Whose party is it?

BY Richard Goldstein

May 21 2006 11:00 PM ET

Socially
conservative Democrats have been arguing since 2004 that
their party won’t win until it abandons its
commitment to “multiculturalism,” a term
that encompasses racial equality, feminism, and gay rights.
Never mind that George W. Bush prevailed primarily
because he was seen as strong on defense (quite an
irony, that). These backlash Democrats are out to
blame their party’s defeat on issues such as same-sex
marriage and abortion rights. Now it seems the
retreat-from-justice clique is about to become the
dominant faction in the Democratic Party.

Consider the
strong support from liberals that Pennsylvania state
treasurer Bob Casey has received in his bid to unseat U.S.
senator Rick Santorum, even though Casey is
antichoice. This is a troubling sign—and not
just if you believe that controlling your body is a basic
human right. The struggles of women and gay people are
inextricably linked in our society, and a retreat on
one front is bound to affect the other.

When conservative
New York Times columnist David Brooks crows that “a
different sort of liberalism is taking over the Democratic
Party,” he’s thinking of a return to the
1950s, back before the party embraced the fight for
civil rights. By the ’80s that commitment had
expanded to include women and gay people, and this
broad support is what the party is being advised to
reverse.

Not that most
Democrats will back a federal constitutional amendment to
prohibit same-sex marriage, but local party organizations
aren’t likely to help our side when such
measures appear on state ballots. And in public
statements Democratic candidates may duck and cover on
marriage equality—and even on civil unions.

Can the party
lure white male voters who, it believes, deserted because
they despise feminists and fags? To answer that question,
the Democrats may have to sit silently while the
rights of women and gay people are eroded.

What if the
Republicans find that attacking us alienates swing voters?
Sounds like good news, but it may not be. If both parties
collude to avoid bringing these
“divisive” matters up, just getting gay issues
on the national agenda will become a Sisyphean task.

It’s time
to remind the Democrats that a pragmatic strategy must also
be a moral one and that extending equality to the
victims of sexual bigotry is the righteous position.
And if the party doesn’t listen up, the next
step should be to organize on behalf of candidates who do
support us, especially in the primaries. After all,
the white males who are formulating this exclusionary
definition of liberalism aren’t the only
Democrats. Feminists, gays, racial minorities, and their
allies are a broad swath of the party’s base.
We give lots of money and put lots of energy into the
party. Mess with us and you’ll pay a price.

Don’t get
me wrong—I want the Republicans to get the heave-ho.
But I’m not willing to defer my rights. To the
Democrats, I say: If you really want to win, find a
way to reconcile the American people to the project of
democracy. That’s what real liberalism is about.

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