Sayonora, Flag Protection Amendment

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The popular spin on the new Democratic leadership on the Hill—especially popular on Fox News, I notice—is that Democratic power now depends on a rump of conservative Democrats from the plains and the South. This was how Fox correspondent Brian Wilson spun it on "Special Report with Brit Hume."

The House and Senate will be more Democratic next year, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be more liberal. Democratic Pennsylvania Senator-elect Bob Casey says he is a social moderate. He opposes abortion and gun control. In Montana, Jon Tester says he's a fiscal conservative. In Virginia, Jim Webb made his opposition to the Iraq war a key issue, but he was once a Republican and will probably not always vote with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Leaving aside these inaccurate pictures of Tester and Webb (Both are proudly pro-choice and anti-war), this spin completely forgets the reality of the Hill. Conservative Democrats used to be boxed in because the Republican leadership would schedule votes on conservative issues, peeling them away from their party. Even after Newt Gingrich left for the loftier terrain of Newt.org, the party stuck to his playbook of "70 percent issues"—issues like parental notification on abortion, traditional marriage, and anti-flag burning laws that are supported by more than 70 percent of the country. When they were in trouble, as they were this year, the GOP majority would schedule votes on odious measures like the Flag Protection Amendment and Marriage Definition Amendment and giggle as Democrats scattered.

The new Democratic majority is tired of feeling the pointy side of these wedge issues. It will not schedule votes on this stuff. Congressmen Heath Schuler and Chris Carney, for example, won't ever have to weigh in on a new Marriage Definition Amendment unless there's a legitimate surge of public anger and petitioning on the issue, which there wasn't in the last Congress. The Flag Protection Amendment, which failed by one vote this year, is probably dead forever. Instead, the Democrats will be scheduling votes on their wedge issues, like stem cell research and minimum wage hikes. As Tom Schaller has pointed out, for the first time in 54 years the party that represents the socially conservative South holds the minority of seats, and has no presence in the leadership (apart from black liberal Rep. Jim Clyburn, the new Majority Whip). Social conservatism is a spent force, for now.

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  1. This election showed that America is disgusted with its leaders. This includes the Democratic leadership. The GOP was voted out of power, but most agree that the Dems weren’t overly powerful in presenting new ideas. The GOP got voted out of power, and if the Democrats misinterpret the election as merely an anti-GOP or anti-Iraq statement rather than a broad anti-Washington leadership statement, they won’t be in power for very long. That said, cutting out the gay flag burning amendments would sure be nice.

  2. I hope my falling about the place laughing at that last sentence in the article doesn’t peg me as a complete cynic. This, and the article suggesting that Dem leadership boot Byrd and Mollohan, seem completely removed from reality to me. I hope I’m wrong.

  3. “The new Democratic majority is tired of feeling the pointy side of these wedge issues. It will not schedule votes on this stuff.”

    Basic question from an ignoramus:

    The existence of political “parties” is arbitrary, from a constitutional point of view. In the broad view, they are an incidental byproduct of our system of governance, not a mandated component.

    So how would all this stuff work (“so-and-so gets to schedule votes,” etc.) in the absence of these two blocs that happen to call themselves “Republicans” and “Democrats” (or “Federalists” or “Whigs” or whatever)?

  4. Lamar,

    I disagree on this election being anti-leaders vs. anti-GOP. No incument Democrat lost and I don’t see another explaination for Chafee, Shaw, Hayworth (okay, he’s kind of a dick and maybe lost because of that), Bass, Ryun, Nortrup, Gutknecht and Leach.

    They lost because they were Republicans in a cycle where that was not a good affiliation to have.

  5. The new Democratic majority is tired of feeling the pointy side of these wedge issues. It will not schedule votes on this stuff.

    and when exactly will the democrats not take a vote on a min wage increase? The dems have a set of their own stupid yet popular issues that i am sure they will take every opportunity to push a vote on.

  6. “In Montana, Jon Tester says he’s a fiscal conservative.”

    “Leaving aside these inaccurate pictures of Tester and Webb (Both are proudly pro-choice and anti-war)”

    Innacurate? Last I checked, being a fiscal conservative was completely compatible with being both pro-choice and anti-war. Given he’s from Montana, he’s probably pro-gun to boot, and he’s proudly said he’d repeal the Patriot act…

    …could Tester be the legendary libertarian Democrat?

    I’m sure he’s got a few nanny-state or big-government ideas, so it’s probably too good to be true. But that aside, he sounds pretty good to me. Let’s cross our fingers.

  7. Postmodern Sleaze – My point is that Wilson lumped Tester in with conservatives simply because he described himself as a fiscal conservative. Which is bull. Hell, Howard Dean described himself as a fiscal conservative.

  8. John Tester is more liberal than Conrad Burns.

    Jim Webb is more liberal than George Allen.

    Bob Casey is more liberal than Senator Man on Dog.

    Bob Corker is probably more liberal than Bill Frist.

    Sheldon Whitehouse is slightly more liberal than Lincoln Chafee.

    etc etc etc.

    Every single change in the Senate – whether a change in party or a replacement with someone from the same party – represented either a shift to the left, or same-same. This is a much more liberal Congress.

  9. How about a camouflage flag so the terrorists can’t see it!

  10. David:

    The only real problem I had with your characterization was that the quote specifically said “fiscal conservative”, and neither of the issues that you cited were specifically fiscal.

    And, as a governor, Dean more or less was a fiscal conservative. Between that and some of his social stances, early analysts back in 2002 were calling Dean a “libertarian”. That’s before he started acting like he was batshit insane (and strangely began to be taken seriously).

    Hmm, maybe that’s the problem the Libertarians are having- they’re simply not crazy enough to get attention… or crazy in a way that gets attention…

  11. “”I disagree on this election being anti-leaders vs. anti-GOP. No incument Democrat lost and I don’t see another explaination for Chafee, Shaw, Hayworth (okay, he’s kind of a dick and maybe lost because of that), Bass, Ryun, Nortrup, Gutknecht and Leach.

    They lost because they were Republicans in a cycle where that was not a good affiliation to have.””””

    I have to agree. I thought the election would be an incumbent ouster, but I was wrong.

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