What’s the Strategy, Dems?

Over at MyDD, Matt Stoller has asked a question I’ve been asking over here for a while now: What’s the strategy for gay issues in 2006? The Democrats’ strategy, that is. We already know Republican strategy. They’ve announced it: generally malign, slander, scapegoat and beat-up on gays as much as possible between now and election time. Matt quotes an email from Paul Yandura.

The Republicans have announced that they intend to use gay equality issues as a divisive election year tactic- AGAIN this year. Neither the DNC, nor any of the national committees (DCCC,DSCC), have a strategy to combat this hatred (unless you count avoidance as a strategy).

Dont believe me? Ask Howard, Ask Nancy, Ask Harry, Ask Rahm, Ask Chuck.

For many months a number of us have made appeals to Howard Dean and party officials to care about and defend the dignity of gay and lesbian families and friends, in the same way they defend the dignity of other key constituencies.

… The DNC is fighting the vicous attacks being waged upon immigrants by the Republican party. Its the right thing to do and I applaud their action. Why then is it so difficult for them to do the same for us?

Why are gays and lesbians continually left to fight these battles alone? Where are our allies?

All progressives need to be asking how much has the DNC budgeted to counter the anti-gay ballot initiatives in the states. We also all need to know why the DNC and our Democratic leaders continue to allow the Republicans to use our families and friends as pawns to win elections.

It’s heartening to hear Matt say, in response to Paul’s email, "I think that’s about right." It’s always always assuring to hear a non-gay person "get it." Unfortunately, it goes down hill from there.

I find myself returning the playground analogy; probably something unavoidable in this situation, for a gay man who came out and grew up smack in the middle of the bible belt. Hearing the Republican strategy is reminiscent of hearing the school bully say he’s gonna pound you good after the bell rings.

And sure enough, he’s waiting for you after school. You know he’s big. Too big to take on by yourself. But you have friends, right? They know how big the bully is. Big enough to pretty much control the whole school. But they’re your friends, right? They might get banged up, but surely they’re not going to stand by and watch you take a beating right?


The signs aren’t good. There’s EMILY’S List supporting an anti-gay candidate. There’s Hillary feeling out positions a little further right. There’s the Tim Kaine phenomenon, which — even if it’s not quite as bad as I’ve made it out to be — isn’t anything to stand up and cheer about. There’s the reality that the DNC’s gay & lesbian liaison office, which stood empty from February 2005 on has been eliminated along with other constituent outreach, in favor of a melting pot called the American Majority Partnership which is supposedly going to address the concerns of gay & lesbian communities without a liaison to those communities. Right. But, interestingly enough, the party is keeping intact it’s LGBT fundraising outreach.

GAY AND LESBIAN Americans have been and continue to be among the Democratic Party’s biggest financial supporters, contributing more than $5 million in 2004. GLBT voters are also among the most loyal, second only to African Americans in party allegiance.

Now our loyalty is rewarded with the elimination of the GLBT outreach office. And to add insult to injury, Dean has decided to maintain the DNC’s Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council, which raises money for the party from gay donors.

To return to the schoolyard for a minute, maybe if you give your "friends" your lunch money, they’ll keep the bully off your back.

Or not.

Sometimes you get to thinking your friends may find it inconvenient to be your friends. Maybe they have an overblown perception of the bully’s popularity, despite evidence to the contrary. And even if he isn’t very popular any more, the bully has a posse that gave him his power, and they’d like to win over that posse for themselves. So, if that posse doesn’t like you much, your friends might have to put some distance between you and them. Like the DCCC suddenly forgetting its non-discrimination policy includes/d sexual orientation.

So, your friends won’t sit next to you in the lunchroom anymore. But if they make new friends at the cool kids table, they’ll say nice things about you. Maybe that’ll get the bully and his posse to ease up on you, right?


Let’s return to Matt’s post, which started out so well, with Matt agreeing with Paul Yandura that the Dem’s strategy should simply be to stand up for what’s right when it comes to gay & lesbian equality. I’ll just sample quotes from some of the comments. It’s amazing what you can hear if you just sit close enough to the cool kids’ table.

Why should there be a strategy on gays?

There are a few parties involved here:

1. People who hate gays

2. People who are essentially indifferent on the issue, and uncomfortable both with gays and with bashing them.

3. Straight people who support gay rights

4. Gay people

Then there are these assumptions:

2 is the biggest group
1 is the next largest
3 is next
4 is the smallest group

Guess what, groups 3 and 4 combined add up to less people than 1 and 2 combined.

And based on what we saw in 2004, it doesn’t seem that 2 has a big problem with 1. They don’t like the gay bashing, but not enough to vote against the GOP. And groups 3 and 4 will vote for the Dems anyway. So why support homosexuals?

Homosexuals aren’t like hispanics — they’re not the fastest growing minority in the country. In fact, they’re a small minority with essentiall no birth rate.

So again, what benefit is there to supporting gay rights?

Maybe to stand up for what is right? To take a principled stand and fight against intolerance?

Not if your strategy is based around poll numbers and demographics. And that’s why Dems are in danger of not making serious gains in a year that should be a landslide for them. Because fundamentally, their strategy hasn’t changed — it’s not about taking a stand on what you believe, but on following polls and demographic trends.


