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Morning Jay: Underestimating Republicans, Newsweek Strikes Again, and Time To Purge!

6:30 AM, Oct 25, 2010 • By JAY COST
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3. Blame the Blue Dogs?  Ari Berman of The Nation takes to the pages of the New York Times to urge a purge:

Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It’s a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. “Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done,” he said. Since the passage of health care reform, few major bills have passed the Senate. Although the Democrats have a 59-vote majority, party leaders can barely find the votes for something as benign as extending unemployment benefits.

A smaller majority, minus the intraparty feuding, could benefit Democrats in two ways: first, it could enable them to devise cleaner pieces of legislation, without blatantly trading pork for votes as they did with the deals that helped sour the public on the health care bill. (As a corollary, the narrative of “Democratic infighting” would also diminish.)

Franklin Roosevelt tried to orchestrate a purge of conservative Southern Democrats in the 1930s, but he waited until after his triumph in 1936, when the Democratic congressional caucus expanded to an unprecedented size.  The Democrats are set to go from a majority to a minority this cycle, which seems to me to be the exact wrong time to start booting the moderates who manage to survive.

The math is pretty straightforward, and it doesn’t favor Berman’s argument.  The liberals’ biggest problem is the Senate, where small states hold the balance of power.  In 2000, a year in which the parties were split nationwide, George W. Bush won a majority of states.  In 2004, he won a super majority, 30 out of 50 states.  Thus, on average, a Democratic majority in the Senate will depend upon Democratic senators who can appeal to Republican presidential voters.  The same is true in the House of Representatives, by the way.  Bush and Gore split the presidential vote in 2000, but Bush won 240 of 435 districts.  He won 255 districts in 2004.  If Berman wants to drill the Democratic caucus down to members who can reliably vote the liberal line, he’ll have fewer than 200 representatives and 40 senators on his side.

This strikes me as more about affixing blame for the Democratic party’s impending defeat than forging a path forward for the left. The consistent theme I have read from liberals is that their problem is that they have not been partisan or liberal enough. That, as well as the occasional blame for a lack of a good “narrative,” accounts for the Democratic party’s poor position. Both Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, accept and promote what we might call “creation myths,” or stories that account for the standing of both sides over time. Usually, these stories are at most half true – and right now the story the left seems to be telling itself is less than that.

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