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    Looking out for your interests

    Chris Crain at the Washington Blade has a lengthy post about Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s statement that he will not veto a near-comprehensive ban on legal recognition of gay partnerships if it passes the legislature:

    Not to worry, gay Virginians. You still have plenty of leverage here because Kaine is a Democrat and has aspirations to higher public office. Given the influence gay Democratic groups have within the party, pressure will surely be brought to bear on such an abject betrayal of an important constituency, not to mention the party’s historical commitment to civil rights.

    Enter Josh Israel, president of the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club, which endorsed Kaine’s election. Contacted by the Blade, Israel…well…he didn’t exactly call on Kaine to veto the amendment. In fact, he didn’t even ask Kaine to pressure the Senate to limit its scope. Instead, Israel begged (apparently from within Uncle Tom’s quarters at the plantation, since that term is being bandied about so much these days) the governor to at least make sure the ballot wording is fair.

    How’s that? The ballot wording? Why not call on him to oppose the measure? Because, according to Israel in a remarkable bit of Orwellian spin, “it’s not the governor endorsing this effort when he says he will send it to the ballot. It’s just the governor doing his job.”

    With gay rights activists like that, who needs party hacks?

    Still, even if gay Virginias [sic] are left unprotected by weak-kneed local leaders, they can be thankful there’s a nationwide organization of gay Democrats to put the screws to Kaine. Only…the National Stonewall Democrats were a bit too busy this week to notice what was happening across the Potomac from their Washington headquarters.

    Instead, they were pleasantly distracted by the goings on north of the nation’s capital, in Maryland, where Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich was introducing legislation that would allow gay and unmarried straight couples to sign an official government registry ensuring they can make medical decisions for each other in time of emergency.

    Just how did the National Stonewall Democrats react to a Republican governor in Maryland introducing legislation offering a modicum of legal recognition to gay couples, on the same week that the Democratic governor in Virginia said he would sign the broadest constitutional ban ever on legal recognition for gay couples? By attacking the Republican and not even mentioning the Democrat, of course.

    “A bridal registry at Target would offer same-sex couples more benefits than this watered-down, election-year ploy by Governor Ehrlich,” said Eric Stern, the Stonewall Dems’ E.D., in a press release issued Friday.

    Maybe so, but the Democrat in Richmond is poised to sign a ballot measure that would amend the state’s constitution to forever ban even a “watered-down” registry like the one proposed by Ehrlich, and it would probably take the bridal book at Target down with it.

    People are always asking me why, since I think about politics all the time, I’m not more active in any PACs or in my party. (I bet even my dear friends reading this forgot that I switched my registration to the GOP a few months ago, right? Of course, you did.) The main reason is, the moment discussions of politics veer off policy and into which senator’s aide’s back needs to be scratched to get X done, or why Congressman Y had to use this word instead of that word when responding to a question about a certain issue at this or that rubber-chicken banZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

    I know glad-handing is necessary. I know maneuvering is necessary. I’m also aware that a lot of people make ringing declarations of “principledness” that, in effect, mean they want to hold themselves aloof from the job of getting in there and figuring out how we can all live together in the real world without killing each other.

    But the major gay political organizations provide illustration after illustration of what happens when politicking becomes the end rather than the means. Jonathan Rauch’s National Journal article from last week discussed a similar problem with the Republicans:

    From 1981 through 1998, Republican reformers’ thinking was dominated by Dave Stockman (President Reagan’s first budget director) and Newt Gingrich (the reform-minded House speaker of 1995 to ’98). Both were movement politicians who believed that, by cutting spending, Republicans could build prosperity, tame Big Government, and win majority status.

    The trouble was that budget cuts brought short-term political backlashes that kept interrupting the program. Burned by President Clinton in 1995-96 and then spanked by voters in 1998, Republicans decided to reverse the sequence. First they would build a political machine; then, once safely entrenched, they would reform Social Security and Medicare, shrink government, and so on. The new course was set by DeLay and Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political strategist—both machine-builders par excellence.

    And so, under DeLay and Bush, the Republicans spent generously, even profusely, to build their base. The number of budgetary earmarks increased from 2,100 in 1998 to 14,000 in 2005, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. To disarm the Democrats, the Republicans gave up on reducing entitlement spending and instead dramatically increased it, notably with an expensive new prescription drug program. (According to Richard Kogan, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Republicans have added $540 billion to entitlement costs over the 2001-to-2011 period.) They cut taxes and spent heavily on the Iraq war and defense. (Real spending on defense and security has risen by more than 7 percent a year since 2001, Kogan says.)

    When, last year, DeLay blurted out that the budget had no fat left, he meant that it had no political fat, and he was right. Every dollar now served a constituent group in DeLay’s carefully built machine.

    Naturally, there are a lot of ways in which the cases aren’t analogous. The link I see is in the expediency-prioritizing operating procedure that involves playing the game to get ahead now and figuring you can revert to principle later. Maybe I’m just too trusting, but I find it hard to believe that most of the best-connected gay activists are just being cynical–that is, that they’re consciously using their positions to curry favor with the DNC and its more powerful local pols even if it means selling out gays in general. Their reasoning is probably that you can’t exert leverage you don’t have, and that building leverage means demonstrating a willingness to compromise.

    That’s true enough, but if you haven’t nailed down what it is you’re not going to compromise on, you end up without any leverage anyway, even if you’re invited to some pretty choice receptions. The organizations mentioned in the Blade entry are both Democratic, so you can’t fault them for being partisan. That’s their job. You can fault them for being both disingenuous and pathetic about it.

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