Democrats have spent most of the last three years lamenting the radical nature of their opponents. This began when Tea Party protests broke out in the spring of 2009 in response to an on-air rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli, and protesters began flooding town-hall meetings held by Democrats in Congress to argue over Obamacare. They attempted to paint the grassroots demonstrations as “Astroturf” funded by wealthy businessmen such as the Koch brothers – and they kept right on arguing about it as they suffered the worst mid-term results in 72 years, losing control of the House in the 2010 elections.
They have made the same argument throughout the Republican presidential nomination fight. With the refrain, “Ronald Reagan couldn’t win the nomination of the Republican Party” repeated so often that it began to sound like a mantra, liberal pundits and Democrats in office claimed that each Republican presidential candidate was more radical than the next. When it became apparent that Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination, the Barack Obama campaign and the DNC shifted their rhetoric against Romney from claiming that he was too flexible to have any core beliefs to warning voters that Romney was the most committed conservative radical since Barry Goldwater.
That’s the kind of spin that could give people whiplash. However, primaries held in key Congressional races on Tuesday as well as announced retirements in the House make clear that Democrats suffer from another affliction: projection. Their party has coalesced around a hard-Left administration and has shed its moderates over the past two years as a result.
Consider the state of the Blue Dog Democrat coalition in the House. In 2006 and 2008, Democrats ran moderates for swing districts held by Republicans after the GOP lost the confidence of the electorate, and won dozens of seats to take control of Congress. They promised fiscal discipline and a moderate approach to social issues, and voters assumed they would apply the brakes on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s more doctrinaire liberal impulses. At the height of their power, the Blue Dog caucus had 54 members and wielded considerable clout – or so voters assumed.
The Obamacare debate stripped that fantasy from the electorate. Instead of forcing the Obama administration to moderate its approach to health-insurance reform, the Blue Dogs rolled over and played dead. Rep. Bob Stupak (D-MI) resisted for a while by blocking the progress of the PPACA bill in the House with an amendment that would have prohibited federal funds from paying for abortion coverage, but got pushed into accepting a meaningless executive order from Obama instead. In 2010, voters reduced the Blue Dog coalition by half after it became obvious that they could not stop the leftward march of the Pelosi-led House, and Democrats lost control of the lower chamber as a result.
That didn’t teach Democratic leadership anything, as it turns out. Now it’s not just angry voters whittling away the Blue Dogs that remain – it’s the Democrats themselves.