David Broder and Disquieting, Dodgy Dems

Beware: The dean of the D.C. press corps is disappointed.

In his Washington Post column today (“Dodgeball for Democrats,” 11/18/10), David Broder leads off with this:

When the rules of the House of Representatives forced the Democrats to confront a painful choice among their leaders, they did what Democrats are often inclined to do. They changed the rules.

Usually, such a stunt would matter only to the members affected by the change. But this one sends a dangerous signal at a crucial moment, when both parties are being tested on their willingness to respond to the lessons of the last election. This is a disquieting development.

Egad! What was this disquieting stunt that the rule-breaking Democrats pulled off? As Broder explains, losing the Congressional majority normally means losing one leadership position (majority leader); so the party would have a minority leader, a whip and a chair. But since Pelosi is staying on to serve as minority leader, the Democrats have four leaders for three positions. So Pelosi created a position called “assistant leader” in order to keep veteran African-American lawmaker James Clyburn in a leadership role.

I know, I am as outraged as you by this “dangerous” rule-breaking. Funny thing is, a few days prior something very similar was happening on the Republican side. The new Republican majority, facing leadership challenges from Tea Party-backed lawmakers, created two new positions for incoming freshmen.

Does any of this actually matter much? Not to most people. But David Broder isn’t most people; while he acknowledges that this wouldn’t make a difference in normal times, these are certainly not normal times:

But we are about to start a Congress in which everything depends on the willingness of the leadership in both parties to face up to hard choices–on the budget, Afghanistan and a dozen other issues.

Too often in the past, Democrats have avoided making hard choices by throwing more money in the pot or taking similar self-indulgent steps. When it came to the stimulus legislation and health-care reform, for example, Democrats spent to buy votes rather than make tough choices.

The Democrats’ unwillingness to face the hard choice in this internal fight sends exactly the wrong signal.

You see, it’s not really about what James Clyburn’s job title is at all. Democrats are “self-indulgent” money-wasters who “buy votes”–though the examples Broder cites (health care and stimulus) were instances where the party, in an effort to attract Republican and/or Blue Dog support, trimmed their sails, winding up with a stimulus package many thought was too small and a healthcare plan that lacked a public option or a serious effort to control drug costs.

It’s too bad the Democrats aren’t ready to be serious. I mean, they’re not even willing (yet) to follow Broder’s advice and start bombing Iran.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.