To Win, Democrats need to be Inclusive

I have a friend, a good Democrat, who is more than a little upset with Howard Dean at the moment. Dean is the former presidential candidate and new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. What raised her ire? It was this statement that Dean made to Democrats in Mississippi:

We are going to embrace pro-life Democrats because pro-life Democrats care about kids after they’re born, not just before they’re born.

Her concern is that the future Democratic Party will tilt away from supporting abortion rights. In a quest to win at any cost the party might not stand for its principles. She sees a future Democratic platform sounding more like a Republican platform, at least when it comes to abortion rights. To her anyone would try to legislate what a woman could do to her own body should not be part of the Democratic Party.

While I agree with her pro-choice position I disagree with her contention that only those who are pro-choice belong in the Democratic Party. As unpalatable as it may be for many Democrats, to regain power we need to be more inclusive. By acting insular we essentially isolate ourselves as a party. The Republicans are using it to great effect. They peel off single issue voters right and left. Pro-gun? The Republicans are not wishy washy on the issue: no gun control ever. Against gay marriage? They always will be too. Pro life? No Republican will make it into the White House anymore without being strongly opposed to abortion, including repealing Roe v. Wade.

But there are plenty of voters out there with strong feelings about issues like abortion who would otherwise be very accommodating to Democratic positions. We need to bring these people in, not turn them away at the gate. In other words Democrats need to be inclusive as we traditionally have been. If we value diversity then it is okay to be a party where we won’t see eye to eye on everything. That same pro-life voter might also be very environmental for largely the same reasons. Do we turn these citizens away because they want to take away a freedom that women have taken for granted? Or should we invite them in and be grateful that they are accommodating on many of our other issues?

I say bring them in. If they are against 8 out of 10 of the primary positions of the Democratic Party then perhaps we should encourage them to stay with the Republican Party. But if we can find a fair amount of common ground with these voters then we need to work on what we have in common rather than getting all upset about what divides us. As much as I hate the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, I sure don’t like the idea of our environment being increasingly fouled either. If we wait until we all share mostly the same ideology then the Democratic Party will be increasingly marginalized. We need a better strategy, which is why I favor inclusiveness and I like Howard Dean’s approach.

Our Democratic governor Mark Warner here in Virginia would probably appall many Democrats. Virginia is a conservative state that is getting only more conservative and more Republican. It was amazing that Warner got elected at all with our legislature in firm Republican hands now. How did Warner do it? I can assure you it was not by coming out in favor of gay marriage. To many Democrats, Warner looks and smells like a Republican. He is also for the death penalty, against gun control and has backed some new restrictions on abortion in the state. He connects with the NASCAR crowd. In spite of his success in the technology field he persuaded Virginians that he was a good ol’ boy. His campaign preached fiscal conservatism and pragmatic approaches to our problems as a Commonwealth. In short he reached across traditional party lines and brought in a lot of people who typically would lean Republican. These voters can be persuaded by a moderate Democratic candidate in touch with Virginia’s traditional conservative and some would say anal retentive values.

Had Warner run as a pro gay rights, pro-choice, vegetarian, anti-gun San Francisco liberal he would have lost decisively. But because he won things are much improved here in the Commonwealth. He exercised leadership where it was sorely lacking. Instead of tax cuts that the state could not afford in lean times he succeeded in getting a half-cent increase in the sales tax. We desperately needed the revenue. Our schools were dying from a thousand cuts. Our roads were not being maintained adequately and new road construction largely wasn’t happening. In short we needed someone to look out for the state instead of yet another ideologue in the governor’s office cutting taxes and services right and left. And Warner delivered. It’s true that on his tenure we now have yet another defense of marriage act that is truly reprehensible. But sadly that would have happened even if he had not been elected governor. But we also moved forward in a progressive fashion on many other things that mattered. And that does count for something.

Democrats need to wake up and smell the coffee. Inclusiveness will bring us power. Bill Clinton was not the ideal Democratic president. He was pro NAFTA and pro death penalty. But in hindsight he was far better than his successor. If someone like Mark Warner runs for the presidency in 2008 and wins we will have a sensible, moderate, middle of the road man in the White House. This beats the heck out of another right wing extreme conservative in the George W. Bush mold. And while someone like President Warner would likely appoint moderates to the courts, at least they wouldn’t be wacko right wing conservative judges.

So Dean is right. We need to be inclusive even if it hurts and scares us a bit. The game is to regain power. If we are not a whole lot more inclusive we can look forward to decades more of the Republican rule we are experiencing now. Democrats need to avoid their own ideological biases and be unafraid to embrace pragmatic, middle of the road candidates and solutions. Most people will vote for common sense candidates over extremes at either end.

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