The "Blue Dog" Hoax by Congressman Ed Bethune
First published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on February 7, 2010
For more than 40 years Arkansas independents and conservative Democrats have been the victims of a political hoax. The hoaxers were known as Boll Weevil Democrats during the Reagan years, but as voters caught on to what they were doing the Boll Weevils reinvented themselves as Blue Dog Democrats.
The modus operandi of both groups: 1) get elected to national office in Arkansas by claiming to be a conservative Democrat. 2) In Washington, use the “go along to get along” strategy to appease the liberals who control the national Democrat party. 3) When running for re-election deny “going along to get along.” Claim to be a conservative, not an enabler for the liberal agenda.
This year, thanks to the extreme agenda of President Obama, the Blue Dog hoax is revealed. On the first day of this congress they voted for Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco liberal, to be Speaker of the House. Then, there were votes for the 3.9 trillion dollar Obama budget; the pork-laden, debt-producing “stimulus” bill; and the terribly flawed Pelosi Obama health care bill. These votes stripped away the façade behind which the Blue Dogs have been hiding for years. Their constituencies – spitting mad - saw what they were doing. The hapless Blue Dogs were left with three choices.
Announce retirement. Many have done just that. In Arkansas, Congressman Marion Berry (AR-1) started 2009 “going along to get along.” He voted for Pelosi to be speaker, and then he voted for the trifecta – the Obama budget, the “stimulus” bill, and Pelosi Obamacare. His constituents were disappointed to learn that Marion is, and has been, an enabler for liberal Democrats. Berry declared on January 25 that he would not run again.
The second thing an exposed Blue Dog can do is to switch parties. Congressman Parker Griffith, an Alabama Blue Dog, moved to the Republican Party on December 22, 2009. Griffith said he could “no longer align himself with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy and drives us further and further into debt.”
The final option for a frightened Blue Dog is to run for reelection on the hope that he, or she, can fool the electorate one more time. Consider the case of Congressman Mike Ross (AR-4). Ross claims to be a conservative, but he voted for Pelosi to be speaker; for the Obama Budget in April 2009 which made room for cap and trade, health care reform, and continued funding for every liberal program. The budget Ross supported would not stop, or slow down, a single Obama program. In January, 2009, Ross voted for the “stimulus” bill which is now known as one of the greatest boondoggles in congressional history. Obama was popular at the time and Ross gambled that he could get away with supporting Speaker Pelosi and the liberal Obama program.
By summer, in 2009, Ross realized it was getting harder to fool his constituents. They were in no mood to support Obamacare, particularly the extreme bill that was working its way through his committee, the Energy & Commerce Committee. Ross was in a spot. He had put out his brags that he was the leader of the Blue Dog effort on Obamacare and that their goal was to make the bill better, more conservative.
Obama, Pelosi, and Waxman, the very liberal chairman of the Energy & Commerce committee, wanted to pass the bill out of committee, merge it with bills from other committees, and send it to the full House before the August recess. But, Waxman needed at least two votes from the seven Blue Dog Democrats on the Committee. Ross cut a deal to deliver the two Blue Dog votes. The chairman, in exchange, would help Ross make it look like he had done something important. For his cover story, Ross would crow that he had made the bill better, and that he had delayed consideration by the full House until after the August recess.
On July 31, Ross and Congressman Bart Gordon (a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee who was planning to retire) voted for Waxman’s bill. It passed, 31-28. The way was now clear for Pelosi. She jammed her Pelosi Obamacare bill through the full House on November 7, 2009.
Ross, by then, was catching heat back home. He needed more cover, so to round out his trickery, he voted against the bill when it came to the House floor claiming he had done all he could to stop it. What he did not say to Arkansans is that Pelosi’s Obamacare bill would never have made it to a vote in the House if he, Ross, had not given Waxman his vote in committee.
Once he gave in to the liberals, Ross was no longer a factor in the health care debate, particularly with the Blue Dogs he claimed to be leading. Of the fifty-two member Blue Dog coalition, 28 voted “Yea” and 24 voted “Nay” on final passage of the very liberal Pelosi Obamacare. Was Ross representing the 4th District, or was he an enabler for Obama’s liberal agenda?
Senators, aloof as they are, don’t use the Blue Dog title very much, but some of them play the hoax as well as House members. Consider Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. She voted for the senate Obamacare bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid cobbled together in a back room, even though her constituents were telling her to vote against it. Reid, a few months before, had given her the Agriculture committee chairmanship and she was not about to stand up to him, no matter what was in the bill. She, like Berry and Ross, did her version of “go along to get along” and voted for the bill even though it was laden with pork. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana proudly announced that she had gotten $300 million for her vote. Senator Ben Nelson swapped his vote for one billion dollars to exempt his state of Nebraska from Medicaid costs that other states would have to pay. These briberies, done in public view, didn’t stop Blanche. Was she representing Arkansans or was she an enabler for the Obama liberal agenda?
The essential characteristic of a hoax is to convey information that is, although false, at least somewhat credible. Such deceptions have helped Blue Dog Democrats win elections in conservative districts for more than 40 years, but will it work in 2010? The voters in Arkansas will answer that question on November 2.
Ed Bethune was elected to Congress from the 2nd Congressional District of Arkansas in 1978. He served until 1985. He was born and raised a Democrat and became a Republican after he helped Governor Winthrop Rockefeller defeat the Faubus machine.