I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.
But when a Democratic candidate goes out and explains what the New Deal and fair Deal really are — when he stands up like a man and puts the issues before the people — then Democrats can win, even in places where they have never won before. It has been proven time and again.
-Harry Truman, Address at the National Convention Banquet of the Americans for Democratic Action, May 17, 1952
There's a real need for many to be reminded of Harry Truman's "phony Democrat" argument these days. It panned out in the 2002 midterms when the party, cowed by Republican demagoguery of 9/11 and terrorism, threw their support behind the invasion of Iraq. Democrats lost big that year, giving George W. Bush's party both houses of congress. The winners on the left that year were not the Democrats who ran to the right, but those who stood by their principles. No antiwar Democrat lost -- the losers were all the wishy-washy middle-of-the-road types. These days, we'd call them Blue Dogs.
See, there's a reason for this. Straddling the white line in the middle of the highway may seem to be a safe strategy, but the truth is that it's not. You can't possibly be all things to all people and if you try, you'll fail. Meanwhile, a Republican challenger is absolutely guaranteed to run to your right. If you have a D after your name, you're a liberal; reality be damned. Take for example, Indiana Blue Dog Evan Bayh.
Dan Coats spoke to Fred Thompson on the radio today, signaling that the early pounding won't deter him from a Senate race, and outlining his complain with the incumbent, Evan Bayh.
"He talked a good game back at home, but when push came to shove, he was there with the liberals, there with Obama every time," Coats said. On health care, Bayh was "catering to the liberals that he needed to cater to and he wasn't listening to people in Indiana."
How true is this? I'd call it a big flaming lie. Bayh has been a thorn in the side of liberals on healthcare reform since day one. Coats' line "confirms the truism that Dems will always get attacked as too liberal," writes Greg Sargent, "even if they urinate on the heads of liberals on a regular basis." So, if you're a centrist because you don't want to be accused of being too liberal, you're not going to have a lot of luck. There are two constants in Republican challengers; they lie and they aren't very imaginative about it. If you're a Democrat, you're a commie. Case closed.
In Indiana, Bayh was already in a tough race. Before Coats all but announced his candidacy, Evan Bayh was pretty much dead even with two possible Republican challengers. Once a shortlister to be Obama's running mate, he's now in the fight of his political life.
In Louisiana, Blue Dog senator and healthcare reform roadblock Mary Landrieu has gone from very popular to very unpopular. In the spring of 2009, she was riding high with a 60% positive rating. After a few months of reform obstructionism, she found herself at 50% negative by December of the same year.
Similarly, Arkansas healthcare speedbump Sen. Blanche Lincoln has become such low-hanging fruit that she's facing nine Republican challengers. The frontrunner in her race is Rep. John Boozman, who leads her by 19 points.
In Nebraska, Sen. Ben Nelson can only celebrate the fact that he's not up for reelection this year. After his constant Blue Dog dickery on reform, he'd lose a race held today by 31 points.
And do we even have to look at the poster boy for phony Democrats? Let's anyway, shall we? Sen. Joseph "Joementum" Lieberman would get killed 58%-30% if he had to face reelection this year. Lieberman's future looks so bad that many -- if not most -- observers just assume he plans to retire.
When the smoke clears in November, I think we'll see there are a lot fewer Blue Dogs. And, as in 2002, I think we'll see very few -- if any -- losses by actual liberals. So, if you're out there and you're considering running down the middle, don't. Like they say, there ain't nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow line and roadkill.
And if you're planning on running to the right, enjoy your political suicide.
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