THE NATIONAL Democratic Party has abolished its seven separate caucuses -- well, almost.
Technically, the party's executive committee has revoked official recognition of the seven party caucuses, but three of them -- the black, women's and Hispanic caucuses -- remain entitled to ex officio membership on the 41-member executive committee. Presumably nothing prevents the members of these or other caucuses from assembling and issuing any resolution or commandment they wish. But they won't be able to spend party money on such gatherings or have paid staff at Democratic headquarters.
We think what Chairman Paul Kirk did was right. We expect it will be good for the Democratic Party, not because it will squelch the constituencies for which the caucuses tried to speak, but rather because it will improve and enlarge their real role in politics. The impulse to create separate constituency groups was, at the beginning, not utterly crazy. Intelligent political parties have used all manner of devices to attract people of distinctive characteristics. From the days when Yankee Democrats Fernando Wood and William Marcy Tweed gathered the Irish voters of New York into Tammany Hall, through the late John Bailey's balanced tickets in Connecticut, the Democrats have been adept at convincing Americans who otherwise considered themselves forgotten that they were remembered, at least by the Democratic Party.
But the Democratic caucus system hasn't done this. It has created small and rigid political baronies within a party. It has tended to make the caucus a spokesman for the claims of groups whose spokesmen should be the party as a whole. It has not drawn diverse constituencies together; it has fragmented them. As internal pressure groups the caucuses have of course done some very useful things. But more often than not the caucus system has had the effect of diminishing the clout that members of a caucus might claim if they were operating in a more open party context -- a context in which they could appeal to the party's larger traditions and general membership, rather than simply demanding their special preshrunk piece of the action.
Outside as well as inside the party, meanwhile, the caucus system has made the Democrats an object of ridicule. Put into place to build a party, it became an instrument in the weakening and even wrecking of the party. Mr. Kirk's Democrats showed good sense in moving toward abolishing it.