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    November 14, 2006

    Will Dems pick power over principle?

    Posted by: Chris

    Within hours of realizing they'd lost control of Congress in last week's elections, Republicans were talking about returning to their true principles.

    The party that came to power 12 years ago promising limited government had, under a Republican president, gotten into bed with sleazy lobbyists like Jack Abramoff and gone on a spending spree, racking up huge deficits.

    Worse yet, the party of so-called family values instead was home to a predatory closet case who trolled the Capitol for congressional pages. Once GOP leaders learned what Mark Foley was up to, they valued protecting his congressional seat over protecting the teens who work in Washington.

    As one conservative Richard Viguerie  put it, "When Tom DeLay and his bunch first ran, they campaigned against the cesspool in Washington. After a while they looked around and said, 'Hey, this isn't a cesspool, it's a hot tub.'"

    Because power became more important than policy, the Republicans failed to deliver for their core constituency — conservative Christian supporters — giving their issues lip service rather than legislation. Karl Rove and company called them crazy in private, and by the time they finally got around to voting on a federal marriage amendment, the family values crowd could see through the charade.

    So the so-called "values voters" credited with keeping George Bush in office two years ago weren't so willing to vote Republican this time around. Exit polls showed the Democrats did better than they have in years with evangelical Protestants and even beat out the GOP with Catholic voters.

    No one's saying the religious right has been born again Democrat, but when they could see their Republican champions were really just chumps, their loyalty crumbled and they acted more like other (rational, sane) voters and cast their ballots based on other (more important) issues than what's going on in their neighbor's bedroom — like, for example, the wayward war in Iraq.

    So after 12 years in the wilderness, it's the Democrats' turn again, and we'll learn soon enough whether power is more important than principle for them as well. Nancy Pelosi, the new House speaker, has announced a modest agenda for her "first 100 hours" in office that includes a minimum wage hike and congressional ethics reform.

    Among social causes, only stem cell research made the "Six in '06" pledge for the Democrats' first priority. No one expected gay rights legislation to make that list, especially Democrats who remember how gays in the military ended Bill Clinton's  honeymoon within weeks after he took office back in 1993.

    But we still should be watching for early signs of whether the Democrats decide they were elected to advance an agenda or only advance an agenda they think will get them re-elected. If the first week is is any indication, the forecast could be for stormy weather ahead.

    Legendary Democrat power broker James Carville is promoting Harold Ford, Jr., the Tennessee congressman who lost his bid for a Senate seat, to replace Howard Dean as the head of the party. Ford is young, African American and incredibly charismatic, and talks more about loving Jesus than Jerry Falwell does.

    To Carville, that means he's a star fund-raiser who can talk about "faith and values." Never mind that Ford's faith and values mean he takes positions earning dismal marks on the Human Rights Campaign's congressional scorecard, including support for federal and state amendments to ban gays from marrying.

    Meanwhile, Pelosi's first bold decision since becoming speaker-elect was to back another intra-party rebellion, this one by Iraq-war opponent John Murtha to be the next House majority leader instead of Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, the heir apparent for the position.

    Murtha makes Ford look like a liberal, and not only has a rotten record on gay rights, but is anti-choice and anti-gun control. Hoyer, on the other hand, is pro-choice, pro-gun control and scored perfect 100's from HRC the last three sessions of Congress.

    Even if the Dems don't lurch to the right with the likes of Ford and Murtha, HRC and other gay groups should keep the pressure on Democrats to remember the principles supposedly behind the party. Two gay rights bills — employment non-discrimination and hate crimes — already enjoy overwhelming public support. Getting them both through Congress and onto George Bush's desk should be a no-brainer, and happen sooner rather than later.

    And if the party really wants to prove itself to its core constituencies, it should remember during the coming debate on immigration reform that gay Americans have no rights, right now, to keep their loved ones in this country. Enacting the Uniting American Families Act, which has bipartisan and growing support, would speak volumes to voters that the Democrats aren't Republicans in sheep's clothing.



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