Matt Stoller Guest Post: The Bush Dog Democrat Campaign

(Guest Post by Matt Stoller of Open Left)

I appreciate the opportunity that Jeralyn is affording me to post on this site in response to Big Tent Democrat's repeated criticisms of my blogging and activism. Here's BTD's essential argument.

If the Democratic Party listens to Shrum, Carville, Stoller and Greenwald on Iraq, and runs on the idea that nothing can be done about Iraq until 2009, Democrats will suffer politically.

If I were arguing that we ought to do nothing about Iraq, I would deserve this scorn, and more. But far from arguing for apathy, a strange position for an activist blogger who is constantly asking his readers to engage in political activities, I'm pushing for the opposite: concerted, strategic action within the political system by activists like us.

Now, I do think it's highly unlikely that the Democrats in Congress will stop the war or do anything meaningful to stop the war until at least 2009, and even beyond then I have no confidence that Edwards, Obama, or Clinton will end the war without extreme pressure from activists and the public. You can read their various pathetic non-withdrawal plans compiled by Chris Bowers, my blogging partner who is obsessively pushing candidates to take a pro-withdrawal stance. But that means our job as activists and voters is clear: to create that pressure.


One of the ways I am working to do this is through the Bush Dog Democrat campaign. Bush Dog Democrats are Democrats in the House who voted for the blank check bill last Spring to fund the war without restrictions and voted for an expansion of Bush's wiretapping authority this summer. There are 39 of them, and they are mostly but not entirely Southern white male conservative Democrats. It's a coalition of slavish Bush enablers within the Democratic party who have until now faced no pressure from activists. As a first step to combat this caucus, I am asking bloggers to profile a Bush Dog Democrat, so that we get to know them up close and learn who they are and why they do what they do. Perhaps some of them can be convinced to change their positions once they know how frustrated the public really is with this war, though my experience fighting Joe Lieberman in Connecticut in 2006 suggests otherwise.

So far, we've profiled around 30 of them, and there will be additional organizing activities and potentially even primaries. The goal is clear: raise the political costs of keeping the war going for the political elites that keep us there, and that means naming the problem within the party. That's where the Bush Dog Democrats campaign came from, and it's worked. Over the past two weeks, we've created 10,000 Google mentions of Bush Dog Democrats, been mentioned across the national blogosphere, in local blogs, in USA Today, in the Politico, and the New York Observer. There's more media to come, and potentially some advertising and organizing work as well. Has it ended the war? No, but it's been two weeks, and it has important begun the long process of raising the costs for corrupt elites by naming names.

Anyway, it's not a particularly controversial statement to think that the war will not end until 2009 at the earliest. Asserting otherwise is dishonest at best, naive at worst. I don't really understand Big Tent Democrats' strategic arguments, but I think part of the confusion comes down to a sense of what role we play in the political system. BTD thinks that he can offer advice to Democrats in Congress, and they will take it. He thinks, though I could be wrong, that telling Democratic members not to fund the war on a blog is a strategy. I don't think that most Democrats in Congress particularly care what I say, or what any blogger says, and I don't have the tens of millions of dollars to make them care. I am an activist, and I know that Congress doesn't revolve around my blogging. Politicians respond to pressure and arguments, and I am trying to offer that pressure through a mixture of sticks, like the Bush Dog Democrat campaign, and carrots, fundraising and activism for candidates like Darcy Burner and Donna Edwards.

I invite Big Tent Democrat to profile one of these Bush Dog Democrats, to raise money for antiwar candidates, or to come up with his own strategy to strategically criticize or organize around core pillars that support our war-making establishment. You should ask that he find a place for YOU to be active, a place for you to put your money and/or your time to end the war. I have offered my strategy, and I am working on my own piece of it along with many others. So what about it, Big Tent Democrat? How about taking one of these Bush Dog Democrats and writing a profile?

I mean, this war and its consequences will be with us for a very long time, and there's enough work for all of us to do.

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    First point is - depriving the Bush Dogs (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by scribe on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:22:23 PM EST
    of their formerly innocuous or even respectable "Blue Dog" name.

    They vote with Bush, they pay for it by being labelled with his name.

    That's well underway.

    Second step, making the Bush Dogs pay a little more - by raising a ruckus from the left.  They can either get religion - like Ellen Tauscher seems to have done - or cuddle with Bushie even more - like Mr. Baird seems to have done.

    Third, contemporaneous step, start seeking progressive primary challengers for Bush Dogs, to make them explain why it is they feel so certain that wh*ring themselves out to the Radical Republicans is the correct way to be a Democrat and to force them to defend their record.

    It was once said that some armies' soldiers fought incredibly hard even when the odds were obviously seriously against them.  When captured, those soldiers were asked why and the answer went something like this:
    I fear you and your army, but I would not run away because I fear my sergeants even more.

    Or, as (I think it was) kos said:  We have to make Bush Dogs fear their own base more than they fear Bush's fearmongering.

    We have to come to understand that the Bush Dogs do not want, and cannot prosper, under a Democratic landslide such as 2008 is shaping up to give us.  They only have influence and power when they can play the swing vote and threaten to go over to work with the Rethugs.  That only can obtain when the Democratic majority is narrow.  So, we can expect the Bush Dogs to waffle, tremble and play both sides until they are brought into line, or sent home.  Because Democrats winning big is inimical to their own self-interest and self-importance.

