October 23, 2007

Yellow Dogs, Blue Dogs, and Dead Armadillos

University Press of Florida recently released a new book that I think is the first academic piece to chronicle Florida's post-World War II governors up to the present--through the Jeb Bush years even. UF professor David R. Colburn's book, From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans: Florida and Its Politics since 1940, features a collage of pictures on the cover--including Lawton Chiles walking in 1970, and shots of Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, and current Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R).

It's incredible it took this long for a book to give the Yellow Dog lore some ink, especially since the "doghouse" political language is alive and well in the U.S. Capitol and on campaign trails nationwide. What else would you expect from a Southern political tradition that's got enough hunting dogs, pigs, raccoons, boll weevils, and gypsy moths to fill a barnyard?

David Colburn defines a "Blue Dog" Democrat as one carping that "they were being choked blue by the leash placed around their necks by the federal government." If a "Yellow Dog" Democrat is a conservative Democrat--usually from the South--who would vote for a yellow dog before a Republican, maybe a Blue Dog is just a pissed off Yellow Dog. He's barking and scratching, but he's still on the porch and too lazy to run away. In Florida, that old-time Yellow Dog--with conservative social values, deficit-hawk convictions and a populist core--is on the endangered species list. They've been lost in the wilderness since 1928, when solidly Democratic Protestant Florida favored Republican Herbert Hoover for president over Catholic Democrat Al Smith. The Great Depression brought the yellows back on the porch, but after Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal they started to turn blue quick. The civil rights movement, feminism, welfare, Medicare, and Bill Clinton's scandals saw to that. Many left for fatter living and greener pastures in the Republican Party, leaving the current congressional Democratic caucus a legacy of Blue Dogs and Dixiecrats too old to break their leash.

When you're walking down the halls of the House Office buildings, you can usually spot a Blue Dog Democrat easy. They've got a chart on an easel outside the office door, with an upward sloping line marking the national debt's expansion. Maybe even a Blue Dog key-chain or two. Since Lawton Chiles' day, the U.S. Congressional Blue Dog Caucus has gone digital. They claim to have formally set up shop in the aftermath of the 1994 Gingrich Revolution, in rebellion to the Clinton Administration's "tax-and-spend" excess. For all the pioneering work done by Chiles on the federal deficit crunch in his Senate years from 1970 to 1988, you might label him an honorary Blue Dog--if he hadn't already picked his moniker of choice. He didn't have much company at his hearings on the deficit, and not much has changed. Even though the Blue Dogs have got 47 members today, they're getting less and less support for fiscal responsibility from the other side of the aisle.

Which brings me to Texas populist Jim Hightower's book from years back, There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos.

Today's Congressional Democratic Caucus includes Blue Dogs, progressives, DLCers (Democratic Leadership Council), New Democrats, and maybe even a few "Atari" Democrats who remember Al Gore's work on the internet. What happened to the Republican Party's liberal-to-moderate wing? Hightower was right about one thing. The moderates, centrists, and "Main Street" Republicans like Lincoln Chafee, Sherwood Boehlert, and Jim Jeffords--they've gone the way of the armadillo, leaving none but Democrats to claim the middle of the road.

1 comment:

RightDemocrat said...

Lawton Chiles was the last of the real Floridian political leaders. I didn't always agree with Chiles but admired him.