Chris, Leadership, and The Wisdom of Not Digging When One Is In A Hole
Over at Law Dork, Chris has a smaller branch discussion going in the now perpetual debate among Democrats as to "whither the party." Particularly, he's giving Kerry a hard time for reasserting his long-time stance on gay marriage: that he's against it, and for civil unions:
...Kerry is not only wrong "in principle" -- he's also wrong in fact, as most Massachusetts people and a large majority of Democrats support marriage equality.
Go home and stay home, Kerry. We were looking for leadership, not a timid follower.
Sadly for Chris, Kerry actually is showing signs of leadership here, inasmuch as he's attempting to lead his party to political victory and some kind of power.
As the debate on Rumsfeld v. FAIR heats up, look at it this way: the Democrats need another major judicial win like Lawrence in the same way that my (rapidly expanding) waistline needs a few more helpings of kimchi rice from The Mill. Sure, those Kennedy opinions--full of artificial history and spicy invocations of universal and international law--fill the hunger one has for political change. There's even the possibility of a sweet and vicious little Scalia dessert...er, dissent, so that the Democratic faithful can wonder how fortunate they are that he's in the minority. But in the longrun, these greasy feasts will clog the arteries of your body politic, or at least the party that's eating them.
(Surgeon General's Warning: Blogging while hungry can be bad for your metaphors.)
This is essentially what's happened to the Democrats. Maybe Chris is right--although polls have bounced on this issue, my guess is depending on whether you call it one of "marriage equality" or "gay marriage"--and there is a Massachusetts majority in favor of gay marriage. It wasn't enough of a majority to actually push through a bill on the subject. Rather than try for the artful compromises of politics, proponents took to the courts. As a result, there's homosexual marriage in Massachusetts, and thirty-some anti-gay marriage amendments in state constitutions... and counting.
So where does that get us to Kerry showing leadership? By forcefully rejecting gay marriage, and coming out in favor of compromise. Civil unions are about as American as Mom and apple pie. That is to say, they're the kind of compromise Mom makes when two of the children are arguing over the apple pie, even though she knows that this argument is, in most senses, window-dressing for deeper familial debates going on under the surface. Maybe Elder Brother is upset that the family is paying more attention to Younger Brother's flamboyant ways, or Younger Brother's upset at always having to wear Elder Brother's hand-me-downs and doesn't feel valued enough.
Who knows? Though the compromise satisfies neither brother in the long term, but suffices as a short term resolution so that both sisters, Father, and even Mother can go on to worrying about other things. Implicit in the compromise is a threat: ok, you may not get what you want, but complain too loudly and I'll make sure this comes out on the side of your brother.
Civil unions are just this sort of compromise, and sensible political figures on the left lose nothing by saying, "As much as we might like expanding marriage, we should respect the fact that vast portions of our nation do not want to see traditional marriage altered in this fashion. Let us compromise with civil unions, and come back to it in five or ten years, after we've laid the groundwork necessary." With that issue aside, they could concentrate on dividing the religious vote, becoming the party that once again smacks Republicans on wedge issues, and actually gets themselves into power.
The risk at the moment is also pretty clear: if a majority of the victories of the Democratic Party emerge from the judiciary, Republicans are going to concentrate their fire there. Admittedly, it's a fortified position, and difficult to get at, but it's not impregnable. Sensible leadership--of the kind Chris is criticizing and Kerry is offering--seeks to expand the power base.
But hey, if the Democrats run Howard Dean or Hilary Clinton in '08, I'll be a happy clam.