In justifying running a liberal in a fairly conservative district, PZ brings up the fact that the Democrats should stop moving to the right, as this shifts the center to the right. What I’d like to see liberals emphasize more than the need to be moderate to win is the need to show that the gamut of political opinions doesn’t range from the Clintons to Brownback.
To wit, take gay rights. In Kingdom Coming, Goldberg notes that the rise of Dominionism has caused gay rights in the US to recede, with various initiatives removing equal protection from gays and the marriage amendment. But the marriage amendment merely codified an existing situation, in which gay couples have no right to marry, and the vast majority of states still protect gay rights. In fact in 2003 the Supreme Court finally struck down sodomy laws, representing a big stride forward.
And right now, if every gay rights issue came to a federal referendum, the US would have gays in the military, gay adoption, equal protection for gays, and civil unions.
The immense leftward shift on gay rights over the last 15 years has been caused precisely by the fact that gay rights organizations didn’t give a damn about looking moderate. The attorneys who argued the gay marriage case in Massachusetts didn’t stop to take polls; they went ahead to secure civil rights, and thereby legitimized single-sex marriage as a mainstream liberal position. It may have energized conservatives to be more anti-gay, but it also goaded the moderates to support civil unions, which up until 2001 were a fringe stance in the US.
Once in a while, it makes sense to sacrifice an agenda issue, especially in a radical change of circumstances. With the US 8 trillion dollars in debt, budget balancing is necessary, even though many leftists would rather run deficits. If the US were in a real war, even higher defense spending would be justifiable.
What isn’t justifiable is moving to the right just for the sake of winning. If you’re lucky, you’ll win one election and then lose the next unless you move to the right once again. If you’re not, enough people will ditch you that you’ll lose; the Democrats who deemphasize abortion, like Kos, fail to understand just how important the pro-choice vote is to the Democratic Party.
Going back to the issue PZ is talking about, evolution, it’s good for the Democrats to take the cause of science. The median American voter thinks the same things about evolution as she* did twenty years ago, despite an enormous PR campaign meant to legitimize creationism. If PZ Myers were given the same funding Bruce Chapman has, the US would be 3-to-1 evolutionist within 20 years.
The Democrats are letting petty issues like sexual harassment scandals distract them from the fact that they can win on issues. They can take the causes of immigration, gay rights, and evolution and use them as wedge issues against the Republicans. All it takes is for them to stop being afraid of their own shadows.
* Most American voters are female; hence the median American voter is always a she.