any truth being told to the public and spin it to their advantage.

    Finally, yes if enacted, their legislative agenda will be very difficult to repeal because they will have destroyed the alternatives.

  4. Hong Says:

    Something Rush Limbaugh said that seems relevant here. A liberal is a liberal first. Then they are a minority, woman, muslim, Catholic, American, etc. far further down the list. Their ideology trumps any other loyalty (including family). I can’t imagine it ever being that way with the rest of us.

  5. MikeLL Says:

    Very interesting.

    I wonder if this is the same thing that causes people to give their own representatives such high ratings while at the same time giving the overall Congress such low ratings.

  6. Nolanimrod Says:

    I like your link to Kerosene Maxine threatening the BD’s with the righteous vengeance of liberals.

    And here I was wondering what I was going to do without Cynthia McKinney around to keep the nation waiting on tenterhooks to find out her next candidate for keelhauling.

  7. Washington Rebel Says:

    Rebel Rising…

    Skostredet A spectre is haunting the world, just as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. This time, however, it is not the spectre of communism but that of neoliberalism. Just as Marx and Engels reported of ‘a holy…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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