Well, the Democrats did it. They won control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate on a message of "we're not them."
But, as effective as it was in the campaigns, "we're not them" is worthless as a governing message or strategy. Democrats are now like the dog that caught the fire engine - they need to quickly figure out what to do with their victory. Now that they have saved the nation from the Republicans, they need a plan to save themselves from themselves.
They're not off to a good start. Three days after the election, The Wall Street Journal reported that Democrats "vow to probe Bush's pre-war case, Katrina contracts, and corporate America." Sounds a lot like "we're not them." Then incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to support anti-war activist Jack Murtha over moderate Steny Hoyer for majority leader. This was, well, stupid, as well as massively unsuccessful. Hoyer beat Murtha 149-86.
Next, Pelosi announced her support for Alcee Hastings over Jane Harman for Chair of the House Select Intelligence Committee. This despite Harman's distinguished service as Democratic leader on that panel and Hastings' having been impeached and convicted on multiple counts of extortion and perjury when he was a federal judge. This proved no more successful than her Murtha ploy, as last week she was forced to withdraw her support for Hastings.
So can the Democrats be saved from themselves? If so, by whom? Enter the "Blue Dogs" - 44 moderate Democrats mostly, but not entirely, from the South. They tend to be social and fiscal conservatives who remain loyal Democrats while also working with Republicans when they think it serves the nation's interests. Blue Dogs may save Democrats from themselves in two important ways.
First, they are a check on unrestrained liberalism and potential abuse of power. They backed Hoyer for the Whip job and have announced their support for Harman over Hastings. And, on the issue of budget deficits, one in which Republicans have been particularly vulnerable, they have extracted a promise from Pelosi to fight for a pay-as-you-go budget plan.
Second, their willingness to forge bipartisan solutions while serving the nation could also provide Democrats a lot of cover in 2008 when they try to maintain control of Congress and take back the Presidency. Democrats would be crazy to take sole ownership of such controversial issues as an Iraq exit strategy, Social Security reform, and immigration. The Blue Dogs know none of these policies could survive a Presidential veto and, moreover, if they did, they might lead Democrats back to minority status in two years.
No doubt there will be many days over the next two years when Pelosi will be feeling a little "blue" herself about the lack of unanimity within her party. On those occasions, however, she should thank the political gods for sending the Blue Dogs to save the party from itself. It's time for Democrats' to expand their message to "we're not them... and, we're not your father's Democratic party, either."
Greg Schneiders is a founding partner of Prime Group, a consultancy that specializes in helping clients understand, plan, and execute change. Greg@primegroupllc.com.