I've been doing some more thinking on the outcome of the NY Senate marriage vote, and there are some important emerging themes I want to respond to. In a later piece, I will have some organizing questions I'd like your thoughts on re what to do better.
1. The "This is all the Democrats' fault" meme. I have heard this in a dozen places privately, and yesterday, Democratic Sen. Tom Duane, the openly gay lead sponsor, said this at the NYC rally to protest the vote:
"I'm angry at the betrayal of people who are supposed to be standing up for our civil rights," Duane proclaimed as the crowd cheered. "The Democrats failed us in the Senate."
I think there are two important things to differentiate here. One is the mathematics. Yes, more Democrats voting for the bill would have "given Republicans cover" to get onboard. There is near-universal agreement on this and I don't dispute it.
But the second, and thing I want to zero in on, is the political culpability, which is what I have a problem with. There cannot be straight "This is all the Democrats' fault" rhetoric coming out of this. Non-stop "Democrats suck" risks hatred for both parties, particularly for less political people who are don't get the process part of this, and that is not helpful to anyone. And we only got this far because of New York Democrats. Spitzer campaigned on a pledge to submit a marriage bill in 2006. Paterson has been one of the most public and loud voices in the state pushing for it in special session for months. He was the one who issued the executive order granting recognition to out-of-state couples. Shelly Silver, the Dem Assembly Speaker, brought it up for a vote and it passed with mostly Democratic votes in the Democratic Assembly. It would have never come up for a vote in a Republican Senate- in fact, when Republicans controlled the Senate and Bruno was Majority Leader, he refused to bring it up even after the Assembly passed it. Now that 75% of the Senate Dem Caucus voted for the bill, and 0% of the Republican Caucus did, it's suddenly time for "Democrats suck! They're all to blame!" rhetoric?
I understand the optics around how Democrats give cover to Republicans. But we would have never had a vote under Republican leadership in the first place. And there has been too much "it's all their fault!" talk and not enough about how 0 Republicans went for this bill. There are vulnerable gasbags on both sides of the aisle, and you have to tell that story for the sake of the people listening.
2. How "This is all the Democrats' fault" leads to misuse of resources. This kind of blame game makes people think the grand solution to this problem is to just channel every resource into primarying the 8 Democrats and our problems will go away. This single-minded focus is not wise.
There is a target-rich environment here. The 30 Republicans do not all come from R+26 districts. Our side has to target vulnerable Republicans and find candidates to beat them who will be with us on marriage even when 8 of their caucus colleagues are not. At the congressional level, we beat lots of Republicans in 2006 and 2008, and many of the Democrats in their place vote our way on tough votes, even when in marginal districts, and even when 30 Blue Dogs vote against. You have to go district by district, not party by party.
3. How "Democrats from New York City" should be treated. There is a lot of special anger reserved at the 6 Dems from NYC districts who voted no, because the assumption is that because they're from NYC, known as an LGBT mecca, they are monolithically pro-LGBT. I don't think that's right at all. I spoke to one NYC State Senator who voted no on the phone before the vote, who told me straight up, "Adam, I gotta tell you, African-American churches elected me to this seat, and I gotta worry about them." That pretty much tells you what is foremost on most politicians' mind.
Here in DC, Yvette Alexander and Marion Barry voted no on the marriage bill. I would never call them "Democrats from DC" and blindly expect them to be as progressive as they come. They come from Wards 7 and 8, which are 97% and 93% black, much more heavily religious, have the lowest incomes of any wards, the lowest percentage of people with college degrees of any wards. They do not exactly represent Dupont Circle or Chelsea or anything close to it, so I don't know why anyone would expect them- or NYC Dems from similar districts- to be automatically pro-marriage equality. Maybe it's those kinds of assumptions that led our leaders to think we had the votes when we didn't.
I don't excuse the NYC Dems' votes, and some of them should have voted yes, but my point is we need to think of Senators as Senators from a district, not from a giant city.