Democrats and Litmus Tests

Trump Maladministration

James Hohmann writes that immigration has become a litmus test for Democrats. One of the reasons the Dream Act, which passed in the House in 2010, failed in the Senate is that five Democrats voted no. If Senate Dems had unanimously voted yes, it would have passed.

But of those five, only one, John Tester of Montana, is still in the Senate. and now Tester supports DACA and the dreamers. Apparently in 2010 he got slammed for that no vote.

Hohmann continues,

Understandably, most of the media’s coverage of the Trump administration’s Tuesday announcement has focused on cleavages in the Republican ranks. The president has placed his adopted party in a bind by putting the onus on Congress to protect the 800,000 “dreamers” with a legislative fix in the next six months. Reflecting the fraught politics, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — backed a bipartisan bill yesterday that would shield young immigrants from deportation and give them a pathway to citizenship.

— The untold story, though, is the degree to which Democrats are now in lockstep on what not long ago was an issue that divided them. Not a single Democrat in either chamber of Congress has expressed support for getting rid of DACA.

— This is part of a larger lurch to the left in the Democratic Party on a host of hot-button issues. No matter where you’re from, it is harder than ever to be a Democratic candidate who is against gun control, abortion rights or single-payer health insurance. That doesn’t mean you cannot be, but one risks losing major donors and drawing the ire of the progressive grass roots – even if you represent a red state.

This is a hopeful sign, I think. Maybe the Dems have gotten the message they have to actually stand for something. And it shows us the progressive grass roots are having an impact.

But I also want to point out that just over a month ago, Democrats were having an internal pissing contest over “litmus tests,” which are supposed to be bad, say some people.

This is from The Hill, July 31:

Democrats will not withhold financial support for candidates who oppose abortion rights, the chairman of the party’s campaign arm in the House said in an interview with The Hill.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there will be no litmus tests for candidates as Democrats seek to find a winning roster to regain the House majority in 2018.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Luján, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Author Lindy West responded (August 2, the New York Times):

I relate to the flailing panic that is no doubt undergirding such a morally putrescent idea. Nineteen hyenas and a broken vacuum cleaner control the White House, and ice is becoming extinct. I get it. I am desperate and afraid as well. I am prepared to make leviathan compromises to pull us back from that brink. But there is no recognizable version of the Democratic Party that does not fight unequivocally against half its constituents’ being stripped of ownership of their own bodies and lives. This issue represents everything Democrats purport to stand for.

To legislatively oppose abortion is to be, at best, indifferent to the disenfranchisement, suffering and possibly even the death of women. At worst it is to revel in those things, to believe them fundamental to the natural order. Where, exactly, on that spectrum is Luján comfortable placing his party?

I’m mostly with West on this, although it’s also the case that if, hypothetically, an anti-choice Democrat won his primary and had a chance at knocking Ted Cruz out of the Senate, I’d say fund him. But the larger point is that there’s a natural tension between people extolling the “big tent” and those who say the Democratic Party brand means nothing any more.

In years past we’ve seen, time and time again, Democrats being their own worse enemy. We watched many of them vote to allow George Bush invade Iraq. We watched some of them fight against the Affordable Care Act, causing it to be watered down. For a long time the Party pretty much surrendered the field to the Right on gun control. Too many Democrats have been squishy on unions. And, of course, Democrats as well as Republicans have a long history of votes to help the corporate interests that donate to their campaigns.  See also “Democrats once represented the working class. Not any more” by Robert Reich.

Too many Democrats still think that appealing to blue collar voters means moving right on social and cultural issues. This is phony. I say we can stand firm on social and cultural issues and move left on economic issues and labor. Even in “red” districts. We’re not winning those districts, anyway; at least show the voters they have a choice other than Republican or Republican Lite.

“Big tents” are grand, but IMO the problem the Dems have had is that they made the hypothetical big tent so big that the party itself became meaningless. Maybe they’re learning.

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  1. priscianus jr  •  Sep 6, 2017 @6:43 pm

    ” …. move left on economic issues and labor. Even in “red” districts. ”

    I agree. Unfortunately the reason there is so much emphasis on the culture-war issues as the definition of “progressive” is because so many Democratic candidates DO NOT WANT TO move left on economic issues and labor. That’s almost the definition of Hillary Clinton, to cite just one well known example.

  2. Doug  •  Sep 6, 2017 @7:06 pm

    The Party management stands with corporations and incumbents. They aren’t going to turn on someone in the club. (Trump is violating this tenet, by demanding the GOP line up behind him personally. It could be his Waterloo.)

    The donor class of the democratic party has largely abandoned the democratic party management. They are contributing directly to candidates or to PACs that represent their interests. So even if the party won’t apply a litmus test, the donors and voters will.

  3. Eric Schmidt  •  Sep 6, 2017 @11:31 pm

    I agree that the rationale by Democrats to move away from fairness in social and cultural issues is a phony one. In fact, it is an affront to them to say that blue collar and rural voters are nosy parkers who want to mind everyone’s business. Everyone needs some damn privacy, including that demographic. None of us are that different and all of us are odd. I thoroughly believe that if you shut the media up and put the country on sodium pentathol for a day they would vote to leave everyone alone. We need this band of manic jesters to calm the hell down and just be competent and let us go about our business without tearing the house down while we are away. If everyone would shut up, it would be interesting to see where the chips fell. Sure, we’ve got lots of problems, but this is one of them.

    Gertrude Stein wrote: Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.

  4. bernie  •  Sep 7, 2017 @8:54 am

    The litmus test for dems in this area used to be wet.  One of the old FDR era democratic party leaders, long demised, was often quoted as saying that “people do like their alcohol”.  That standard, like the big brewing swill, has become more and more watered down over time.  I think we have some party locals who could pass as temperance movement leaders nowadays.

    I would hope that some solidarity on a humane and empathic immigration policy can be at least a temporary litmus test for the party.  So far, cleaning up after the other party’s messes seems to be the only unifying force with any stability.  The way things are looking that role will see a dramatic increase.

  5. KC  •  Sep 8, 2017 @8:08 am

    For all the screaming online, folks just need to get out and support the best candidates they can in 2018. If some of the more inflexible people decide to vote third party or step out, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

  6. csm  •  Sep 8, 2017 @9:21 am

    The 2016 campaign exposed the basic premise of centrism the dems have held dear. Yes, the bigoted recognized their standard bearer in Trump, and embraced him. And then you had those otherwise democratic voters who either supported Trump or did not vote because they “hated” Hillary. But there was a not insignificant number of blue collar/WWC voters who supported Trump under the mistaken impression that he would actually do some of the more progressive things he claimed during the campaign.

  7. KC  •  Sep 8, 2017 @10:52 am

    csm, lets also not forget the role guys like this played and are still playing in elections:

    Or the Comey letter, which Nate Silver has more than documented the effects of. We’ve also learned a lot about the Russian hacking and bot infrastructure designed to undermine Clinton. Hell, I feel like I witnessed it at sites like Common Dreams, where new World War III stories popped up every day from nowhere.

    The thing is, Clinton still got 3 million more votes than Trump, and she got 4 million more than Bernie. The election was decided by basically 80,000 people in three states. It’s possible to over learn lessons and over-correct too.

  8. uncledad  •  Sep 9, 2017 @6:56 pm

    Too many Democrats still think that appealing………………………

    Donald Trump is the president, should we dismantle, dissect otherwise disembowel the democratic party? I’d take a democrat and or any thing resembling the democratic party at this point?