The Democratic National Committee meeting at the Shoreham Hotel last week cleared a lot of outdated furniture from its decks. Gone, the DNC decided, are the party's midterm conferences. Gone also, thanks to a decision made by Chairman Paul Kirk and ratified by the executive committee, will be the official party-funded caucuses.
Not yet gone, but scheduled for an early departure, is the heretofore nettlesome issue of presidential delegate-selection rules. The DNC ratified Mr. Kirk's choices for the at-large and leadership spots on the party's latest "fairness commission," and without a murmur of protest approved his choice for its chairman, Donald Fowler of South Carolina.
Notably missing from this Fowler-fairness commission are ardent articulators of the complaints made by candidates Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart, which led to the creation of the commission in the first place. Mr. Hart, now that he's well known and runs well in polls, sees less need to change the rules to favor underdog candidates. Mr. Jackson, who was not present in person or by proxy at the Shoreham, seems busy with other things. New Orleans Mayor Ernest Morial, a Jackson backer last year, will be one of the cochairs; he is a politician of stature in his own right.
The commission has set itself a tight schedule of regional meetings, in August, and just four plenary sessions; the idea is to finish its business before the first of next year. That gives the Democrats the chance to do some useful things -- get rid of nitpicking details, remove the special privilege that allows Iowa and New Hampshire to vote before everyone else -- before any potential presidential candidates can figure out how to jimmy the rules for their own advantage.
Once the Democrats have cleared the decks, the question becomes: Where shall they sail? On that the DNC meeting gave little guidance. It's always hard for an out party to set a popular course in times of peace and prosperity, and especially so for the Democrats, with their great regional and philosophical diversity. Clues may come from the party's two candidates for governor this year, Essex County executive Peter Shapiro in New Jersey and attorney general Gerald Baliles in Virginia, who both appeared at the Shoreham. Neither is a firebrand, and neither speaks to the party's splintered constituencies; both are sober men with important government jobs and a disposition for businesslike management.
Do people like them represent the future of the Democratic Party? The national Democrats could do worse.