I haven’t experienced a post-election morning like this since the 1992 presidential election. Democratic gubernatorial candidates won in Virginia (which Bush carried in 2004, and where he made 11th hour campaign appearances with the Republican Candidate) and New Jersey. Arnold Schwarzeneggar got a serious beat-down at the polls. Even the Democratic Mayor of St. Paul, MN — who sparked controversy among Democrats when he endorsed Bush in 2004 — went down. And voters in Maine defeated a repeal of the state’s gay rights law.
In 2000 and 2004 I woke up the day after elections and wondered what had happened to the world. I woke up thinking the same thing this morning, but with a decided more hopeful outlook. Of course, to put things in perspective, results weren’t great everywhere. Hate — with a little help from some out and proud haters — had at least one victory last night. Texans — by a margin of 75.5 percent — voted to amend their constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Of course, I’d have been surprised if a state as conservative as Texas didn’t move to enshrine bigotry in its constitution. But the margin of the vote is a sobering reminder — even in the face of last night’s victories how — how far we have yet to go.
And even some of last night’s victories are a tad bittersweet. I’ve written here before of my issues with Tim Kaine’s campaign. Sure he won in the end, but the reality is that he probably won — at least in part — by running as far away from gay and lesbian equality as he could, in order to get the votes of at least enough moderate to conservative Virginians to win the election. It makes sense politically, and he pulled it off. It’s even better because it kind of leaves George Bush and the Republicans with a significant limp going into ’06. But I’m worried about what precedent it will set for Dems. At least in conservative states like Virginia, running some distance to the right on some issues — like gay issues and reproductive choice — seems to work. Kaine pretty much abandoned same-sex marriage, and did without an endorsement from NARAL. And he won against some pretty significant odds.
Probably the best gay and lesbian Virginians can hope for with is to be left alone and not to suffer any further losses. They probably can’t expect him to fight for them, because the reality is that he can’t without also probably losing the some votes among the moderate-to-conservative Virginians who helped put him in office in the first place. Given his margin of victory, I doubt he’ll want to sacrifice to many of those votes if he intends to run again and win.
This is the crux of the problem I have with this strategy for Democrats, and calls to put "party unity" above single issues, with promises that the party will get back to those issues after it’s safely back in power. But if they regain power, with narrow margins and while winning the support of moderate-to-conservative voters by stepping back on issues like gay equality and reproductive choice, will those same moderate-to-conservative voters let Democrats return to progressive positions on those issues and remain in power?
Probably not, at least not without the help of the very people from whom the Democratic party is distancing itself; help by working on those issues in our own back yard, moving the ball down the field against some pretty tough opposition while the party watches and waits from somewhere near the end zone. We have to get the ball down the field on our own. In states like Maine, it might happen. In states as conservative as Texas it ain’t gonna happen. And on a national level chances are slim we’re going to get much support. We’re basically abandoned on the field, at least until we’ve moved our issues far enough that it’s safe for the Democratic party to take them up again. Even if we’re able to do that, we’re probably going to take several hits and get rather bloodied in the process.
It won’t surprise me if Democratic candidates attempt the same strategy in other states, and with some degree of success. It will surprise me even less if the same strategy is evident in the Dems’ 2008 presidential and congressional campaigns. Successfully, even. That will essentially leave gay and lesbian Americans out in the cold politically, without a (major, viable) party that has a clear position of standing up for our equality.
And the worst part is, if it happens, it will signify a perhaps unexpected victory of the "Republican revolution": making the Democratic party more conservative.