Monday, May 01, 2017

May 1, 2017--The Perfect, The Good

I had quiet an argument with a friend the other day about just how big a tent Democrats should pitch and who should and shouldn't be be welcome in it.

It was provoked by something Tom Perez, the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, said about so-called right-to-life Democrats. Specifically, by clear implication he criticized Heath Mello, who is running to become mayor of Omaha, as being insufficiently pro-choice because back in 2009, as a member of the Nebraska legislature, he supported a bill that would require women to be informed that they could use ultrasound before getting an abortion.

Chairman Perez said--
Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state. At a time when women's rights are under assault from the White House, the Republican Congress, and in states across the country, we must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice.
After a few days of awkward silence, Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren finally said it is all right for people who are pro-choice to be Democrats and that, if they run for office, Democrats should support them.

My friend disagreed.

"If we allow people who don't believe in a woman's right to have an abortion to be Democrats, what does it mean to be a Democrat?"

"Is that the only litmus test?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean if someone believes in school vouchers can they be a Democrat?"

"I have no problem with that," my friend said.

"OK, how about someone who feels we should have American troops on the ground in Syria and that they should be actively supporting the Syrian rebels?"

"I'm OK with that too."

"So, is one's views on abortion the only litmus test that matters?"

"To me, yes. If you're antiabortion you can't be a Democrat."

"But what would be the fate of the Democratic Party if others had their own version of litmus tests about education or health policy? Of, for that matter, the environment or same sex marriage?"

"For me the issue that counts above all others is the right to choose."

"You're avoiding my question."

"Try me again."

"If we made a list of all the issues people could potentially turn into litmus tests for membership in the Democratic Party, I'm afraid we would doom ourselves to minority status and political irrelevance forever. I'm very concerned about that since I feel liberals have been acting in exclusionary ways for a long time and Republicans, as a result, are ascendant at every level of government, from small towns to cities to states and now most dramatically at the congressional and presidential levels. You can't possible see this as a good thing."

"I don't, but to me abortion is different."

"As to someone else are charter schools or healthcare exchanges."

"None of your examples are as important nor do they generate the same level of conflict. About everything else there can be compromises. You can agree to having some charters schools in the mix or allow states to set up various versions of the way people can acquire healthcare coverage. You can't be sort of for or against abortions. Just like you can't be a little bit pregnant."

"That's not how many people see things. To them you're either for or against fracking. No compromises. Or for or against charter schools. No compromising. Just ask Randi Weingarten the head of the teachers union. For all I know, from her perspective, if you're in favor of school vouchers you can't be a Democrat. No compromises."

"Republicans do the same thing. Look at the Freedom Caucus members of Congress. They won't compromise."

"Though Republicans also have 'moderates.' But, we're getting distracted. I don't care what they do. I care what we do. And I am totally opposed to any litmus tests. We need every vote we can muster. I want to win some elections. We're getting wiped out, especially at the state level. For example, Bernie Sanders raised questions about supporting Jon Osseff in Georgia who has a good chance to win a seat in the House for the Democrats. Bernie raised questions about whether he was progressive enough. He walked it back quickly but his initial position exposed what he really thought--that there needs to be a doctrinal purity test to receive his endorsement. That's crazy."

"But I want us to stand for something."

"How about inclusiveness and tolerance? Those feel like Democratic values to me."

"The next thing you're going to do is say that we shouldn't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good."

"In fact, that's just what I was going to say."

"Isn't that what Ronald Reagan said?"

"A version of that. I think he said get 60 percent of the loaf the first time and then come back for the rest."

"So," my friend said, "It's come to that--Liberals quoting Ronald Reagan. The next thing we'll be doing is quoting Donald Trump. When that  happens, I won't need a litmus test to stop being a Democrat."

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