I know I’m not supposed to talk about it, but I can’t help myself. I know we’re supposed to be portraying the election results as a progressive victory, and I’m as happy as the next person to see the Republican majority come to an end. But we’re being less than honest here if we pretend that we’re not seeing at least a subtle shift in the Democratic party and/or a redefining of what is and isn’t a progressive issue.
And, as was telegraphed all along the road to the 2006 elections, the first issue to go overboard was same-sex marriage. The newly-elected Dems are a mixed bag at best.
Last week’s election results may be more of a mixed bag for gay rights supporters than many originally thought.
At least 13 of 50 newly elected House and Senate Democrats oppose same-sex marriage, with two of those backing constitutional amendments to ban such unions.
According to research conducted by the Washington Blade, 16 Democrats elected Nov. 7 prefer civil unions to full marriage rights.
Nine incoming Democrats of the 50 examined by the Blade were verified to support full marriage equality for gay couples. They are Sen. elect Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), and Reps. elect Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy (Conn.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.) and Stephen Cohen (Tenn.).
Forty-two incoming Democrats oppose a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
… Experts said the split illuminates political divisions among incoming Democrats.
“Many are moderate or conservative,” said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University government professor. “They’re not all your traditional, liberal Democrat.”
But many gay activists said the political and ideological disparities were inevitable among the large group.
“We have some very progressive new members,” said Samantha Smoot, political director of the Human Rights Campaign. “We also have some very conservative new members.”
Also in the mix are many new members who have taken no clear stance on key gay issues. Of the 50 new Democrats reviewed, the Blade could not determine where 25 members stand on civil unions. And 10 could not be verified to support any gay rights legislation, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which as been identified as a priority of gay activists.
No surprise there. I’ve been watching this happen for about the past year or so. I’ve ranted on about it on various progressive blogs. I’ve whooped and hollered about it at the YearlyKos convention. The answer I got was always the same, even from gay people: this is what we have to do to win, and get back into power. At the time I said that shifting right or shutting up on certain issues in order to win over more conservative voters will mean having to do more of the same to keep those voters and thus hold on to power.
It’s anathema to say it, and just about every major progressive blogger has gone out of their way to make a case for the opposite, but I still see one result at the end of this process: a more conservative Democratic party. If that isn’t a final victory in the Republican Revolution, then I don’t know what is. To counter that idea, you’ll see blogger after progressive blogger— after a year or so of backing centrist candidates who are slightly-less-than-progressive on issues like gay rights, abortion rights, and gun control — counting up members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, running the numbers to prove this election was a progressive victory, taking pains to define “socially conservative” Democrats as “economic populists”, and taking polls to define a progressive agenda.
Note what’s left out in each case.
Bottom line, to some degree, Dems gave it up on three issues in order to win the enough of the much coveted white evangelical vote and other related groups to get back into power: God, Guns & Gays. The turned up the volume on religious issues (even Pelosi’s talking about going to church), made more room in “the tent” on issues like gun control and abortion, and for the most part tried to back away from or at least say nothing about gay issues. (Note that progressive evangelicals, even if they support equality for same sex couples, would much prefer to stop talking about it for the foreseeable future.)
And apparently it worked. So, I submit the following: that same-sex marriage is not a progressive issue. At least not as todays progressives define progressivism, which looks and sounds more like populisim. Not that there’s anything wrong with populisim, but same-sex marriage, and even gay & lesbian equality in general, aren’t populist issues any more than they were progressive issues in this election.
Maybe hate crimes and employment discrimination will make it on to the agenda. Maybe. But if it upsets the newest members of the Democratic governing coalition to much. Maybe not. Because the lesson of 2006 is that Democrats win by softening their positions on and/or not talking about issues that don’t have majority support or that high priority constituencies (and I’m not including LGBT voters in that category, not after a year or more of hearing from progressives about how we have to “set aside” our concerns for now, would rather not talk about. And with one third of the coveted white evangelical vote in their corner now, people who would rather not talk about gay issues — even if they actually support equality — “for a season”, it’s unlikely that Dems are going to rock the boat in the next two years and do anything that would make these voters even slightly twitchy.
Everything that I’m seeing and hearing from progressives on gay & lesbian equality, unless I see or hear differently in the next couple of years, tells me one thing: we’re on our own.
So now what?