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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Running the Bases

“Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.”—Will Rogers

The Republican Party has a much easier time with their base than the Democrats. Essentially, the GOP base consists of three groups: Social/Religious Conservatives, Fiscal Conservatives and Military Hawks.

Republican leaders do little to risk offending a particular segment of the party. Many, if not most, share common Republican “principles,” you know, like anti-immigration, anti-environment (social conservatives tend to be more moderate on this issue, however), anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-HIV funding, and, of course, anti-gay. But they won’t “teabag” when one segment of the party falters in their view. They save that asinine activity for the Democrats.

The 2008 election run-up was illustrative. The Republican base eroded during the two years prior to the election. But that was fueled mainly by anger by fiscal conservatives as President Bush allowed the federal deficit to swell to historic levels.

Social conservatives never abandoned Bush; he maintained that marriage was solely between a man and a woman, so they were content. Never mind that the country was mired in two wars, the economy sunk into near oblivion, and our standing in the world was somewhere between pariah and outcast. Bush was resolute against marriage equality. That’s what mattered most to them.

The same thing goes for the military hawks. They got what they always wanted: war. Two of them, in fact. Better to fight them over there than to fight them here.

So, when all was said and done, the Bushies garnered 25 to 28 percent support nationally for doing a heckuva job. These folks resided in the social conservative and military hawk legs of the 3-legged stool called the GOP base. Only the fiscal tightwads lost their devotion.

Democrats have a more complex conundrum. There aren’t groups of voters who fit into few and tidy categories. Democratic constituents really don’t form a base in a pure sense but a variety of bases that sometimes are pitted against each other. That’s where they differ markedly from the Republican base.

The Democratic base consists of large chunk of the minorities in the country, especially African-Americans and Hispanics. You also have conservative Democrats, labor unions, teachers, environmentalists, intellectuals, young people, lgbt folks, “Hollywood personalities,” pro-immigration, pro-choice, anti-death penalty, anti-gun, anti-war, the beat goes on.

Not all of these elements work against each other for sure. But not all work together either. The result: the Democratic Party. Gnawing at each other, yes, but also slapping the others’ backs following the uplifting election of November 2008, when the “base” was energized.

There was no back slapping, however, in the aftermath of the Proposition 8 debacle in California. The knee-jerk reaction of many gay activists was to blame not only the Mormons who disproportionately financed the pro-Prop 8 campaign, but African-Americans.

While it is true that socially conservative but Democratic African-Americans are largely opposed to same-sex marriage, statistical analysis post-Prop 8 revealed that as a group, they were not responsible for the passage of this hideous ballot initiative. Instead, it was older voters that tipped the scale on that one. Of course, that group did include socially conservative African-Americans.

Nevertheless, these two key components of the Democratic base continue to square off against each other. African-Americans who oppose marriage equality base it for the most part on religious grounds. Many also resent the comparison between the quest for LGBT rights and that of the civil rights movement, despite the pronouncements from Julian Bond, the late Coretta Scott King and other prominent black civil rights leaders.

“No people of good will should oppose marriage equality,” said Bond at the October 11 National March for Equality rally. “We have some real and serious problems in this country; same-sex marriage is not one of them.”

President Obama is feeling the pressure from leading a party with such a diverse and ornery base. His silence during the Prop 8 debate was irritating to gay activists. He ostensibly made a calculation that while his heart may be on the side of LGBT rights, his political brain told him not to alienate the African-American base within the party.

His problems with his LGBT base were heightened following his now controversial speech before the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner. He didn’t specify a timetable for passage of key legislative initiatives, and many gay activists huffed and puffed. The anger among these folks is palpable, and the effect it will have on a unified Democratic Party going into the 2010 mid-term elections remains to be seen.

That’s where we are now—a struggle, a tug-of-war. Democrats share common ideals and principles but fight among themselves.

This doesn’t happen with the Republican Party. At least not yet.


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