Hastyman expands upon Kevin Drum’s argument that the Democrats should play up gay rights issue as a wedge issue in the 2004 campaign but modifies it by saying, essentially, “just barely.” That is, they should take a position to the left of the Christian conservatives on this one–but just barely to the left–in order to make the Republicans seem like extremists on the issue:

Do you see the logic? By positioning the party barely to the left of the GOP, Clinton took away the middle from the Republicans. Sure, some of the old-guard Democrats were upset. But what were they going to do, vote for Bush and/or Dole? Of course not! End result: Clinton wins twice, handily. (Handily compared to 2000, at least.)

In fact, this strategy worked so well that the GOP used it in 2000. And, though they owe an assist to Ralph Nader and the US Supreme Court, you see what it got them.

So electoral politics has now become a game of reverse tic-tac-toe: the advantage belongs to the candidate who does not make the first move. Just position yourself slightly closer to the center than your opponent, then sit back and count the votes. Of course, this only works if your opponent makes his or her position known, which is always a political mistake.

I find the argument interesting, and have weighed in on it recently myself, also in response to Kevin’s ongoing advocacy of the position. Even Kevin has modified–or at least, clarified–has position, saying “it doesn’t have to be about gay marriage” but could rather focus on collateral issues like hospital visitation, survivor benefits, and the like.

Several things mitigate against this, in my mind.

  • On the presidential level, the election will almost certainly center on national security. I can’t imagine that many voters who would say to themselves, “You know, I really think Bush is more likely to keep me safe than ‘Democrat X,’ but doggone it I’d rather get blown up by terrorists than see gay partners denied government benefits. I’m voting Democrat!!”
  • There are only a handful of competitive House seats and only a fraction of those where a pro-gay candidate is going to have much traction to begin with. Further the candidates are going to be drawn from the district, so the Republican is likely going to be a “moderate” on the issue. Republicans running in San Francisco support gay rights, for example.
  • While Senate races are much more competitive, they are still essentially local races except in the largest states. That’s why we get Republicans like Olympia Snowe in Maine and Democrats like Zell Miller in Georgia. So, even if President Bush gets suckered into a doctrinaire position on gay rights, it isn’t going to have much effect on Congressional races.
  • Also, as I’ve noted on Kevin’s board, even if most Americans poll “tolerant” on the gay issue, my guess is that very few are activist on this issue. Indeed, if they were, politicians would already be tripping over themselves to offer all manner of pro-gay legislation. They’ve done that in San Francisco and a few other places where there is extensive pro-gay sympathy. There is much less clamoring for that in, say, Alabama.

So, for you Democrats out there, I encourage you to take up the banner of gay rights. Indeed, make that the defining issue in your campaign. And, please, show up at the first debate clad entirely in leather.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    Ok, I didn’t need that visual. Heh.

  2. John Lemon says:

    The commentary also ignores the role of the primaries, which will tend to pull the Democrats (and Republicans) towards the extremes to please the median voter in their core constituency. The only place where this doesn’t work is where there are open primaries. The closed primaries and caucuses are rather interesting in that they make you take positions that attempt to solidify your base but are also credible to win with in the general elections. This complicates the “gay issue” for the Democrats. If they want to make Drum’s strategy work, they need to ignore the gay issue in the primaries and just go to the left of the GOP in the general. Makes politics fun.

    And if leather will be the theme of the next Democratic debate, may I nominate Lucy Liu?