Monday, May 02, 2005

DINOs In My Own Back Yard

“This is no time to not know who you are...”

- Lou Reed – There Is No Time

We all know that we already have too many people within the Democratic party who are faux Democrats, or DINOs (Democrat in Name Only).

That can be hard to avoid with our elected officials and with our friends and neighbors. When dealing with someone like Senator Joseph Lieberman – who suddenly seems to value a pat on the back from George W. Bush more than staying true to his principles – we must balance the desire to hold a Senate seat with the need to get a real Democrat in the office.

Likewise, it can be difficult to get our Democratic family and friends to fathom the consequences of crossing party lines and voting for Republicans. They very often do not grasp the direct connection between local, regional and state conservative gains and the frightening control that Republicans and the Religious Right are now exerting over Washington.

But Democratic political leaders and operatives should know better.

We have a problem in my neck of the woods (that I suspect is common throughout the country) of Democratic leaders who, when it seems politically expedient for them or their narrow, pet interests, support Republican candidates.

In Greenburgh (Westchester County, NY) we have Democratic District Leaders – known as “precinct captains” in some other places – who have routinely supported Republicans in races against fellow Democrats.

For example, Catherine Lederer-Plaskett, President of the Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion (WCLA), endorses all pro-choice incumbents, regardless of party affiliation. In last fall's hotly-contested race in New York' s 35th State Senate district, the prominent support she threw behind Republican Nick Spano very likely made a difference in Spano's 18-vote victory over Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins. (Spano and Stewart-Cousins are both pro-choice.)

My problem with this? Like me, Lederer-Plaskett is a Democratic District Leader in Greenburgh. While I don't have a formal job description that is specific to Westchester County or New York, I found a definition of the primary duty on another Democratic web site: “The District Leader's primary role is to provide leadership in electing Democrats for public office serving the district.”

Makes sense to me.

Google as I might, I couldn't find any place that suggested that a Democratic leader should strive to put more conservatives in office.

Lederer-Plaskett, and all who follow a similar path, should resign as Democratic District Leaders. People who assume this role are expected by definition to be fiercely partisan and to prod their neighbors to the polls with a list of Democrats for easy reference. Equivocation is not an option.

I do not advocate our party acting as “vote police,” who ostracize all who stray from the party line. But allowing people to claim the Democratic District Leader title while behaving as neither a Democrat nor a leader does not help our party move forward in these troubling times.

If such a person's organizational imperatives cause them to support a powerful Republican who can serve their specific interest, fine. But don't pretend to be a Democratic stalwart when you can be so easily and situationally swayed.

Moderate and liberal Americans are starving for genuine, consistent leadership and it is not enough to register with our party and claim to be a Democratic leader. I can sign up on and say I look like Tom Cruise, but that doesn't make it so.

We have a well-organized and serious foe in the Republican party. If you can't lead with conviction and character, at least be honest about it and get the hell out of the way.