The Democratic Party tried yesterday to get a handle on the question of enforcing "accountability" on "Boll Weevils" and other wayward types, and decided tentatively it might be wiser to frame a statement of principles and hope everyone adheres to them.
A "commission on platform accountability," created by order of the 1980 convention, held its organization meeting at the Shoreham Hotel and quickly confronted the dilemma that faces anyone seeking to impose discipline inside an out-of-power party.
Georgia AFL-CIO President Herbert Mabry, a commission member, said it was self-defeating to urge people to vote straight Democratic when "eight of our nine Democratic representatives voted for the Republican administration's program and against us." He suggested the party keep a scorecard and warn voters away from those who "score less than 70 or 75 percent."
J. C. Turner, the head of the Operating Engineers union, declared: "We need to be a national party, not a confederation of state parties." Calling for "a greater degree of accountability and discipline," he suggested the Democratic National Committee "withhold campaign services from people who do not live up to their promises."
Similar pleas came from representatives of feminist groups, educators and other ideological interest groups on the commission.
But the two members of the House who attended the first meeting, both liberal New Yorkers, told their fellow commissioners it was hardly realistic to talk about discipline.
Rep. Shirley Chisholm said the speaker of the house is "at the lowest ebb in terms of being able to discipline Democratic members.. . . He's not able to discipline members at this time."
And Rep. Thomas J. Downey, while condemning the Boll Weevils who voted for the Reagan budget and tax plan in 1981, said, "Some of us thought they should be punished, but the question was if that wouldn't just make them stronger in their districts and highlight the disarray in the Democratic Party."
"It's quite conceivable," he said, "that some Democratic members would love to be punished by the Democratic Party."
The resolution creating the commission requires it to recommend ways that will "yield an effective and disciplined effort to implement the platform of the Democratic Party."
But the charge given the commission by party Chairman Charles T. Manatt spoke only of "using the platform and its processes to implement the Democratic legislative agenda" and "finding methods of evaluating accountability at all levels of the party."
The commission chairman is former representative Yvonne B. Burke of California, but the vocal leadership on the first day came from co-chairman Terry Herndon, the executive director of the National Education Association, which has been pressing Manatt to get the commission started, a year behind the original schedule.
Herndon said "it won't do" to continue the situation where "any person wishing to be a Democrat is a Democrat," and the party tries to elect them all, "no matter what they believe in."
If it is not possible to bind candidates to every plank in the platform, he said, there should at least be "a set of cardinal principles" that gives "ideological definition" to being a Democrat.
There appeared to be broad support in the commission for trying to draft such a "credo" and making it part of the bylaws or charter of the Democratic Party, but much less certainty about how to enforce even such a general statement on party officeholders.