Last week's Democratic assembly in New York had most of the ingredients -- a good fight, some treachery, a dash of eloquence -- needed for a Democratic convention, except one. There were to be found in and around Madison Square Garden very, very few unhyphenated Democrats.
Certainly, there were people who looked in shape and style like Democrats. Many of them were sporting the computerized credentials of the delegate. But a majority of these people seemed to be always on their way to or from the gay and lesbian delegates' caucus or the Hispanic-American caucus, and to be late for one of the 643 other caucuses that had reserved space and scheduled a press conference. If you were intent upon canonizing Chocise or boycotting kumquats, you probably could easily have found a caucus about to mimeograph a minority plank on either matter.
Plain, old, one-size-fits-all Democrats did not rate their own meeting room. In fact, they went unmentioned except for the frequently unveiled threat of your unrepresentative caucus spokesperson, who would thunder: "Let's see how the Democrats do without us this November." The Democrats, like all other groups that are the object of hate and contempt, were given niether names nor faces.
The dreary truth is that, with the admirable exception of dwindling band of mostly state party people, there are precious few Democrats left -- left or right. Contemporary delegates, whether from Connecticut or from Colorado, do not generally look to their home-state convention delegations for either their identity or their instructions. Identity and instructions, however, are available from any number of caucuses to which delegates may belong based upon their race, job, gender or sexual orientationa -- based, that is, upon all the same criteria some of us have been training ourselves to transcend in exercising larger political judgment.
And when it comes to caucuses 1980-stle, the National Education Association is the undisputed champ among the Democrats. This teachers' union (even the AMA does not have the brass to call itself the American Health Association) put 302 of its members on the floor as delegates and put six full pages (national defense rated only two) into the party platform.
One academic wrinkle should tell you all you need to know about clout in a political party. The written platform, the Democrats' covenant with the American people, calls for "federally funded teacher centers in every state . . . Teacher centers should address such issues as bilingual, mult-cultural, non-racist and non-sexist curricula." Honest. Page 39.
For most of the cause caucuses, as generally distinct from the racial or ethinic caucuses, while there may not be a common agenda, there is a common approach. These groups, regardless of how bizarrely unmainstream their burning issues, never request tolerance. Instead, they demand official party ratification and sanction for their cause. They very often get what they seek because they are willing to employ at least limited verbal terrorism in pursuit of their noble goal. Their strategists understand the great fear and dread of both national parties -- a convention that turns into a televised brawl.
While there would not have been in this nation any effective civil rights movement without the savvy and the strength of organized labor, coalition is not that popular among many contemporary caucuses. But when these groups do double-team, like they did on the ERA fight, anyone else had best look out. The organized women in New York were not about to witness another Detroit, where the Republicans retreated on ERA. They refused to settle for simple reaffirmation or for boycotts of convention sites in unratified states. No. In opposition to the Democratic president and the Democrats' history, the convention adopted a loyalty oath on ERA.
From this moment forward, no party nickels and no party postage meters will be available to any candidate, anywhere, who fails to endorse the ERA. The Democrats, American's liberal party, now say to anyone who wants to be deputy coroner of Cuyahoga County: forget any reservations you might have -- either legal or moral about the amendment. There is no respectable opposing argument. Support of ERA is an article of the Democratic dogma -- the liberal theology.
In New York City in 1980, the Democrats were not a real political party forging comprimises and coalitions for some larger objective. What the Democrats were, and have become, is a group of managers of some cultural and ideological trade show. The Democrats sublet space, and sometimes even their legacy.