Democrats and Litmus Tests

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.