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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Triple-Loaded Statistics

Over at MyDD, Chris Bowers recently posted an analysis of the extent to which Ds and Rs in the House have voted as a bloc in the early stages of this Congress. It’s sort of interesting, in the way that studies of how baseball players perform in very limited circumstaces (say, with runners in scoring position with two outs, on the road) are sort of interesting, but it also shows the danger of blowing up small distinctions into big implications.Chris’ basic take is that Republican House members are marginally more “loyal” to their party line than Democrats, who have more, if only a handful, of true “heretics.” But even those small potatoes are fluffed up misleadingly by his selection of eight “final passage” votes as “party differentiators.” As Chris knows, “final passage” votes in the House are an unreliable indicator of ideology, since (a) they ignore committee actions and amendments (on those rare occasions GOPers allow them), and (b) they reflect only those bills the Republican leadership has decided to move, generally because they are certain to pass. And they are also not exactly reliable signs of party loyalty, either, since both parties’ leaderships on occasion treat votes as “free” and don’t mind defections among Members in vulnerable districts.Still, the study was a good contribution to the general store of political knowledge. But now Chris has done a second post focusing on House Democrats who are “members of the DLC,” and finds, well, not much of anything.First, I’d like to rise to a point of personal privilege and address this “DLC membership” business, because it’s also been a source of confusion elsewhere in the blogosphere. There is one and only one way to become a “member of the DLC,” and that’s to plunk down 40 bucks and get all our stuff–policy papers, Blueprint Magazine, etc.–in the mail. There is something on our web page called the New Dem Directory (which is apparently what Chris was looking at) which is simply contact information on elected officials–most of them at the state and local levels–who have either joined some related New Dem-identified organization or participated in DLC events. It’s basically an online phone book, and the DLC has never used its contents to market itself or take credit for anybody’s career. There ain’t no membership cards, oaths, whip operations, or litmus tests. Are we straight on that?Now, most of the House Members in this online phone book are there because they are members of the House New Democratic Coalition, a completely independent group that shares a general orientation with the DLC, but neither asks for nor takes orders from anybody at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They tend to be from competitive or even dangerously vulnerable districts more than the rest of the Caucus, and thus are given “free votes” more often than their peers.Still with me here? Okay. Having analyzed these 39 Members on those 8 House final passage votes, Chris concludes they are “not dramatically more disloyal” than other Dems, and by at least one measure, are actually less disloyal. In others words, says Chris, “the only pattern here is that there is no pattern.” So, is he ready to bury the myth that the DLC, on secret instructions from Corporate America or Karl Rove or somebody, is leading its (non-)members into perfidy and Republicanism? No–he concludes we don’t have any clout with our(non-) members, and thus have to reason to exist other than to criticize other Democrats!Gee, seems to me that there are a whole hell of a lot of Democratic organizations out there who have had pretty much the same impact as the DLC on the votes of House members on these eight votes, i.e., none. Are they useless, too? Should we all just go out of business, unless we can demonstrate they we either dramatically increase or dramatically decrease the bloc voting of House Democrats on these eight votes? Lord knows, no other political activity, from policy development to political strategy to fundraising to grass-roots organizing, could be worth doing, right?Okay, you see my point by now. I’m not at all hostile to Chris Bowers; he’s a smart guy who is probably trying to be objective here. But he’s like a baseball manager who likes one player and dislikes another, and can always find some marginal, triple-loaded statistic to put the former in the starting lineup and send the latter to the minors. This is not how you build a winning team in baseball, or in politics.

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