DINOs: Today’s Democrats Have It Good Comparatively

Pappy O’Daniel (D-Tex.), who by the end of his time in the Senate wasn’t voting liberal on anything.

Some time ago I wrote about RINOs of old, a souped-up version of which will be posted shortly on my Substack, mikeholme.substack.com. Although I have written of the most conservative Democrats in the past, I feel that this successor post has some necessity given the talk of how Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are Democrats in Name Only (DINO). I will first examine this view through how the lobbying groups ADA (Americans for Democratic Action) and ACU (American Conservative Union) view them, and then I will examine past cases, giving MC-Index and ADA scores. I have not compiled MC-Index scores for Manchin and Sinema yet, but here’s where they stand by ACU standards, most recent scores being from 2020:

Sinema – 15% (Range: 4-24%)

Manchin – 27% (Range: 8-36%)

From an ACU standpoint, the Democrats look like left-wing extremists for bashing them as DINOs, but let’s look at where ADA stands, modified to not count absences, and I have gone over why I can’t abide the practice:

Sinema – 55% (Range: 35-85%)

Manchin – 60% (Range: 30-80%)

From the ADA grading standpoint, I can certainly see how party faithful would be irritated by them, but the interesting thing here is that they are getting the most criticism recently and for Sinema her 85% score was in 2020, while Manchin got a 75%. This is where the next part of this post comes into play…how do they compare historically? For this, I will examine some figures in the party who were also a bane for leadership to deal with:

Howard W. Smith (D-Va.) – I have covered him before as an infamous obstructionist of liberal legislation as chairman of the Rules Committee from 1955 to 1967 who collaborated with Republican Minority Leader Charles Halleck of Indiana. – 14%. His MC-Index score for his whole career is a 69%, but for the equivalent period it is an 80%.

Edward E. “Gene” Cox (D-Ga.) – Prominent Rules Committee member, major part of the “Conservative Coalition” who led multiple investigations against liberal and left-wing targets and whose ADA score is for the last six years of his career. – 25%. His MC-Index score, which goes back to the start of his Congressional career in 1925, is a 51%. Cox’s MC-Index score for the equivalent period is a 71%.

Pat McCarran (D-Nev.) – Through seniority, he became the most powerful senator for four years and managed to get two laws passed over President Truman’s veto, the Internal Security Act in 1950 and the McCarran-Walter Immigration Bill. McCarran was a prominent anti-communist and a leading supporter of the National Origins Formula for immigration. Although he was a reliable vote for organized labor and opposed the Taft-Hartley Act, Democratic leaders could not count on his vote for many issues. – 35%. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 54%, but for the equivalent period it was a 62%.

John E. Rankin (D-Miss.) – I wrote a post about this notoriously racist and anti-Semitic member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities until 1949, when he was penalized for endorsing Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in 1948 and for his embarrassing conduct by being removed from the committee. Although a progressive earlier in his career, the ADA score reflects his last six years in office. – 28%. His MC-Index score per my updates, which covers his entire career, is a 44%. His MC-Index score for the equivalent period is a 74%.

W. Lee O’Daniel (D-Tex.) – Although initially O’Daniel voted enough with the Democrats, by the 78th Congress his record had grown staunchly conservative in the Senate. He was also notable for his flour business and his country music radio show to promote it as well as his persistent sheer ignorance of governance as Texas’s governor. The character of Menelaus “Pappy” O’Daniel in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) was partially based on him. His score here reflects his record in 80th Congress, which is the least liberal for Democrats. – 0%. His MC-Index score is a 76%, for the equivalent period, a whopping 100%.

Martin Dies Jr. (D-Tex.) – Head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities from 1938 to 1944 who butted heads with FDR over the New Deal, communist infiltration of his administration, and how he addressed communism. His ADA score reflects his six-year comeback in the 1950s. – 10%. MC-Index: 55%, for equivalent period: 84%.

It is true that by today’s standards Manchin and Sinema are underwhelming from a liberal perspective with DW-Nominate scores to back this view of -0.058 and -0.103 respectively and are at the current time highly inconvenient for three proposals that face united Republican opposition: Build Back Better, the For the People Act, and the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Democrats, however, have faced much greater foes in their own party. Neither Manchin nor Sinema are considered satisfactory by conservative standards even if they like some of what they’ve been doing lately, which cannot be said of certain Democrats in the past, especially those who ended up party switching. There are no ideological equivalents in today’s Democratic Party to Howard W. Smith and numerous other Dixiecrats, who effectively functioned as a third party in Congress. Indeed, 50 years ago there were five Senate Democrats who had higher DW-Nominate scores than Manchin and ten with higher than Sinema. The furor over Manchin and Sinema demonstrates two things: first, how polarized politics are now compared to the past, and second, that Democratic partisans have no idea how good they have it because they, like their Republican counterparts, think about what ought to be rather than what was.

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