Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
Democratic Talking Points and HRC Talking points on the Federal Marriage Amendment have been indistinguishable. As Chris Crain in a Washington Blade Editorial points out:
But [DNC Howard] Dean is miscalculating for two important reasons: First and foremost, gay Americans are fighting for their own civil rights, unlike their counterparts on the right, who are pushing to limit someone else's freedoms. One reason America's history reflects progress by minorities despite hostility from the majority is that the minorities are far more motivated than their foes, not to mention the "mushy middle" that doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other.
Second, by treating gay civil rights like just another "special interest" to be alternatively pandered to or ignored, Dean and the Dems only contribute to their party's worst image problem: that of a do-nothing party without clear positions, principles or a plan.
YOU CAN FORGIVE Howard Dean for thinking he can get away with it. After all, the nation's richest gay political group has long been willing to play lapdog to the Democratic Party, even after Dean's repeated disses.
It is a central article of faith at the Human Rights Campaign that the success of the gay rights movement is inexorably linked to the success of the Democratic Party, and herein lies the single biggest internal obstacle to equality for gay Americans.
There's no question, of course, that Democrats in general and almost always in particular, are better on gay rights than their Republican counterparts. And gay rights legislation no doubt stands a greater likelihood of passage if Democrats control Congress — though history suggests otherwise.
But that doesn't mean that gay rights leaders should sacrifice the movement at the altar of the Democratic Party, and continue crafting their message off the DNC's transparently political talking points.
Yet that's what we see, time and time again, especially at HRC, whose leader Joe Solmonese came from Emily's List, a partisan Democrat group.
True, HRC issued an angry press release after Dean's "700 Club" dalliance, slamming his "serious lack of leadership" on the issue of gay marriage. So why, days later, was Solmonese once again following him?
On Tuesday afternoon, Dean's DNC issued a press release taking to task Bill Frist, the Senate GOP Leader, for ignoring First Lady Laura Bush's recent advice about not using gay marriage "as a campaign tool." Frist and the Republicans don't need to be engaged on the issue of gay marriage, the press release argues, because they're really just trying to change the subject from their own political problems.
(Typical of the Democrats' stealth defense of gays, the primary target audience for the DNC statement was apparently... gays. The release isn't posted on the DNC website.)
Still, despite Dean's "serious lack of leadership" on gay marriage, Solmonese and HRC were quick to play follower. Just one hour after the DNC press release went out, HRC issued its "Amen, sister!" reply.
Titled "Senator Frist Pushing a Campaign Strategy Opposed by First Lady Laura Bush," the HRC press release hits all the same talking points, accusing Frist of not taking Laura Bush’s sage advice.
BESIDES THE LAPDOG posture, HRC's willingness to do Dean's Dems' bidding causes lasting harm to the gay rights movement.
Rather than actually defend gay families and make the case for gay marriage, HRC is stuck in a three-year strategy of arguing that the American people don't — and shouldn't! — care about marriage equality for gay couples.
"Voters want candidates focused on soaring gas prices, a health care crisis and national security," Solmonese says in the release, "not putting discrimination in the United States Constitution."
What sort of gay rights strategy is it, when the attention of Americans is focused on our issues, to argue that our rights aren't important, and refuse to engage our opponents in the debate over our equality?
Sure it makes political sense for Dean and the DNC to issue press releases, delivered only to us, defending us, and then have the party's senators respond to conservative attacks on our families by arguing that the issue isn't as important as rising gas prices. But what self-respecting gay rights group would echo that argument?
Can anyone imagine Martin Luther King Jr., responding to an attempt to rollback the gains of the Civil Rights Movement by arguing that the issue shouldn’t be debated because rising gas prices are more important?
Worst of all, HRC's lapdog strategy reeks of lacking confidence in the arguments for our own equality.
This strategy also does not help the Democrats win elections. John Kerry used this strategy during the 2004 campaign. While I think some of the "flip flopper" attacks on Kerry were unfair attacks about nuanced positions, this wasn't the case with Kerry's position on gay issues. Kerry said different things to different audiences both on the issue of state constitutional amendments to ban gay marriages and also on the issue of gays being able to serve openly in the military. During his final debate with George Bush, Kerry said "there is fundementally no difference between President Bush and myself on the issue of gay marriage".
When talking to Amy Klobuchar at the Hennepin County convention today, I asked her for her position on the Federal Marriage Amendment. I had emailed her numerous times on the topic, and have never received a written response. Amy said she opposed the amendment. I followed up by asking her whether she was planning to post this position on her website. She said she wasn't sure about that and was planning on putting what she considered her "major issues" up there.
Amy Klobuchar's current stealth strategy on this will be self defeating. Mark Kennedy will be able to use this issue against her, if she doesn't take a clear position on this issue. That means being willing to defend her position on her website. Amy said her position was "out there", since she had recently been quoted opposing the FMA in an MSNBC article. Amy also mentioned she has HRC endorsement.
Opposing the FMA is not a radical position. There are a number of conservatives who oppose the amendment on federalism grounds.