Democratic Underground  

The Unfair Litmus Test
May 10, 2002
By J. Carlos Jiacinto

Senator Zell Miller of Georgia should leave the Democratic Party! Dianne Feinstein of California all but votes Republican! The DLC has too much control of the party! The party is not sticking up for its values enough! The Democrats are wimps!

As a member of Democratic Underground, I often post on the boards here and find such messages. They often decry how some Democrats on the Hill "capitulate" into the Republicans. Like their conservative counterparts they expect all Democrats to follow the liberal line, lock, step, and barrel. This attitude is extremely bad for the party because Democrats need every vote possible against Bush and the Republicans, especially during the 2002 campaign.

The first problem with imposing a litmus test on candidates or asking conservative Democrats like Senator Zell Miller to leave the party centers around the fact that it is closing "the big tent." The Democratic party prides itself on being a "big tent" that appeals to everyone interested in progressive causes. Within that rubric and that framework it is obvious that individuals within the party need to be unified in our ultimate goal: increasing representation in Congress, state governments, and ultimately regaining control of the White House. Differences over specific policy should not determine who is welcome in the party and who is not.

As a national party the Democrats must represent the interests of the whole country. Senators must represent their states, as Congressmen must represent their districts. For example a senator like Zell Miller is going to vote differently than someone like Paul Wellstone. A senator like John Breaux will vote differently than Ted Kennedy. Each senator represents radically different electorates, with different political values. A Paul Wellstone or a Ted Kennedy would not win in a state like Louisiana and Georgia, and the same applies to Zell Miller and John Breaux vice versa. Some of the members of DU may not like these senators' specific politics, but they should be treated as Democrats in good standing because they oppose Bush and support most progressive ideas.

Another issue that makes ideological litmus tests unfair is the fact that many DU members fail to realize that many Americans share different values than the average poster here. Living in cities like San Francisco, Berkeley, Boston, New York, and Washington, DC often creates a disconnect from other parts of the country. Rightly or wrongly some members cannot even conceptualize how outside of these cities people have different political values. People believe in different issues in different cities. Therefore the rank and file need to realize that some prominent Democrats may be more centrist than they would like in order to remain responsive to the electorates they represent.

As Democrats we need to realize that we represent a national party. As such, our members come from all fifty states, and we should not ostracize candidates or individuals who need to adopt platforms to gain supporters of the people living in their jurisdictions. Being a national party requires tolerance and respect of all factions within the party. To defeat George W. Bush and to increase Democratic representation in both Houses of Congress, not only we do need to make every vote count, we need to welcome every voter who wants to work with the party with open arms.

J. Carlos Jiacinto,( graduated from Dickinson College in 2000 with a degree in political science. He is currently working on a Master's Degree in International Politics and International Economic Policy at American University in Washington, DC

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