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    August 16, 2008

    Convention Preview: The Republicans

    Posted by: Kevin


    The Republicans will converge on Minneapolis barely a breath and a half after Barack Obama's stadium acceptance speech in Denver.  But the event beginning on September 1 will probably -and sadly- be predictable.  As with the Democrats, the Republican National Convention has evolved into an enormously irrelevant exercise beyond the likely debut of the vice-presidential pick, and the chance for John McCain to capture the attention of the American people (and actually hold it for more than a few minutes if he can manage to ditch his alarmingly wooden delivery from various primary victory nights). While McCain is not likely to physically bolt the convention hall for his one appearance before the delegates -- like Obama wisely will -- in his gut he probably will want to.

    McCain is just as likely as Obama to be more hurt than helped by the confab of his party's activists - probably a lot more.  In fact, despite waving signs with his name all over them, most of them loathe their nominee deep down for his middle-of-the-road views on many issues, and are thinking more of their desperate hopes to hang onto the White House than their real feelings. The GOP doesn't have superdelegates per se (although state party chairs and national committee members are guaranteed delegate status), but several states select delegates for the national convention in a similarly bizarre manner under state rules that were adopted to make sure that no matter who the nominee is, there would still be an overwhelming number of extreme-right conservatives in enough delegations to ensure that the party's platform will remain an enjoyable read in the original German.

    And that's another thing.  While the Democratic platform is a huge camouflage operation intended to hide the contempt that its party's base has for the rest of the country, the Republicans put all the hate and contempt and twisted ideas of their extremists right out on paper for the world to see - and for the hapless nominee to waste time trying to shake off like a piece of toilet paper glued to his shoe.

    The Democrats might pay lip service to gay rights now and then (although they decided to give up on the "g" word this year) without really caring at all about the issue as a national party, but the Republican conventioneers have cared a lot, a LOT, about gay rights since it started popping up at conventions in the 1980s.  Gay marriage, gays in the military, gay adoption, employment discrimination, partner benefits, even the rights of domestic partners in the District of Columbia, and gays in the Boy Scouts - you name it.  Gay rights is always in the GOP platform, in that the document usually reflects the abiding hatred that the religious right and its convention soldiers hold for any kind of progress we have made or might make in legal or political terms, written in often lurid ways that depart from the majority thinking of the American people.

    The evolution of the abortion issue is an interesting illustration of the horrendous shortcomings of the GOP Convention in ever reflecting the reality of American opinion, thanks to its delegate selection rules in most states.  While the American people might be queasy about unfettered abortion, they long ago closed ranks against a constitutional amendment abolishing it.  Yet, the Republican platform still trumpets an abortion plank out of the political dark ages, and if even a pro-choice Republican somehow win the nomination he or she'd have to stay away from that sacred plank or else.  The same attitude has encrusted around all things gay, despite polls which put public support as very high for lifting the military ban, very high for employment non-discrimination laws, and even heading upward for gay marriage.

    This has always put Republican advocates for gay rights (and movement to the center on abortion) in a tough position inside the party machine.  In my years on staff at Log Cabin Republicans, we always looked at taking on the platform somehow and even on years when we were blessed with scores of gay rights supporters in the state delegations -- even openly gay delegates -- and even with some state leaders ready to go to bat for us in platform committee meetings, the math was clearly never going to be remotely  with us.  No matter what the vast majority of Republican primary voters even believed, the delegate selection rules were cooked long ago.  Rudy Giuliani or William Weld could have won 100% of the vote in the Texas primary, for example, and the Texas delegation would still have been made up mostly of hateful activists aligned with the religious right movement.  In 1996, Bob Dole gave up on his effort to adjust the platform on social issues, and just quipped to a reporter that he didn't read the platform and didn't intend to.  I expect McCain will do the same, whether he says so or not.

    I spoke with a number of Log Cabin activists in the past few weeks, and I saw a remarkable level of focus around the realities of the 2008 election campaign.  It's not the hopeless 2004 election, but it's also not the idealistic 2000 campaign either, where Bush had a public meeting with gays and said he was "a better man" for it.  One longtime member was very direct. He said the gay community is kidding itself if it thinks the gay vote will make a difference one way or the other: 

    "Look at the 2004 vote - with [Log Cabin] openly against Bush, and the gay Democrats in full attack with their vote-or-die scenarios, the vote was still about the same as in 2000.  Bush still got 20 to 25 percent of the gay vote.  And Kerry's gay vote didn't make a difference one way or the other.  So this isn't about kidding ourselves that gays matter to either party.  It's about whether gays are positioned to have an impact on the next administration whoever wins."

