Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján sparked controversy on Tuesday after declaring that the party wouldn’t make holding pro-choice views a “litmus test” for Democratic candidates.
Though many pro-choice Democrats decried Luján’s comments as marginalizing women’s rights, his controversial stance was reinforced on Sunday by the head of one of the country’s most liberal states: Jerry Brown, the Democratic governor of California.
In an interview Sunday on Meet the Press, Brown said that the Democrats’ litmus test should not be abortion or women’s rights, but rather how a candidate treats “the common man.”
“The fact that someone believes today what most people believed 50 years ago should not be the basis for their exclusion,” Brown said, adding, “[The] litmus test should be intelligence, caring about, as Harry Truman or Roosevelt used to call it, the common man.”
“And I’m sorry, but running in San Francisco is not like running in Tulare County or Modoc, California, much less Mobile, Alabama,” Brown added, echoing Luján’s call for candidates that “fit the district” rather than stick to a strict ideological view.
Brown cited the diverse ideologies of the Democratic base to defend his views, telling host Chuck Todd, “In America, we’re not ideological. We’re not like a Marxist party in 1910.”
“If we want to be a governing party of a very diverse — and I say diverse ideologically as well as ethnically — country, well, then you have to have a party that rises above the more particular issues to the generic, the general issue of making America great,” Brown said.
Brown and Luján’s comments follow a recent trend of Democrats embracing the party’s “big tent” nature at the expense of women’s issues in the wake of the 2016 election. Though the party released their “most progressive” platform yet in 2016, which championed pro-choice rights and called for the abolishment of the Hyde Amendment, party leaders such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, along with independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, were criticized in April for throwing their support behind an anti-choice mayoral candidate in Nebraska.
Critics of this “big tent” strategy have pointed to the Democrats’ broad female base — women are more likely to be Democrats than men, and are also more likely to vote — and the fact that access to safe and legal abortion is proven to be economically beneficial. Seventy-five percent of Democrats currently believe abortion should be legal in “all or most cases,” according to the Pew Research Center.
“Supporting laws that give the state the power to compel women to continue pregnancies is misogynist and illiberal,” journalist Jill Filipovic wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “Expecting Democratic politicians to stake out clear ground on abortion rights is not a “purity test” or a difference in opinion on policy or efficacy ... It’s a basic question of human rights: Are women sovereign citizens in our own bodies? If your answer is no, the Democratic Party shouldn’t fund your campaign.”