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Capitol Hill Shop Steward

We Count Six
Democratic Party?

As featured in
Labor Party Press

Working people and their unions have a lot to complain about when it comes to the Democratic Party ... but even that's not so simple anymore. That's because you now have to figure out which Democratic party you want to complain about.

No less a source than the Reverend Moon-owned Washington Times recently reported on an artistic hubbub that boiled-over here in Washington, D.C. It seems that our nation’s capitol is jumping on the "Party Animals" bandwagon, the art movement that places large, painted fiberglass cows all over the place and then calls it "art." The Washington, D.C. version of the display is going to have a twist; instead of cattle, the D.C. exhibit will be donkeys and elephants. The controversy involves a local artist who wanted to paint an elephant and a donkey in wedding attire and then label it "A Marriage of Convenience." But before the job was finished the directors of the art show repainted one of the statues. The artist had a fit, and disclaimed the work. Too bad, I would have made the trip to see that wedding couple.

For the record, the Republicans and Democrats are not married – not yet. They are different, both organizationally and in some ways politically. The voters who vote for these parties are also somewhat different from each other. They do, however, coexist on a rather skinny bit of political geography. There is no doubt that in the world of political thought, the Democrats and Republicans operate on the same six inches of pro-business spectrum.


Over the past fifty years, most working people and most unions have tended to regularly support the Democratic Party. But given the number of labor voters - and now union officials – who are tilting toward various Republicans – this could be changing. The days of labor automatically supporting Democrats might be numbered. But for those within labor’s ranks who still want to make the case for why we need to keep supporting Democrats, it keeps getting harder. Many Democrats survive by promising just slightly more to working people than the Republicans, and working a skillful if-the-Republicans-win-the-sky-will-fall strategy. This is the political straightjacket that working people have been wearing at least since Jimmy Carter.

For all the obvious reasons, trade unionists like to sit around and complain about the Democrats. And that’s not even very simple anymore – first you have to figure out which Democratic Party you want to complain about.

Democratic Party #1: The "official" Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee (DNC.) A visit to the DNC website leaves one with the impression that the Democratic Party is the private property of DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe. As you may know, the DNC stages the Democratic Party Convention, hashes out an enormous platform, and then does nothing to try to hold any Democrats to what is in it. The only Democratic Party "organizer" that I have ever met was a slippery guy who was "organizing" for the Democratic Party in Serbia. I’m not kidding. As far as I can tell, the DNC exists to issue press statements and raise truckloads of cash to pay for all the consultants pollsters, and TV ads.

Democratic Party #2: The second Democratic Party consists of the elected Democratic members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives These folks have their own party group, set up to help them raise more money. They even issue their own position statements, like the House Democratic members just did. In mid-April the House Democrats issued a document geared towards the elections, entitled "Securing America’s Future." They start by supporting the Bush "war on terrorism," then claim to be in favor of creating jobs and protecting Social Security, and in favor of improving education and the environment. Most of what they claim to be for are things that they did little about during the now-forgotten Clinton years. A short memory helps. In this group I would also include those running for the Democratic Presidential nomination. These folks pretty much get to say whatever they want. But whatever they say has the effect of becoming the "official" Democratic Party line.

Democratic Party #3: The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) is the up-and-coming section of the Party, the corporate Democrats. The guiding light of the DLC is the "third way"; this is a fancy way of saying that the trick is to keep working people voting for you while you consistently undermine or attack their real interests. It also means that just about whatever big business wants, it can have. And the DLC just installed some new co-chairs. One of them is U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), who scored an 80% pro-business rating by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for 2000. The other two co-chairs, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Rep. Jim Davis (D-FL) scored Chamber of Commerce ratings of 50% and a 57% respectively. (Bill Clinton and Al Gore have both been DLC heavies.)

Democratic Party #4: The pollsters, consultants, and strategists comprise the real meat of the Democratic Party. These are the folks who write the questions and take the polls, spin the results, devise Party strategy and positions, set-up and run campaigns, and then turn in a bill for big, big bucks. Without this section of the Democratic Party, literally nothing would happen. This is also the slice of the Party run exclusively by very wealthy folks who all have good jobs, all own homes, and all have health insurance.

Democratic Party #5: The historic Democratic state and local structures continue to limp along in many parts of the country. Some of these groupings still maintain some kind of membership, and this is the section of the Democratic Party where an ordinary person might be able to get involved – to some degree. This section is rapidly disappearing, however, as the membership ages and little new blood comes in.

Democratic Party #6: The "Progressives" end up being the section of the Party that still speaks up for working people – sort of. I recently attended a two-day conference of some of these folks here in Washington, D.C., and was quite amazed. First, I was shocked at just how small and marginalized this section had become. Gone are the days when labor-friendly guys like Ted Kennedy or Walter Mondale led an actual critical mass of Democrats. Apparently in order to survive, the self-styled "progressives" within the Democratic Party have expanded the definition of "progressive" to include just about anyone. That "anyone" included a now-retired ice-cream tycoon who regularly called the cops when my union attempted to leaflet the workers in his Vermont factories. As far as I could tell the DNC ignored the whole event.

That’s the modern-day Democratic Party, or at least six pieces of it. Take your pick. My pick happens to be the Labor Party, because I’m past the point of complaining. And I plan on seeing you at the coming Labor Party Convention in Washington, D.C. July 25-28. Keep an eye on the deadlines; they’re fast approaching. See you then!

Chris Townsend is political action director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).

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