…Homosexual rights, by and large, work (or not) as a wedge issue for both parties. They have relatively little substance compared to the political effect they have.

Dems needn’t be prissy about it: if the issue tests well in terms of winning net votes, fine.

If not, then not.

Either way, those managing the national campaign (anyone there?) should decide a strategy and move on to more important things.


My guess – no more than that – would be that the Dems making a Federal case – as it were – would cost them votes net. It feeds into the Free Mumia, Dems as single-issue-group-junkies, what about us regular folks? vibe that would deter more swing voters than bring out otherwise stay-at-home Dems.

That guess may be wholly or partly wrong: I’d prefer to see some evidence.

Certainly, Dems should not take up the issue because it gives them lefty ya-yas, but because it will help them take one or both houses of Congress. (If, on the evidence, it will help. And not hinder.)


There should be no strategy. Stay on message, which is that the Bush administration is horrible on the economy for the working and middle class, horrible on national security, horrible on Iraq, impending horrible on Iran, a miserable failure on health care, etc.

Gay issues are electorally unimportant for the Democrats and should be treated as such. De-emphasize them do that Republicans can’t use them as a wedge issue and focus the debate elsewhere. If you want gay issues to be a central, salient issue, then let’s just amend the Constitution to allow for amendments by national referendum and hold a coast-to-coast vote on legalizing gay marriage.

It’s just a sampling, and I only took the outright negative comments. But if you fold in the comments that basically supported taking gay issues off the Dems’ national agenda — while saying as little about it as possible while Republicans declare all out war on us again — and boil it all down to gravy, what you get is this : vote for us, but don’t expect much. It’s a pretty good case for voting for, volunteering for, fundraising for, canvassing for, etc., local and state candidates who aren’t afraid to take a stand for gay & lesbian equality. But it doesn’t inspire hope on the national level, where the fight is brewing and the bully has already announced plans to meet us at the flagpole.

And if your friends seem likely to stand by and watch you take a beating, and tell you later (when nobody else is watching or listening) what a shame they thought it was … well, then you don’t have any friends.

In terms of the Democratic strategy/agenda for the foreseeable future, gays and other groups stand astride a fault line that I’ve pointed out before here and here. Of course, I’m just a voice in the wilderness on this one. As RJ Eskow points out in assessment of Markos Zuniga’s and Jerome Armstrong’s new book Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics far bigger bloggers than me are on at least one side of that fault line.

There’s a major split coming in the so-called ‘progressive blogosphere,’ and these two talented thinkers and writers won’t be able to straddle the divide much longer.

…The brawl they try valiantly to avoid is one that’s been brewing for some time now, but has yet to fully erupt. One side of the progressive/liberal commentariat (especially bloggers) wants to grow and strengthen the Democratic Party – while placing ideology second. The other fights for a set of core values first and foremost, and considers the Democratic Party to be nothing more than a weapon in an ongoing struggle.

One side would provide technical and consulting support to Democratic candidates that represent a wide ideological swath – and, not incidentally, would like to be the Party’s new leadership. The other side, while having remained true to the Party by and large for many years, now stands ready to abandon it if need be – especially on the national level, should a right-leaning candidate (or one cynically assuming a right-wing pose) lead the ticket in 2008.

I’m pretty well acquainted with where Kos stands on the whole question:

One of the key problems with the Democratic Party is that single issue groups have hijacked it for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin’-cetera. We don’t stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don’t have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off.

We have confused groups that are natural allies of the Democratic Party for the party itself. And the party has ceded way too much power, way too much control, to those single issue groups.


And while there are Democrats … that are less than optimal on any number of progressive issues, the entire movement benefits from having a friendly party in control.

In other words: bend over and take it, for the good of the party. And, as usual, without so much as lube or a reach-around.

Eskow also points out the inherent problem in Kos’ and Armstrong’s Faustian bargain.

They would really like a Democratic Party whose first priority is winning, free to operate at a safe distance from the ideologues. "Let the party be the party," they write, "with the movement outside looking in." The risk in that strategy – one they don’t seem to acknowledge – is that the more distant the "movement" becomes, the fainter its loyalty to the Party. Put up a Clinton/Obama ticket and you’ll probably lose them altogether. I’m not sure letting the Party be the Party is always such a good idea – either ideologically or tactically.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t yet bothered to read the Kos/Armstrong book yet. I already know what it says.

The final bell is gonna ring, and folks like me are inevitably gonna have to take our licks. And the folks who say they’re our friends may not do much more than watch it happen. But they’ll tell us it’s for our own good, and everyone else’s too.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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One Response to What’s the Strategy, Dems?

  1. Sam says:

    I’m a Democrat and I wish that a prominent plank in my Party’s platform was a recognition of the right of all citizens to marry a partner of their choice. Unfortunately, not all Democrats believe that. And for all practical purposes, no Republicans can or will support that plank. Not only do they not support it, many Republicans will do anything in their power to prevent GLBTs from having that right. Continued Republican control of Congress, governorships, and state legislatures, will never lead to equal protection for GLBTs. With these conditions in place, what can the GLBT community do increase their influence in political life of this country?

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