Thursday, November 18, 2004
by Wayne Besen
The gay movement is the canary in the coalmine for the future of the Democratic Party. If party leaders move right and abandon basic fairness and equality, it is a strong signal that they will capitulate and surrender their other core principles too. This may lead to widespread disillusionment and the creation of a powerful third party that will shake-up American politics.
For the record, I have always been a proud Democrat and I still expect to die as one. I have loathed the ego driven third party campaigns of megalomaniac Ross Perot and egomaniac Ralph Nader.
The Democratic Party is far from perfect, but it has always been home. It certainly is a no-brainer alternative to a Republican Party that calls bigots "The Base". But in the wake of the election defeat, there are some Democrats who want to scapegoat gay people for Bush's victory.
"I think that whole issue [the freedom to marry] has been too much, too fast, too soon. And people aren't ready for it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Some Democrats want to veer to the right in the vain hope of pandering to the 22 percent of voters who picked "moral values" as their top issue. They believe the first step in this futile process is to tell gay people they should "know their place" and gladly accept their fate as second-class citizens. That's right, just shut up and take one for the team!
The harbinger is the upcoming vote to pass a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Karl Rove told Fox News Sunday that the Republicans would "absolutely" push to enshrine discrimination. If the Democrats buckle and allow gay relationships to be written out of the Constitution, they should not be surprised if many gay people write off the Democratic Party.
This alone, of course, won't cause the formation of a third party with a legitimate chance of winning. Openly gay people, after all, are only 4 percent of the electorate. But it will signal a move to the right, which will make it easier, for example, to freeze Howard Dean out of a possible chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.
Dissing Dean won't cause the Democratic dam to break either, but it will cause considerable tension between the progressive and conservative wings of the party. Another fissure might occur if weak-kneed Democrats allow the Supreme Court to be stacked with Antonin Scalia clones.
A fatal rupture may come if the party establishment tries to undercut Hillary Clinton's bid to be president in favor of a Southern conservative. At his point, I believe a third party is a viable possibility with Howard Dean as the nominee. If he has no future in the party, it makes sense that he will look for an alternative platform.
The problem with third parties is that they have traditionally lacked money, the ability to disseminate their message and effective grassroots organizers. However, the machinery is already in place for a new progressive third party.
Money will flow from the Internet and from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, Americans Coming Together and Howard Dean's network. Air America radio will broadcast the message, along with a host of progressive magazines and blogs. Further, Dean already has name recognition, which will save millions of dollars introducing him to America.
The new party would also be the recipient of the talent, money, political savvy and grassroots support from millions of politically homeless gay people. The GLBT community would give the new party the crucial jumpstart it needs to effectively launch. I believe within ten years such a party could be competitive. If the Electoral College could be abolished, (doubtful) I would say it might be surprisingly competitive now.
Of course, I hope this never happens and that my Democratic Party fights for its core principles. But the last thing America needs is a Democratic Party that is a cheap imitation of the Republican Party. Actually, the last thing America needs is the real Republican Party, but that's another column.
To win, the Democrats must hone their message while patiently waiting for the fragile GOP coalition to implode. I firmly believe Neo-Puritan excesses will soon force moderate Republican's out of the party. A Democratic message of social liberalism, fiscal sanity and tenacity on terrorism would make it possible to lure these former Republicans.
Watch and wait for the gay canary to emerge from the Democratic coalmine. The coughing canary may be sick from newfound conservatism, but it will ultimately endure. I'm not sure I can say the same about a Democratic Party that would abandon the bedrock principle of equal rights for all people.