REP. W. J. "Billy" Tauzin of Louisiana has become the third House Democrat and fifth member of Congress to defect to the Republican Party. He follows Reps. Greg Laughlin of Texas and Nathan Deal of Georgia, and Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado. To each of these political turncoats who have defrauded voters, I say, "Good riddance!"
The Democratic Party will not regain majority status if it is populated by politicians who vote like Republicans, as all of the above (with the sometime exception of Mr. Campbell) do. Democrats in Congress should not blow with the political winds. And they must display the same unity as Republicans.
Traditionally, the Democratic Party has been open to people of all philosophies. But voters no longer know what it stands for. The lack of a message, combined with the failure in 1993-94 to enact health-care reform and other key elements of President Clinton's agenda, led many voters to decide this party was unable to make the changes they demanded.
The Democratic Party needs to reestablish its identity as champion of the middle class, fighting to raise the American standard of living and to crush the power of special interests. If achieving this goal first requires the party to rid itself of members who don't share it, so be it. This initial shrinkage may make the road back a little longer. But there's no point in going the distance unless the next time Democrats control Congress, we're able to govern as a cohesive force and restore some economic security to people's lives.
So to conservative Democrats who say there must be room in the party for them, I say, not for someone like Billy Tauzin who wants to eviscerate government's ability to protect citizens from abusive employers, unsafe workplaces, and corporate polluters. Not for someone who wants to slash education, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while cutting taxes for the rich and preserving "corporate welfare." Not for someone whose political calling is to do the bidding of big oil, the tobacco industry, or the National Rifle Association.
Perhaps the greatest outrage of someone known to pursue publicity and serve special interests such as Mr. Tauzin is his attempt to portray his actions as courageous. What courage does it take to leave the minority party for the majority? Where's the integrity in running as a Democrat and then, in midterm, telling your constituents they really elected a Republican? If I were a contributor, I'd want my money back. As a voter, I'd want the election thrown out.
If Tauzin, Campbell, and Messrs. Laughlin, Deal, and Shelby had any guts, they would have followed the example of Sen. Phil Gramm, who joined the Republicans when they were in the minority. He resigned his seat in the House and ran to succeed himself as a Republican. This action paid some respect to voters. And it was appropriate; the only presidential candidate farther right is Pat Buchanan.
I want to emphasize that I am not advocating rigid, single-issue litmus tests. But on the issues central to the Democratic Party's mission - lifting the standard of living for working families - disunity is intolerable.
The Democrats must offer middle-class and lower-income voters an alternative to the GOP's ploy of diverting attention from the real causes of stagnant wages and job insecurity by blaming welfare recipients, immigrants, African-Americans, and women. Democrats who parrot Republican myths and promote their policy sully the party.
The short-term loss from Tauzin's defection is outweighed by the long-term gain.