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Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Democratic Party Diversity
Washington D.C. -- This weekend I attended the Student Journalism Conference sponsored by Campus Progress (an arm of the liberal think tank The Center for American Progress) and The Nation Magazine. The event brought more than 100 student writers and editors to D.C.
One might think this conference would attract like-minded students with a common purpose, but in truth, it showed how broad the term progressive can be. On the one hand, I met a student who attended the World Social Forum in Venezuela, and the Z Media Institute, a nine-day workshop for radical activists. On the other hand, I met a student who had a picture of President Clinton on his desktop, attended a 2004 John Edwards fundraiser featuring Hootie and The Blowfish, and spoke negatively of the "Howard Dean left" and its impact on the Democratic Party.
I asked panel members Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Eric Alterman, and Helen Thomas about the divisions within the Democratic Party, and, once again, there was disagreement.
“They are Republican light,” said Thomas, the iconic White House Correspondent, referring to more conservative Democrats such as Joe Lieberman, and other members of the centrist, Democratic Leadership Council.
Eric Alterman, who quipped that he was employed by both The Nation and The Center for American Progress and that he was probably the most conservative on the former, and the most liberal on the latter, disagreed, saying that the party doesn't have the luxury of standing for principles. "I want to win."
It was Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, who got it right in this case when she asked: "Why not fight for the soul of the Democratic Party?"
Internal party divisions are not unique to the left. Democrats, however, face a more daunting split, since some liberals will, justifiably, use the war in Iraq as a litmus test come election time. Last November, The Nation wrote an editorial declaring that: “There can no longer be any doubt: The war -- an unprovoked, unnecessary and unlawful invasion that has turned into a colonial-style occupation -- is a moral and political catastrophe … The Nation therefore takes the following stand: We will not support any candidate for national office who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq a major issue of his or her campaign.”
While Alterman says now is not the time for principles, it's wrong to ask progressive voters to support pro-war candidates for the sake of electoral success.
Given that a large majority of Americans think that it was wrong to go to war, the leaders of the Democratic Party should adapt to the concerns of voters – not the other way around. They should do battle for the "soul" of the Democratic Party.