As an advocate of always voting for the best evil there is on the market, I never thought I would write in defense of litmus tests. But, as they do every week, the Democratic Party has been testing my patience. This week they announced their continuing financial support of anti-choice candidates. “There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Democratic Congressional Committee chair Ben Ray Lujan.
Whether voters should have litmus tests is a controversial issue. For myself, I will always vote, if I can. Even if it means voting for a candidate I disagree with on a number of issues — that’s what I did last November. There will probably never be a perfect candidate for me, and I will probably cast votes that I don’t feel good about. I won’t personally commit to a litmus test issue because I can’t see into the future and be sure that there will never be a face-off that will make me go back on my word.
But I’m not the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party absolutely should have litmus tests, because they aren’t the ones making that final, desperate general election decision between a bad Democratic candidate and a worse Republican one. Instead they’re making the choice of who to fund at the outset — who hits the ground running with the blessing of the exorbitant amounts of money the Democratic Party will throw behind making them win.
They do not make a “lesser of two evils” decision. They don’t have to survey a field of candidates the way voters do — knowing that whoever wins is the endgame for our country, and knowing that they only have so much weight to throw around to prevent the worst of all possible outcomes. If they don’t like the candidates who stepped forward, they have the funds and time to recruit new ones, unlike us regular citizens sweating our choice at the ballot box.
With that in mind, the Democratic Party should not be choosing anti-choice candidates — it should be recruiting new ones. The party outlined its values for the next four years in July of 2016, and one of the things that it claimed to value was access to reproductive health services, “including safe and legal abortion.” If the party could, for a moment, pretend to care about its own principles by not pouring cash down the throat of people who oppose those principles, they would avoid a lot of the flak they’re catching for their latest attempt to throw 2018.
And there’s a practical side as well as a principled side to the Democratic Party growing a spine and sticking to its guns for once. I, as a person dedicated to voting even if I have a Sophie’s choice, may not commit to a litmus test — but many other possible Democratic voters very reasonably might. There’s no good reason to expect women (who lean left as a demographic and make up half the population of the country) to cast our ballot en masse for someone who wants us to go back to back-alley butchers and metal coat hangers.
For the Democrats, funding anti-choice candidates is not only a display of their weak will and incoherent message, but also a great way to lose yet another election. They have a choice. They do not have to settle the way voters sometimes do.
Using a litmus test or two is step one on the way to the Democratic Party sprouting some real values.