Do What We Say, Or Else!

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Just when we thought liberal Democratic activists had figured out that practicing litmus test politics guaranteed minority status, a terrible beauty – “They Work For Us” – has been born!

Two months after a sweeping mid-term victory that saw Democrats of all stripes — from Jon Tester in Montana to Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Heath Shuler in North Carolina to David Loebsack in Iowa — notch wins that propelled their party into House and Senate majorities, a coalition of liberal-populist activists has come together to monitor and, if necessary, threaten Democratic lawmakers it deems to have strayed too far to the right of their constituents.

It’s a powerful group of people, led by Steve Rosenthal and including members from SEIU, the Steelworkers, Moveon and the trial lawyers. Their goal: to help field and finance primary challengers to Democratic incumbents who aren’t right with the left on trade, taxes or Iraq. There’s a caveat, offered by DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who also serves on the new coalition’s board:

This is a potent alliance, and one that will have real muscle as we look to target not “conservative” Democrats, but Democrats who are out of step with their districts (a key and important distinction). This is no lame-brained Club for Growth clone — an operation obsessed with ideological purity without regard to electoral realities.

But who decides whether a Democrat is out of step with the constituents who elected him or her? And doesn’t Club for Growth do for the right exactly what They Work For Us is setting out to do for the Left — finance challengers to incumbents it views as too accomodationist, too moderate and too willing to compromise with the other party?

Rosenthal puts it more, ah, bluntly, a quality we’ve always appreciated in him:

“Our PAC will encourage Democrats to act like Democrats _ and if they don’t _ they better get out of the way,” Rosenthal wrote in a memorandum describing the organization.

If the goal isn’t to enforce ideological purity, if the promise is that the coalition will tolerate un-progressive behavior from a Democrat whose district is un-progressive on the issue in question, the test will come when an apostate Democrat casts a vote opposed by labor or the trial lawyers. Will someone from They Work For Us argue, successfully, that the coalition should let it go?

The Democratic majority may depend on it.