An entertaining adjunct to Benjamin Sarlin’s Daily Beast post today listing five excuses parties start making when they know they’re headed for destruction at the polls. Number five on Sarlin’s list: “We Totally Wanted to Lose Anyway.”
Take it away, Ari Berman.
Margaret Johnson, a former party chairwoman in Polk County, N.C., helped elect Representative [Heath] Shuler but now believes the party would be better off without him. “I’d rather have a real Republican than a fake Democrat,” she said. “A real Republican motivates us to work. A fake Democrat de-motivates us.”…
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.)
Second, in the Senate, having a majority of 52 rather than 59 or 60 would force Democrats to confront the Republicans’ incessant misuse of the filibuster to require that any piece of legislation garner a minimum of 60 votes to become law. Since President Obama’s election, more than 420 bills have cleared the House but have sat dormant in the Senate. It’s easy to forget that George W. Bush passed his controversial 2003 tax cut legislation with only 50 votes, plus Vice President Dick Cheney’s. Eternal gridlock is not inevitable unless Democrats allow it to be.
Republicans have become obsessed with ideological purity, and as a consequence they will likely squander a few winnable races in places like Delaware. But Democrats aren’t ideological enough. Their conservative contingent has so blurred what it means to be a Democrat that the party itself can barely find its way.
This sounds suspiciously like DeMint’s famous formulation that he’d rather have a GOP caucus comprised of 30 Marco Rubios than 60 Arlen Specters. Berman’s not going quite that far — he wants a smaller majority, not an immaculately pure minority — but I’m still not sure how this would work in practice. For one thing, there’s nothing stopping them now from passing cleaner bills on major agenda items. If, as Berman seems to believe, there are 218 votes available on the Democratic side for pork-free progressive legislation, then the Blue Dogs can be safely ignored. Let ’em vote no on things like ObamaCare; it won’t stop the bill and it’ll help them get reelected. If there aren’t 218 votes available for liberal bills — and bear in mind that the Congressional Progressive Caucus has only a bit more than 80 members — then obviously the numbers required for a smaller yet more effective majority are, er, problematic. Beyond all that, I’m at a loss as to how having fewer Senate seats will increase pressure on Democrats to “confront” the Republicans on the filibuster. I would think it’s just the opposite: The closer Democrats are to 60, as they are now, the more vehemently opposed to filibusters they should be. As their majority shrinks and they get closer to minority status, the more self-interest should soften their antipathy to the procedure, especially when they have many more Senate seats in play in the 2012 cycle than Republicans do.
No need to overthink this, though. This sort of proposal isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s meant to do things: (a) designate an easy scapegoat for the election beating, even though no one to the right of, say, Keith Olbermann seriously believes the Dems are going down because their caucus was too centrist, and (b) provide a little balm for the impending wound as described by Sarlin in this piece. In fact, the truly hot meme among lefties right now is that losing the House will actually help Obama in 2012, whether by giving him someone to blame, forcing the GOP to take some responsibility for the economy, or providing cover for him to tack towards the center. That variation on “we totally wanted to lose anyway” at least has some sense to it. Read the rest of Sarlin’s excuses list so that you’re well prepared for the rest of the week.