Yesterday’s Pennsylvania presidential primary drew virtually zero interest from the public, which is about correct. But it wasn’t entirely uneventful. Due to the Republican legislature’s gerrymandering of district lines, quite a few of the state’s Democratic Representatives had to compete for a relatively small number of Democratic seats, and two sitting Congressmen, Jason Altmire and Tim Holden, went down to defeat. They were the final two Blue Dogs in Pennsylvania’s delegation. Both lost to relatively more liberal challengers. And so continues the collapse of the Blue Dogs: a whimper rather than a bang.

The more I think about it, the more I think their greatest weakness is also their greatest strength. It’s easy, easy, easy to sell centrism as a general election quantity, and it tends to be very popular. But the Blue Dogs’ brand of centrism is utterly vapid, and can hard to sell even for very experienced officeholders and strong campaigners. Congress is unpopular largely because it fails to get things done in a reasonably fair manner, and it’s not as though the Blue Dogs can claim to have changed that. Their agenda, as has been pointed out before, isn’t really any different from that of Democrats on paper except for a willingness to shred entitlements, which is not exactly a popular position. Is it any wonder they’re being cleared out like a shoe store when fall fashions come in? I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that their demise has coincided with the rise of Paul Ryan’s Budget as the GOP’s organizing principle.

Going forward, I strongly suspect the Blue Dog Coalition will not stick around for much longer. Something will replace it, of course. The only question is what it will be. Of all the people who lost in 2010 I most wish that Tom Perriello had stuck around. He won a fluke 2008 victory in a district that was very conservative but actually tried to make a case for his principles. He was something of a minority among the Democrats of the time, Blue Dogs highly sought after by Emanuel (“We can’t let the liberals take control of the party.”) In 2010 they dropped like flies, but Perriello came a lot closer than expected in 2010 despite losing, but if he’d won, it could really have Made A Difference. Perriello was certainly no staunch progressive, and I disagreed with him on a number of social issues. But he was a true populist whose focus was solely on improving the lives of people in his district, and I admired his integrity. I highly doubt he’d be talking about raising the Medicare eligibility age, for example. Really, the basic concept here is that any concept of moderation needs to identify the obstacles that keep peoples’ needs from being met and find a way around them. Blue Dogs have failed to do that, repeatedly. They care only to buttress the existing power structure. But there’s no reason why some variety of moderation cannot be successful in bringing about positive change.

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