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A Progressive Sweep? Hardly.

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It's going to take a little time to get used to it. The Republicans will no longer control Congress come January. Voters on November 7 stormed the polls to denounce the Bush administration's scandal-laden entourage and the occupation of Iraq. One by one they went down. Even so, the defeat of the neo-cons certainly doesn't mean Republican values are on the skids.

You would guess that with the massive anti-Bush uproar the Democrats would now possess a progressive mandate to reshape the corruption that engulfs Washington. But you'd be wrong. Many of the Republicans' substitutes are anti-choice, pro-war, socially conservative centrists. Of the newly elected House Democrats at least 9 will be joining the conservative Blue Dog caucus. According to the coalition's spokesperson Vicky Walling, the organization had endorsed 16 new candidates this year.

The difference between the Democratic Leadership Council liberals and the Blue Dogs is marginal. Whereas New Democrats tend to be socially liberal, Blue Dogs maintain traditionally conservative ideals. They may oppose free trade but the majority, like the DLC patrons, voted to limit access to bankruptcy protection and see social programs as expendable in the quest to balance budgets.

Of the 37 current Blue Dogs in Congress, 36 were reelected with the exception of Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee. Not one had opposed the invasion of Iraq. All supported the Bush tax cuts as well as the wall along the border of Mexico. None support impeachment. All support Israel unequivocally, and if Bush moves ahead with a military intervention in Iran, they'll all be on board.

Rahm Emanuel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had chosen 22 pro-war candidates to run this election season in open districts or against Republican incumbents, 9 of which were victorious. Of the 9 winners, 4 are Blue Dogs: Brad Ellsworth (IN), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Baron Hill (IN), and Heath Shuler (NC).

That means of the 29 new Democratic Representatives, 13 are staunchly pro-war. Of the rest, only a handful hold moderately decent positions on US foreign policy, yet the small group will continue to remain a minority within their party. Not surprisingly, none feel our relationship with Israel should be altered. Clearly, that is the direction the Democratic leadership in Washington is looking for in its candidates.

The Blue Dog caucus will no longer have minority status in the House, and will bump their numbers to at least 45 next year. If Christine Jennings wins her recount in Florida that total could reach 46. To put this in perspective, the Blue Dogs are on their way to being on par with DLC's strength in the House and could outnumber the Black Caucus. The Blue Dogs will soon make up at least 20% of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The future looks bleak for progressives in the Senate as well. Of the 7 new Democrats who won Senate races, none plan on challenging the Bush administration's war on terror. Aside from Jon Tester of Montana who supports Murtha's call for redeployment, virtually every new Democratic Senator-Elect opposes a timetable for troop withdrawal and believes the Bush administration, not the Democrats, should come up with an alternative course for Iraq.

Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was quoted in October 2005 by the Brown Daily Herald as saying, "[by] disclosing an exit strategy ... US leaders would be compromising troops' safety." Senator-Elect Jim Webb of Virginia, who served as Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, "opposes a timetable for withdrawal." Democrat Bob Casey, who knocked off Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, does not support a timetable to get troops out of Iraq. And while Sherrod Brown of Ohio supports a timetable for Iraq, he believes Bush should put more pressure on Iran, noting that while we've been occupying Baghdad, Iran has "gained ground in their effort to posses weapons of mass destruction." And if you think Vermont's big Bernie Sanders has what it takes, don't forget he supported the bombing of Serbia.

Every new Democratic Senator-Elect also supported Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

From the Blue Dog take over of the House to the Democratic saturation of the Senate, Election Day 2006 may have brought change to Washington. Sadly it was only in name, not in policy.

***

John Nichols of The Nation claims that the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is now "crowded" as a result of last week's Midterm elections. Indeed the CPC will be growing by 8, which is almost on par with the growth of the conservative Blue Dog faction. Nick Burt and Joel Bleifuss of In These Times also chime in, writing that the Democratic takeover of the House was not a victory for centrist Democrats, but for left-leaning progressives. "CPC members will now be in a position to both promote progressive legislation and investigate administration wrongdoing."

All of these sentiments are extremely misleading. If you combine the growth of New Democrats and Blue Dogs, two of the more conservative Democratic groups in the House, their numbers far surpass the numbers and growth of the CPC this year.

"Do the math," Nichols challenges. "While the Blue Dogs are predicting that the membership of their caucus may grow from 37 to 44 members, and the New Democrats hope their membership will edge up from the mid-forties to over the 50 mark, the Progressives are looking at the prospect that their caucus -- the most racially and regionally diverse ideological grouping in the Congress -- could number more than 70 members once the new House is seated."

Okay, let's do the math. According to the numbers Nichols provides, the Blue Dogs grew by 7 (it's actually going to be 8 or 9) seats and the New Democrats by at least 5. That's a total of 12 seats gained by conservative Democrats providing no overlap between the two groups. The CPC, on the contrary, gained only 8 seats. More importantly, the total number of seats now controlled by conservative Democrats in the House is well over 90, as compared to the CPC's 70.

Who, then may I ask, outnumbers whom? Conservative Congressional Democrats do -- for they gained more House seats than progressives -- and of course, that's not taking into account that the majority of so-called progressive aren't even all that progressive to begin with. Especially when it comes our Middle East foreign policy.

The majority of the CPC won't embrace Rep. Murtha's call for redeployment. And that's a redeployment to other areas in the region, not a plea to bring our troops home now. Like their leader Nancy Pelosi, the CPC's members also overwhelmingly support Israel and remain committed to the neo-con principles underlying Bush's war on terror -- as the majority of current members voted to support the invasion of Afghanistan.

And take Rep. Pelosi's stance on Israel and Iran, "The greatest threat to Israel's right to exist, with the prospect of devastating violence, now comes from Iran," Pelosi lamented in a speech to the Israel-American lobby AIPAC in 2005. "For too long, leaders of both political parties in the United States have not done nearly enough to confront the Russians and the Chinese, who have supplied Iran as it has plowed ahead with its nuclear and missile technology."

The push inside the Democratic Party in the House remains to the far-right not the moderate-left, despite what The Nation and In These Times would have us believe.

 

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Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new book Red State (more...)
 

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