    It seems that your strategy (5.00 / 5) (#11)
    by Maryb2004 on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:52:58 PM EST
    to end the war is an electoral strategy not a strategy based on pressure now.  Is that a correct interpretation?

    I'm getting that from your description of the goal and the steps.

    You say that the ultimate goal of the Bush Dogs campaign is to raise the political costs of keeping the war going for the political elites that keep us there, and that means naming the problem within the party.  

    The first step (that you are asking for help with) is to profile each Bush Dog.  The second step is unclear to me. You say there will be additional organizing activities and potentially even primaries.  Moving toward potential primaries to me means it's an electoral strategy but if the other organizing activities involve pressure in the here and now I'd like to hear about them.  

    Btw I completely agree with this statement

    I don't think that most Democrats in Congress particularly care what I say, or what any blogger says
     True.  The only way bloggers matter to them is if they can activate large groups of people to help or harm them.  So, with that in mind, do you have any ideas about what your activist/readers (I'm also not clear how you think about them since you use both words) are supposed to be doing between the time the Bush Dog profiles are compiled and whatever step 2 involves.  

    In other words do you object to them spending their time on putting pressure on other political elites in Congress in the here and now NOT to vote for a funding bill that doesn't set a deadline.  And if you don't object to that time being spent do you intend to add yourself to THAT effort.

    So (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Maryb2004 on Thu Sep 06, 2007 at 08:41:55 PM EST
    I take it that your anti-war activism doesn't include interaction with readers to explain your proposed anti-war action plan in the hope of obtaining additional reader/activists.

    Completely unsurprising.


    Maybe the response disappeared in (none / 0) (#17)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 01:03:38 AM EST
    the "thread cleaning"?

    Good post Matt (none / 0) (#1)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:06:42 PM EST
    I appreciate your effort in explaining your view on this.

    thanks (none / 0) (#3)
    by Matt Stoller on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:08:29 PM EST
    I appreciate the comment, BTD.

    Tester and Webb voted for the supplemental. (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:07:10 PM EST
    Diane Feinstein not only voted for the FISA expansion, she advocated for it. In my view, BTD's push for Congress to defund has a better chance than unseating the majority of Congress. P.S. You lost quite a bit of credibility here when you personally attacked BTD on TalkLeft. Surprising Jeralyn invited you to guest post here. But she is a forgiving soul.

    ok (none / 0) (#4)
    by Matt Stoller on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:11:55 PM EST
    In my view, BTD's push for Congress to defund has a better chance than unseating the majority of Congress.

    I don't understand.  How do you get Congress to defund the war without unseating or threatening to unseat members of Congress?  And what exactly is this 'push' you are talking about?


    None of that Oculus (none / 0) (#5)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:12:03 PM EST
    Matt and I will discuss substance now.

    Gawd knows I have gone over the line too many times to count.

    No reason to carry forward any silly dusputes to what now is a good substantive debate.

    Let's forget that now.


    When is Edger coming back? (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 07:49:28 PM EST
    A day or two (none / 0) (#13)
    by squeaky on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 09:54:03 PM EST
    I think

    feinstein (none / 0) (#6)
    by Matt Stoller on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:12:34 PM EST
    Diane Feinstein not only voted for the FISA expansion, she advocated for it.

    She is awful.

    Webb isn't great, but he did push the Iran amendment which is a fairly significant step.


    I'm a California voter and don't (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:48:52 PM EST
    see anyone toppling Feinstein. She'll decide when to step down. I recall the great joy at Daily Kos when Tester and Webb won. Now we'll work to unseat them? The "push" I referred to is relentless, informed, focused advocacy for defunding, posted here, The Guardian (on line), previously (and available in the archives) on Daily Kos, and on Mydd. Yesterday, Kos himself advocated defunding on the front page of Daily Kos. He's the fellow on TV, book tours, pretty much a spokesperson for the greater blogosphere, and I'm optimistic the Democratic presidential candidates (who did show up at Yearly Kos II)and our representatives in Congress (at least the most internet savvy) are paying attention.

    I'll say this much: (none / 0) (#7)
    by Compound F on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 04:15:29 PM EST
    these are momentous times.  The world is facing major problems of carrying capacity, such as peak oil and environment toxication.  Resource wars are one way to handle it.  I strongly disapprove, and the Democrats are losing me quickly.  While I despise Republicans, Democrats may need to feel some pain in 2008 in order to get my message.

    Thread cleaned (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Sep 06, 2007 at 11:27:33 AM EST
    this is supposed to be a discussion of substantive issues. Please don't make it about personalities.

    Fair enough. Peaches, (none / 0) (#15)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Sep 06, 2007 at 11:32:02 AM EST
    I just think that the war will end when both the Reps and the Dems support ending it, ie., when they have a common goal and put aside their partisan differences. And the sooner they do so, the sooner our involvement will end.

    I agree with you completely that neither Stoller nor BTD have anything to do with lengthening the war - they have as much impact on congress as you and I - my point was that the strategies they espouse, because they would cause more partisanship, would lengthen the war. My opinion, of course.

    And I also agree that the only real way to counter the big money is to get big press about your position, and in our world big press comes from big demonstrations, not tip-tapping on a keyboard...