Red, White and Purple: The Downfall of a Toothless Democratic Party

J. Lee

Alas, the Democratic Party is lost. The reason it's lost is because it sucks at being the minority party.

Here's a thought: the next time you're in the minority, just pretend you're not and walk like a conquering champ. Better yet, pretend you don't even have an opinion. These tactics worked fabulously in junior high school, where some of us may have derived great joy from standing in close proximity to the cool kids and scoffing at our actual friends for still using hair crimpers, all the while tucking our own weirdly jagged locks of hair into our shirt collars.

It's redeeming to have the support and adoration of everyone. After all, who wants to be a loser all the time? Sadly, the liberal factions of America are getting pretty familiar with this sensation. With Republicans running the show in the White House and in Congress, Democrats have spent the last four years feeling how much it sucks to get steamrolled on a regular basis. To make matters worse, the steamrolling is now entering phase two of the Bush Administration's God-fearing, fag-hating, science-bashing plan for world domination. And if you listen closely, you can still hear U.S. House Majority Leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay (R-Texas) cackling over House Republicans recently celebrating their majority status by considering changing House rules just to keep him around as their leader -- even if (or when) he gets indicted on felony charges for illegal corporate contributions and money laundering related to the 2002 Texas House races.

So where does this leave Democrats, who face another four years of being the minority party that moonlights as a doormat? After all, this time President Bush isn't restricted by fears of not being re-elected. Senator Kerry's failed bid at the presidency, was especially difficult to swallow given Bush's atrocious record over the last four years. It now feels as if all the Democratic Party has to show for their efforts is an egg facial and a painfully obvious identity crisis.

In his concession speech, Kerry suggested the next step for America is to "begin the healing." But it's difficult to imagine how anyone is supposed to begin healing as Republicans continue blaming gay people for unraveling the moral fabric of society while Democrats plead laryngitis on the sidelines of this major civil rights debate. What are they so afraid of? Morphing into flamers? It's mind-boggling why the party that claims civil rights as one of its staple issues can't seem to have a real discussion about gay marriage. Instead, a Bible magically appears and somebody starts pleading that marriage be spared from something so monstrous, so destructive that... that... well, that nobody seems able to put it to words. Why doesn't anybody just stand up and point out that heterosexuals are doing a fine job of destroying the institution of marriage on their own? That might actually lead to a real discussion on the real problems facing all committed couples. How did we get so far off base? Didn't we learn anything about discrimination from going through this hoohaw before with interracial marriage?

Actually, it's not so difficult to see how we got here. Fear goes a long way, especially when it surpasses paper and aluminum as the primary recycling campaign backed by your government. Fear also does funny things, such as make large numbers of people confuse Afghanistan with Iraq, or morality with discrimination. The willingness to submit to the powers that be in a time of panic reminds me of the time I got concussion after trying to impress a girl while snowboarding for the first time. Fear, like severe head trauma incurred from snowboarding on your face, can be temporarily eased by a guy in a green parka who will direct you to the snowmobile and escort you down the hill. Similarly, after the mighty blow of 9/11, along came George Bush riding in on his snowmobile, only to drive us all unconscious over a cliff.

The 9/11 attacks may have been three years ago, but the panic that took hold that day has been bled strategically into many others issues. What started off as a fear of the unknown driving the "war on terror" has morphed into a fear of all things not within reach of your armchair comfort zone. Now we need protection not just from terrorists but, according to President Bush, from gay people, immigrants and science in public schools. This is about the point when you'd think somebody would laugh at something this ludicrous sweeping across America. But the sobering reality is that scores of people who may not really be against those things are in line behind the Bush. And it's not in a show of unity, but pure mob fear.

Alas, the Democratic Party is lost. The reason it's lost is because it sucks at being the minority party. Democrats have become too scared to stand up for their core beliefs in the face of heavy opposition. We all sat back and watched Karl Rove orchestrate a mean-spirited but highly effective political campaign based largely on people's fear and misunderstanding of gay people. Meanwhile, Kerry's camp tried to take back some of those votes, not by railing against discrimination but by tapping into that same fear and misunderstanding. The mistake that cost Kerry was his failure to take the issue back from its awkward place within the Republican Party and make it palatable to everyone by talking about marriage for what it actually amounts to: love, partnership and legal security.

