Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Checking your creds

Finished reading Kos' book, Crashing the Gate over the weekend. Was struck by how hard he hits single-issue groups. It's a reprise of his post on the topic.
One of the key problems with the Democratic Party is that single issue groups have hijacked it for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend [sic] owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin'-cetera. We don't stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don't have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off.

So while Republicans focus on building an ideological foundation for their cause, we focus on checking off those boxes on the list. Check enough boxes, and you're a Democrat in good standing.

Problem is, abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party. Rather, things like a Right to Privacy are. And from a Right to Privacy certain things flow -- abortion rights, access to contraceptives, opposition to the Patriot Act, and freedom to worship the gods of our own choosing, or none at all.

Another example of a core Democratic principle -- equality under the law. And from that principle stem civil rights, gender equity, and gay rights. It's not that those individual issues aren't important, of course they are. It's just that they are just that -- individual issues. A party has to stand for something bigger than the sum of its parts.

We have confused groups that are natural allies of the Democratic Party for the party itself. And the party has ceded way too much power, way too much control, to those single issue groups.
He takes them to task for being too myopic to work collaboratively for a friendlier political environment that would lift their boats along with many others, too dogmatic about defending their turf to support any candidate not doctrinaire enough about their issue as they'd like.

Kos cites as one alternative the case of Dem. Governor Schweitzer in Montana. He won without being saddled with the baggage some single-issue group endorsements bring. He rejected requests to fill out the questionnaires by which they test a candidate's orthodoxy, and hence worthiness, to merit their endorsement and financial support.

The questionnaire approach reminds me of the tactics of some streetcorner evangelists. When they ask, "Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?" it's a trick question.

If you say no, they are going to try to save your soul (as an unbeliever, a waste of your time, presumably). And when Christians say yes, they still want to save your soul because you're not one of them, so they don't believe you. The encounter becomes a Twenty Questions-like game of "Flush out the Unbeliever." Answer in the affirmative and ...
Really, that's wonderful!
How did it happen? (Let's see if your alibi checks out.)
When did it happen? (You may be a backslider.)
Where do you go to church now? (If you're not one of ours, you still need saving; you're not doing it right.)
When were you Baptized? (If you don't remember, GOTCHA!)
And was it Total Immersion?
Rather than approving candidates based on similar "check box" orthodoxy, activists ought to be supporting candidates based upon who best represents their general principles and the common good, not through a pet cause litmus test. If we think being beholden to special interests is a bad thing, then it's also a bad thing when they're our special interests.

Principles are broader, more durable, and easier for the general, non-activist public to get behind. We just need to learn how to speak in terms of them.

Practice, practice.

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