Self-Loathing Centrists

Matt Yglesias makes a smart point about the bleating of centrist Democrats who argue that voters abandoned the party because of liberal overreach, even though liberal ideas always take a back seat to accommodate centrist demands.

You can easily imagine an alternate universe in which the Senate Democratic Caucus took an oath of party loyalty, that all 60 Democrats would vote for cloture on all leadership-supported bills, allowing measures to pass with just 51 votes. Had that happened, we would have gotten a bigger, more liberal-friendly stimulus. And the Senate would have finished up with a more liberal version of health reform some time ago. And the Senate probably would have passed some other liberal stuff in the meantime. Had that happened, and had the voters been displeased with it, then it might make perfect sense for Landrieu to complain about some non-Landrieu “wing” of the Democratic Party.

But in the world that exists, the only “wing” that matters is the Mary Landrieu wing. They decide how much stimulus we get. They decide their can’t be a public option. They decide their needs to be a months-long quest to get Chuck Grassley to offer “Republican cover” for a health care vote. Either the strategy is working better than the alternatives, or else it’s the Landrieu wing that needs to change things up. But defeats can’t be the fault of the people who haven’t been in the driver’s seat since the seventies.

Right, and to build on this a little, it’s a bit surprising these centrists don’t realize how tied their electoral fortunes are to that of the party as a whole. If there’s a mass voter rebellion against Democrats, you can safely bet that “centrist” Senators in more conservative states are going to catch the worst of it. So when Evan Bayh and Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson go off criticizing their party or trashing the health reform bill for months, they’re actually making the political situation for themselves much worse than it needs to be.