Gay marriage is a radical idea to many people. But if you think radicalism won't get you into the White House, you haven't been paying attention for the past four years. Considering Kerry's solid track record of supporting gay issues, the $69,000 question is whether he actually believes that gay relationships are somehow less than his relationship with his wife, or if he was trying to seem more like Republicans and obscure the issue. My guess it the latter. My guess is that most people thought so too. And if you happened to be one of those infamously undecided voters, why bother voting for a photocopy when the original is easier to read?

It's surprising how even some of the most liberal Democrats still hide out when it comes to talking about gay marriage. In Texas, the state representative for the very liberal, gay-friendly region of Austin last session conveniently slipped out of the House chamber when it was time to vote on the state's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which re-re-reclarifies that marriage is defined between a man and a woman. She, along with other select legislators, disappeared and then reappeared as soon as the vote was over. As something I personally witness on a regular basis, this is a common practice among legislators who don't want to go on record for a particular issue, for fear that that one vote could come back and haunt them in their next campaign.

It's always disappointing to see legislators puss out and leave the room during controversial votes. But it's even more of a letdown to see someone like state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, the voice of liberal Austin, too afraid to go on record against a bill that 1) bans gay people from getting married (even though it's already illegal -- duh) and 2) was clearly going to pass in the Republican-dominated Texas legislature anyway and would have been a vote on principle for Dukes.

I later discovered that, among the list of legislators who requested that a notation be put into the official House record that they would have voted against the DOMA bill had they not been absent, Dukes was not one of them. This discovery only confirms how much Dukes wants to steer clear of queers. When I voiced my dismay with this in a letter to Dukes' office, I was so excited to receive a personally written email back from Dukes' chief of staff that I nearly skipped right over the part where it said Dukes' absence on that vote was surely a mistake and that she is a firm supporter of gay rights. But why didn't I hear from her again when I wrote back that I actually watched Dukes get up and leave during the DOMA vote and come back as soon as voting was done?

Dukes recently gave another sign that she's tired of being on the losing team. Currently, Republican Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick (better known as CradDick) is knee-deep in alligators over the same ethics scandal as DeLay. But, like DeLay, CradDick acts as if he's above the law. Last month, he secured enough signatures from his House bitches to be Speaker again when the session begins in January. Since Republicans are the majority, there's no point for them not to support CradDick. As Speaker, it's within his power to hand out committee chairmanships as thank yous. You jerk him off, he'll jerk you off. But who wants to jerk someone off just to be left with blue balls? Representative Dukes does! She signed her name to the list of supporters endorsing CradDick, a man most Austinites would agree makes Darth Vader seem as harmless as a Teletubby. Given CradDick's unprecedented dismissal of House rules to meet his needs and his knack for turning the House chamber into a partisan war zone, let's just say the man's skills make him a better fit for a career in chew toy testing.

It's hard to watch the Blues that are still in the game turning Purple. Compromise is one thing, but it just doesn't sit right to see Democrats leaving their core principles and their constituents at the door to go after a piece of Republican ass. Where is the line when a politician has compromised too much? In Kerry's case, it's a wonder why high-profile Democrats can't seem to talk in real terms about something that should be their issue to champion, but instead led to their candidate's downfall. As for Dukes, it remains puzzling why one of the most liberal state representatives would offer her support to a leader who is not just a mean-spirited, partisan prick but one who will fuck her over (just as he slaughtered the minority party last session) and actively work to defeat her. Not to mention, she doesn't agree with him anyway. The kicker is that CradDick already had enough votes to be Speaker -- why would Dukes sign on when he didn't even need her vote? Maybe this is where she should have conveniently slipped out of the room.

This is where it starts to feel like seventh grade all over again: people jumping at the chance to hang out with the popular kids, even at the expense of a little dignity. Such is the case for the gay Republican, who takes on the Bugs Bunny ethic of, "Well Doc, if you can't beat 'em, I says join 'em!" But how a gay man can try to align himself with people who think his personal life is on par with a dog's and who subscribe to Jerry Falwell's belief that gay people are the reason why terrorists attacked America on 9/11 is beyond me. It's as if to say, Hey guys, if I pretend I don't stick my dick up my boyfriend's ass, will you let me hang out with you and talk about how cool it is that we're both fiscally conservative?

So get nice and cozy in your minority position, dear Democrats, because that just might be the way to regain some integrity and, more importantly, your identity. Yes, being the minority sucks. But we've got four more years of a too-lopsided government and jumping ship is not the solution. Push back. Rattle the weights a little, even if it's not going to tip the scale. We could use a serious dose of courageous opposition around here. If only the party would direct its collective mind to what is right instead of how to co-opt Republican power, we'd be in luck: that's exactly where the Democratic Party thrives.





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