- - Friday, January 31, 2014


Blue Dogs are a vanishing breed, rarer than the Bedlington terrier or the Tibetan mastiff. Defeats, retirements and redistricting have decimated the ranks of the Democratic caucus that styles itself as the party’s “centrist wing.”

This would be a strange-looking bird, indeed: with an enormous wing on the left, a nubbin on the right, and a smaller nubbin as the centrist “wing.” How it would fly, no one could tell.

Nevertheless, the voices of Democratic moderation, embattled as they are, are plotting a comeback to exert a fiscally responsible influence on their party. They’ll need a lot of luck.

Even with the retirement of Reps. Henry A. Waxman and George Miller in California, deadweights on any bird, the party’s center of gravity in Congress remains anchored firmly on the far left. These 40-year veterans will likely be replaced by deadweight liberals.

Two or three election cycles ago, the Blue Dogs were an influential voting bloc on Capitol Hill, with their 50 or so members courted by right and left on major bills. Now the dogs have lost their teeth. Down to just 15 members and facing the retirements of Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah, the Blue Dogs are left to boast only that they have recruited four new members and are trying to get their power-broker mojo working again.

It’s a reminder of how President Clinton, who after losing control of Congress to Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution in 1995, plaintively insisted, “I am relevant. The Constitution gives me relevance.” Relevant pols never have to say they’re relevant, just as honest presidents never have to proclaim they’re not crooks.

The Democratic leaders quietly concede they’ve all but abandoned the bold dream of taking back the House this fall. Blue Dogs argue that the only way Democrats can restore their grip on Congress is with moderate candidates who run competitive races in Southern districts where Republicans are now winning handily.

To fortify their bid for a return to relevancy, the Blue Dogs have established their own super PAC, called Center Forward. The first results are not promising. Center Forward helped a onetime Blue Dog, Joe Donnelly, a House member from Indiana with a rating of 58 by the American Conservative Union, move up to the Senate, where he became an accessory of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The dilemma of the Blue Dogs is that even if their numbers grow respectable again, they’re still likely to remain irrelevant, swallowed up by the hard-left leadership of Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, and her lieutenants.

If they remain loyal to their convictions, they would not hear warm words of welcome, but the mocking refrain, “You ain’t nothin’ but a Blue Dog, and you ain’t no friend of mine.” The 15 upperclassmen Blue Dogs in 2012 had an average American Conservative Union rating of just 28 percent in the second session of the 112th Congress, making them less “centrist” than “liberal lite.”

Four members even had single-digit conservative numbers, rivaling the scores of Mr. Waxman and Mrs. Pelosi. That average will fall lower when Mr. Matheson and Mr. McIntyre, genuine centrists at 56 percent and 60 percent, respectively, leave the caucus at the end of the year.

With their canines pulled, the Blue Dogs would be reduced to little more than Chihuahuas, with a little bark, but no bite.

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