New Optimism on Doing Things Right

If the trend looks bad—wait. If the trend changes in your favor, then you just might have what it takes to be a winner. And that seems to be the way events are going for the Democrats.

In December, this writer glumly speculated that Bush was poised to improve his popularity just as Mayor Michael Bloomberg had.


Bush kept repeating the same old thing, and now 47 percent in a recent Washington Post poll chose “strongly disapprove” in picking their assessment of the president’s job performance.

When it became widely known that the Democratic National Committee had late last year eliminated its gay desk and those for other “special groups,” there was speculation that the party was pulling away from queers over the marriage issue. Then Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold announced his unequivocal support for gay marriage at a time when his popularity was surging. He became the second presidential hopeful—Howard Dean in 2004 was the first—to make the LGBT community a visible part of his base. This isn’t merely good luck, it reflects the thoughtful efforts of shrewd Democrats.

Special praise this week should go to Family Pride, the Washington D.C. group that represents gay and lesbian parents. Queer visibility took a new turn when this organization urged these parents to bring their children to the White House Easter Egg Roll. On the annual civic follow up to this most religious holiday, Christian parents had the chance to see queer couples with their families. Laura Bush proved smarter than the Ancient Order of Hibernians who won’t let lesbians and gays march openly in their Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The first lady’s office kept the event on a first come, first serve basis and said all families would be welcome. LGBT families turned out wearing their rainbow colors.

Meanwhile Rosie O’Donnell’s Gay Family Cruise generated more stories and television coverage about gay and lesbian parents and their children. The growing proliferation of images of same-sex couples raising children stands as eloquent refutation of right-wing libels about homosexual promiscuity.

The nation is making its peace with the notion of gay marriage in two ways. In the liberal states, it appears that the supporters of gay marriage are growing while the opposition diminishes. New York’s gay lobby, the Empire State Pride Agenda, reports that the state was evenly split on same-sex marriage rights in 2004 but that this year a comfortable majority support it, while less than 40 percent are in opposition. Comparable trends have been recorded in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California.

There are signs that even in the red states voters are becoming tired of those who play politics with the issue. The Democratic governor of Virginia is opposing an amendment to the state Constitution barring marriage equality. The fear factor may be receding. There is a decline in the number of voters who believe homosexuals are trying to destroy the traditional family.

The Democrats and the LGBT community are paying more attention to religion. Gay rights groups are reaching out to the faith-based community. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is “confronting what the media presents as the political face of religion,” David Noble, the group’s political director, said in interview. NGLTF recently merged with the Institute for Welcoming Resources, an umbrella organization for Protestant congregations that welcome LGBT members. This joining of a secular and a faith-based organization will facilitate outreach. The Institute already includes 1,300 churches that welcome LGBT congregants, and both teams expect the merger will strengthen the organizing effort.

The biggest battle over privacy will take place in South Dakota—and not on the issue of gay rights. Right-wing extremists banned abortions but have hurt the Republican Party. The lone physician who was on the panel that drafted the new law has sharply criticized it saying the majority of his fellow members had their minds made up from the start. Pro-choice supporters are gathering signatures for a referendum overturning the new law. The state is part of the Republican base, one of the small states that in 2000 put George Bush over the top in the Electoral College even though he lost the popular vote. A voter repudiation of the abortion ban has the potential to be a huge victory for privacy and individual rights.

South Dakota has a reputation for being staunchly anti-abortion. If the referendum proves otherwise, it could be the beginning of the end for the movement that seeks to end women’s reproductive freedom.

The Democrats have stopped sitting back simply letting the Republicans make mistakes. They are attacking. The most successful initiative came from New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer. He scored a real coup when he forced the media to publicize the takeover by Dubai Ports of five major U.S. port operations. Suddenly the Democrats looked smarter and tougher on national security than the Republicans. In the meantime, the Democratic House Campaign Committee has increased the number of seats they are aggressively contesting to 50—if the party has a net gain of 15, it retakes the majority.

As Democrats reap gains from the war, high gasoline prices, and the prevailing Republican atmosphere of corruption and incompetence, it appears that the GOP is losing ownership of the moral values question. Democrats are starting to believe they can do something right.