The Democratic Party disappoints me regularly. I expect it. I am a registered Democrat for reasons of pragmatism. My ideology is well to the left of the majority of the party and of any presidential candidate I anticipate in my lifetime, though part of me always hopes to be surprised. As examples, I offer the following: I support an immediate end to the 'War On Drugs' (more accurately described as the War On Drug Users We Do Not Like), a sweeping civil rights reform package that would make many cringe, not merely 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants but an undefended border with Mexico and theoretically free transit across the same on par with that we used to enjoy with Canada, and significant defense spending reforms combined with major foreign policy reforms. I agree with John Kerry that the 'Global War on Terror' (more accurately described in a plethora of unflattering ways, when one considers that we have classified dissidents seeking social, cultural and religious freedom in China, under the same kind of crushing monolithic rule we condemned when it was practiced in the USSR) is primarily an exercise in law enforcement, but I disagree with most 'mainstream' politicians in either party that the GWOT is, or should be, a 'war' at all. I know that the majority of the Democratic Party does not share those views and that the 'mainstream' politicians who lead the party share very view of them or share them but believe their achievement impossible.
While I try to vote for the candidate who agrees with my views in the party primaries, he rarely wins. Since registering as a Democrat, the candidates whom I have supported in primary candidacies have included Bill Bradley, Carol Moseley Braun, and Dennis Kucinich (though I flirted with Mike Gravel and believe Bill Richardson should have been designated for either Vice President or Secretary of State) and never had a genuine hope of seeing any of them nominated. I then vote for the nominee in the general election because they are always less objectionable to my principles than the Republican alternative. That said, I never expect to see a Democratic president for whom I voted fulfill my agenda. They are nearly always very clear about what their own agenda is, and I know even that is a gamble with Congress.
What I find strange is that others in the party do not appear to understand this. GBLT activists are always shocked when their agenda is not pushed with the vigor they believe it should be. Despite the fact that, except for a brief period during the candidacy and first term of President Clinton, it never has been by any Democratic presidential candidate or president. Feminists and minority interests are never satisfied with the level of diversity in government, even when no specific promises about diversity have been made. Every group within the Democratic Party is always surprised that the electable candidate they nominated and then elected with the help of independent voters and moderate Republicans does not satisfy all their desires in a president.
The strength of the Democratic Party is that, to some extent, it seeks to give all members of American society a voice in the party and the government. The weakness of the Democratic Party is that the number of ideologically liberal Americans who truly support all elements of the stated agenda of the Democratic Party is not what it should be. The reason that the Republican Party so often, with some accuracy, accuses the Democratic Party of advocating group rights rather than individual rights is that the Democratic Party attempts to balance the interests of its constituent factions in exactly the same way the Republican Party (which, likewise, lacks a unified majority of all-encompassing 'conservative' constituents and is every bit as much an advocate of 'group rights' as the Democratic Party) attempts to do so. The strength of the Democratic Party is that all of those factions have some part in shaping party policy, whereas Republican dissenting voices (the Log Cabin Republicans come glaringly to mind) frequently do not. The weakness is that those factions are less inclined to cooperate when they do not feel their interests align.
Much talk is made of the 'progressive agenda' by liberal Democrats and of the 'liberal agenda' by conservative Republicans, but such a unified agenda only exists in the labors of a cadre of devoted party activists and advocates and and a relatively small group of voters. The reality is that the GLBT platform, the feminist platform, the various minority platforms, and the labor platform of the Democratic Party are very different and sometimes in conflict. The liberal/progressive platform, which seeks to combine and advance the interests of all these constituents in some manner as a unifying philosophy is at odds with a conservative Blue Dog platform which is opposed to all of the party's member factions in some way. The interaction of all these member groups and the two philosophical agendas creates the final Democratic Party. It then attempts to be pro-GLBT, pro-feminist, pro-minority, pro-labor, liberal, and fiscally conservative all at once. This inevitably leads to disappointment.
Case in point: President-elect Barack Obama has invited Pastor Rick Warren (an emergent leader of a new, more economically progressive evangelical Christianity that is dissatisfied with the past alliance of evangelical leadership with a Republican Party frequently devoid of Christian compassion) to give an invocation at his inauguration and Pastor Warren has agreed. Pastor Warren donated money to advance, and spoke in favor of, the ballot success of California's contemptible constitutional amendment (Proposition 8) maliciously passed to deprive California citizens of rights the California Supreme Court determined they already possess under the state's constitution. Pastor Warren claims to believe in equal rights for the GBLT community and to support civil unions and domestic partnerships, but believes that marriage is a special sacrament set aside for male/female couples. This is not a rare belief among Christians, or among Jews or Muslims. President-elect Obama, in fact, is himself an evangelical Christian (though he belongs to a liberal wing of the faith) and believes the same and has made no secret of it. He did oppose Proposition 8 politically, because he believed the constitutional issue trumped his religious beliefs, but he is on record as saying many times over that he opposes gay marriage in favor of civil unions. Senator John Kerry said the same thing during his own candidacy for president.
The GLBT community and its spokespeople are up in arms as what they believe as betrayal by a president-elect they voted for and helped to elect. Claims have been made both by conservative and establishment liberal writers that there has been something of a wave of anti-religious and anti-black bigotry in the GLBT community in response to the success of Proposition 8 and that protests against Pastor Warren are an expression of the bigotry. Some of the comments I have read on the Huffington Post's blog bear that out. Many people who have refrained from such language about the president-elect have nevertheless addressed it toward Pastor Warren and expressed deep and personal hurt that the president-elect would invite him to participate in the inauguration ceremony.
I am in favor of complete equal rights for all American citizens regardless of sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, gender, or religion. I believe that, if marriage is a right as the Supreme Court upheld it to be in the case of interracial marriage, gays have the right to marry if they wish. I believe that Pastor Warren, President-elect Obama, and others who believe they can balance the question on the head of a pin and satisfy their religious conscience with opposition to gay marriage while trying to satisfy their social conscience with advocacy for 'separate but equal' civil unions are wrong. Worse, I believe they are philosophically wrong in believing that equal rights and prejudices inspired by religious dogmas can co-exist in such a fashion. It is roughly equivalent with supporting black voting rights while not wanting black neighbors. Sadly, there are people who feel this way. They must be engaged in vigorous debate and educated in the meaning of equality.
However, if gay marriage is one of our core values as liberals then we need to strongly advocate candidates who support gay marriage rather than voting for electable moderates and expecting them to receive our values with their votes. If we want the Democratic Party to be a liberal party then we must vote for liberal candidates. Otherwise, we must support the leaders we elect where we agree with them and debate them vigorously where we disagree.