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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Does the Big Tent Have a Weak Foundation?

In the wake of the caving of the Dems’ CAFTA defectors, David Sirota has cranked up the case for stronger Democratic Party discipline. In his Working Assets post “Why Dems Should Value — not Shun — Accountability,” Sirota argues that it is a major blunder not to invoke some punishment on Dems who caved on CAFTA, the bankruptsy bill and other defining issues. Says Sirota:

…it never ceases to amaze me how Washington, D.C. Democrats – unlike Republicans – have no understanding of why accountability will actually help them get back into the majority.
You’ve heard it before: Democrats don’t like to talk about who is loyal to the party and who isn’t. They would prefer that everyone just be quiet about divisions, even if those divisions undermine the party’s ability to deliver a serious message. It’s the big tent for big tent’s sake – even if it means losing into perpetuity.
…Whining Democrats, I ask you: do you think Newt Gingrich was nice to people within his party who undermined him in his quest to take back the majority? Do you think the current Republican leadership dislikes Grover Norquist’s efforts to keep GOPers in line today? Do you think Karl Rove keeps winning elections by letting turncoats within his own party undermine the GOP?
…Republicans understand the value of having an infrastructure that helps keep their troops in line – an infrastructure that makes it clear there are actual consequences for selling out. To most people in the real world, this kind of thing is really very elementary…consequences are the only thing that makes sure someone who has undermine the team doesn’t undermine the team again in the future.
…the majority of Democrats in Congress are courageous and honest people. The problem is, they are being undermined on a daily basis. It is the loyal foot soldiers that a strengthened accountability infrastructure will help, because without consequences for turncoats, the party will be undermined forever.
This is the way back to the majority for the Democratic Party – not rolling over and dying when turncoats within the party’s ranks repeatedly undermine the party’s effectiveness. Helping create accountability for those who sell out is not disloyal. On the contrary, it is the ultimate act of loyalty if you are seriously interested in seeing Democrats regain the majority. The people who are disloyal are those Democrats who pay lip service to the goal of winning back Congress, but in reality have become so comfortable in the minority they’d rather just sweep even the most self-destructive problems under the rug.

Ouch, but well-said. And in his Sirotablog article “Grover Norquist, Turncoats & the Embrace of Movement Politics,” he argues further that invoking discipline on wayward Republicans is the ultimate source of Norquist’s increasing influence. Of course, the Big Tent Dems would hasten to point out that heavy-handed discipline caused the GOP to lose their Senate majority when Jim Jeffords quit the Republicans. Yet it does seem crazy to just shrugg off betrayals of Democratic principles for the sake of an ineffectual party ‘unity.’ This issue is important for the future of the Democratic Party, and Sirota’s post deserves serious consideration.