LOS ANGELES — With “Bulworth” actor and political wannabe Warren Beatty as its headliner, a group of liberal Democrats is declaring war on Republicans this weekend, and possibly some Democrats as well.
The organization wants Democrats to abandon all efforts at bipartisanship and do battle with the GOP over the Bush administration’s agenda. The new Southern California Americans for Democratic Action goes so far as to say it will work to oust Democrats from office who deviate from the liberal party line.
“I think they’ve been handling things naively. I think bipartisanship is a myth,” Lila Garrett, the group’s president, said of congressional Democrats. “We’re really in danger of losing all of the social gains we’ve made.”
Garrett hopes to rally support at an all-day conference on Sunday. Specifically, she wants attendees to lobby members of Congress to support the group’s positions on such things as universal health care, public education and a limited defense budget, with no room for compromise.
For those who don’t pass the group’s litmus tests, Garrett wants funds raised in the coming months to get them booted from office during primaries. In the Senate, for example, there only 38 “real Democrats,” she said.
Democrats enjoy a 50-49 advantage in the Senate with one independent. The House is 222-210 in favor of Republicans, with independents holding two seats and one seat vacant.
Bipartisanship and compromise have become the Washington buzzwords of the day in the wake of November’s tight elections and President Bush’s controversial electoral win over Al Gore.
Among the speakers are Beatty – whose flirtation with a bid for president gained momentum at a SCADA event in 1999, film director Rob Reiner, environmentalist and actor Ed Begley Jr. and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. Liberal California lawmakers, including Rep. Maxine Waters and Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, also are scheduled to speak.
Democratic and Republican analysts alike describe the group’s approach as unrealistic and dispute Garrett’s claims that bipartisanship can’t work. Voters have no interest in political posturing, analysts say, they simply want lawmakers to get things done.
“I think it’s a classic case of people who misunderstand the political arena. It’s about compromise. It’s about finding the middles – it’s rarely about the extremes,” said Jim Duffy, a Democratic consultant in Washington. “Those who tend to say it’s my way or the highway don’t tend to be very effective in politics.”
Duffy also predicted that any efforts to campaign against Democrats who fail the group’s litmus tests may backfire. Moderate Democrats tend to hail from swing states anyway, he said, where voters might be inclined to support a Democrat who draws the ire of a left-wing, Hollywood group.
Nonetheless, Duffy said he welcomes input from any political group.
“I’m always encouraged when people want to get involved and be involved in the political dialogue,” he said.
Rudy Fernandez, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, described the group’s actions as “a shame.”
“It send a negative tone,” he said. “This group is definitely politicizing issues that are important to all Americans, and we should be working together.”
Fernandez said Congress and Bush have shown that bipartisanship works during the past few months as they’ve worked together on tax and education bills.
Even the speakers who agreed to attend Sunday’s event are quick to point out they don’t follow the strict ideological approach of the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action.
Reiner, who is well known as both an activist and fund-raiser, plans to continue supporting candidates based on their support for early childhood education and generally not get involved in primaries, his spokesman said.
Both Reiner and Begley, the “St. Elsewhere” actor and staunch environmentalist, also said they are comfortable crossing party lines to work with or support people who share their beliefs
“I think Rob is very pragmatic in the policies that he advocates for and the politics it takes to get things done in Washington,” Reiner’s spokesman, Chad Griffin said.
Gephardt’s spokeswoman, Kori Bernards, said the Missouri congressman planned to talk in broad terms about the direction of the Democratic party.
“We’re just speaking, we’re not endorsing their views on not being bipartisan,” she said. “Certainly the leader has been someone who has worked to bring bipartisanship to the House.”