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.