    That jarred me.  To me, this was a departure from the idealism we come to expect from political activists.  At least, the way gay Democrats talk about the need for a virtual one-party regime as a matter of life and death, you'd expect some kind of idealistic thought to motivate the gay political leaders of today.  But what I heard from a number of gay Republicans I talked to this month was consistent: Log Cabin's endorsement isn't about getting gay votes, or about promoting a set of gay rights legislation.  The gay GOP vote will be there no matter what, and the legislative goals will be dictated by the Democrats (if they care to even talk about them).  In 2008, it's a question of having a chance to impact a McCain Administration, or being on the outs (as it has been the last four years with the current one) at a time when the so-called leading groups, like the Human Rights Campaign, are in the GOP freezer in just about every corner of the nation and will stay there for years to come.

    I remember that the hope, back in the formative 1990s, was that Log Cabin would be able to raise the bar every four years and slowly leverage public opinion and moderate voters to pressure Republican candidates to go further than the last one.  As another gay Republican leader told me last week, gay marriage has landed on that vision like a bomb, both for bad and for good.  It led to a permanent break between Log Cabin and the Bush Administration, and from that moment on things largely collapsed after some promising developments in the first two years.  And in just the past four years, the bar on gay rights has been raised so high -- especially after the arrival of gay marriage in California -- that the incrementalist path and the various legislative vehicles for traveling down it (ENDA, the federal hate crimes law, etc.) must be totally reviewed and adapted for the new reality.  I agree with that notion -- and I think it also can be seen on the somewhat panicked faces of many national Democrats looking at California and wondering what it will lead to.

    One thing I'll give the Log Cabiners credit for -- they have a grip on reality.  Their party's convention and much of its base activists form the center of opposition to gay progress, and yet they are still marching into that convention hall, have a history with McCain, they are going to declare a set of goals before the election, and they're going to make themselves accountable for them after it.  They are going to try to collect political capital, even if it is pocket change, and they are going to spend it all.

    Say what you want about gay Republicans, but despite the enormous difference in atmosphere in their own party, I don't see one single gay Democratic organization -- de facto or de jure -- doing the same for this election cycle.  Perhaps the experience of promising a rainbow revolution with a Democratic Congress, only to see it pop like a balloon in practice the last two years, has jarred them about overpromising.   But are things that bad behind the Wizard's curtain that they can't make any set of public goals at all?  Have they no political capital at all to spend, even in 2008?

    I don't want to believe that the gay Democrats are all hot air -- I know and admire many of their leading lights, and know many to be serious people.  Why are they allergic to clear, public goals on gay issues and accountability for them?  If Log Cabin - with all the limits and challenges they face - can be sanguine about their endorsement process and their role in the big picture, albeit small, why can't there be some outside group of gay Democrats (like HRC) who set forth a clear agenda that they intend to carry out in an Obama presidency?

    After the hundreds of millions of gay dollars raised and spent over the last 20 odd years of this stuff, it would be a horrendously depressing conclusion if all it has bought us is a gay Democratic establishment that, behind the expensive glitter, exists only by the permission and good humor of its party's leaders, and a small gay Republican insurgency, battered as it is, which would be the only channel of information for a GOP administration that itself would be a minefield whether the Oval Office was inhabited by a friendly face or not.

    Let's see.

    [Photo from The Simpsons (Fox).  Note:  Sorry this is a day late, but we had an internet outage in our building last night. -K]



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    1. North Dallas Thirty on Aug 16, 2008 1:31:59 PM:

      I don't want to believe that the gay Democrats are all hot air -- I know and admire many of their leading lights, and know many to be serious people. Why are they allergic to clear, public goals on gay issues and accountability for them?

      Two words: "Donald Hitchcock". In that case, the cost of holding people accountable was clearly revealed: loss of job, loss of money, discrimination by the party head, and gleeful savaging by your fellow gay Democrats.

      In contrast, LCR's attitude is an example of the old adage that the most intrepid revolutionary is one who has a fear greater than anything his foes can inflict upon him. The greatest pain the gay community can inflict is social ostracism and hate speech; having been regularly exposed to both, the vast majority of gay Republicans are no longer fearful of either, and thus are not particularly concerned that they might be exposed to both in the process of holding their party accountable.

      In short, gay Democrats are so afraid of being excluded and abused that they will give up every principle to avoid either; gay Republicans already have survived exclusion and abuse by their own community, and thus are much less willing to give up principles.

    1. Gee on Aug 18, 2008 12:19:50 PM:

      The Democratic party and its leaders are very rational and respectful re: gay people. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talk about gay issues and acknowledge that we exist and deserve respect. What a difference just that alone makes.
      It sets an example and raises consciousness among the American people.

      The GOP leaders on the other hand speak about us in hushed tones or not at all. The message the American people hear from them is loud and clear.

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