Ask Auntie Pinko
February 17, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
I am puzzled by the Democratic Party's seeming inability to
avoid fratricide. Will Rogers was right when he gave the following
answer to a question about his political affiliation: "I belong
to no organized political party. I am a Democrat." Is there hope?
Dolan Springs, AZ
Auntie Pinko certainly thinks there is hope! But perhaps my expectations
are a bit less stringent than those of many others. The Democratic
Party has never in my memory been unanimous about anything - not
even things we like to remember as "unanimous," like civil rights
and labor issues.
Interestingly, the time we came closest to real unity (at least
in my own memory) was in calling for the ouster of Mr. Richard Nixon
and his band of thugs from the White House. And even then, there
was a substantial element of the Party that wanted to deal with
the issues in a less dramatic way.
Some worried that measures taken in the heat of indignation and
the strength it generated, like the special prosecutor rules, might
come back to haunt our own Party in the future. And, in spite of
the gloomy observations of many Democrats, the very same thing is
true of the Republican Party, although perhaps to a lesser extent.
Certainly, the Republican Party leadership does a better job of
glossing over intra-party dissent. Nevertheless, the Republican
Party, like the Democratic Party, has a spectrum of views and sub-groups
within its ranks, and they do not always agree.
While intra-party dissent has a very obvious down side, I think
that in the last twenty years or so we have lost sight of its value
and the benefits it can provide, as well. The advantage to a rigidly-enforced
orthodoxy on all the major issues of current public concern is,
as it were, "signal strength," in getting the Party's message across.
Unambiguous positions are often perceived as a sign of strength,
as well, especially in times when Americans are worried about safety
But there are two sides to every coin. Adherence to a strictly-defined
orthodox position can provide clarity and look like strength from
one angle. But from another angle, it has serious disadvantages.
It can sap a Party of the benefits of creative thinking, which frequently
originates with a small, unorthodox minority. It can make a Party
too rigid to maneuver when external conditions undergo cataclysmic
change. And it can become a real weakness, when it keeps the Party
inflexible at times when flexibility can better serve the greater
As far as I can tell, Lynne, what damages the Party's effectiveness
is not so much the constant internal dissent, as the attempts to
quell such dissent and enforce orthodoxy by demonizing, marginalizing,
and vilifying those with differing views than our own. Not one of
us - not Auntie Pinko, not Mr. Kerry, not even Dr. Dean - holds
"the" perfect, superior, and unequivocal Democratic agenda. That
being the case, our failure to cut each other a little slack on
the areas where we differ not only damages the Party's ability to
achieve broader goals, but smacks of a nasty disagreeable hypocrisy,
Argue passionately for our viewpoints? Certainly. Point out what
we perceive as the weaknesses or disadvantages of others' viewpoints?
Yes, indeed. Assume that because they differ from us they are not
"real" Democrats, or should be made to change their views by subjecting
them to public ridicule, castigation, and personal attacks? Absolutely
not. Auntie has no patience at all with that kind of behavior.
We have a Party organization. By participating in that Party organization,
each and every one of us has a chance to make a powerful impact
on the directions and policies of the Party. But those who confine
their "participation" to an occasional donation to someone they
agree with, plus loud, rude, and quarrelsome criticism of those
with whom they disagree, are hindering rather than helping the Democratic
The Party is run by those who show up for meetings, staff phone
banks, distribute posters, draft resolutions, study their state
and local Party's bylaws/Constitution, run for Party office, hold
block parties, and do other constructive, active things to advance
their views of the best direction for the Party to take. Even (especially!)
in "off" years, when there is no election scheduled.
Auntie has been to more than a few local Party meetings where
things have gotten pretty noisy, sweaty, loud, and contentious.
That's one of the functions of local Party organizations: to allow
that kind of ferment. And as long as the disagreements are kept
on a policy, rather than a personal level, and we are all willing
to tolerate a diversity of views for the greater benefit of strength,
there is little potential for harm. Each local and state Party has
a process for moving views and opinions from the block or precinct
level up through districts, counties, regions, and so on, right
to the state Party Committee.
We also have the wonderful new tools of the information age -
the Internet, e-mail, etc., - to help us communicate directly with
one another across geographical boundaries. We can organize effectively
by interest, and make our viewpoints broadly known throughout the
But the effectiveness of these tools will be diminished if we
do not follow up that organization by real, live participation,
using the processes that the Party already has in place. And if
the processes don't work? There's a process for dealing with that
issue, too! It can be handled within the Party by votes on state
and local constitutions and bylaws - but only if you attend the
meetings to propose changes, argue for or against them, and vote.
That's less glamorous than electing candidates, but it is the core
of really influencing the Party's direction. Dr. Dean has
already pledged to make the National Committee both more supportive
of, and more responsive to, the state committees.
Auntie has no problems with the cheerful chaos that is the Democratic
Party in its good times. We will never be without our differences
and dissent (at least I hope not!) But when we borrow character
assassination, ad hominem attacks, whispering campaigns, and other
negative tactics that our opponents use against us, to use amongst
ourselves, we have no benefits from unity or diversity, and we lose
I hope this gives you some insight on how to work constructively
with diversity in the Party, Lynne, and thanks for asking Auntie
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