The cool thing about Eastside Republican Sen. Bill Finkbeiner's decision to support Seattle Rep. Ed Murray's gay rights bill is this: The legislature will pass the bill, and it will force the Democrats to come up with some new issues. Honestly, besides being pro-gay and pro-choice, I can't tell you what Democrats stand for.
Republicans? They're for fewer taxes, more personal responsibility, and smaller government—bumper-sticker themes that allow them to cynically rewrite the tax code in favor of the rich, diminish corporate accountability, and renege on public education.
Does the Democratic Party have themes to help them combat the Republicans? Not that I can tell. Quick: What did candidate Christine Gregoire run on in 2004? Stumped? I'll give you a hint. It was the vague, ultimately meaningless sort of pseudo-issue that a political party, lost, feeling around in the dark, is forced to settle on. Check it out: Jobs! (No wonder she almost lost a solidly blue state.) Jobs? Please. Dino Rossi wasn't for jobs? Naturally he was, and so it was not a successful way for Gregoire to differentiate herself from Rossi.
Oh, but lucky for Gregoire, Rossi was also anti–gay rights and pro-life. That's the most Democratic voters could probably tell you about the race—and that's about all they needed to know about it. Bottom line: Those cultural issues made Gregoire the better choice for Democrats. But in the long run it hurt the Democratic Party because it prevented Democrats from having to outline a core message.
Pro-choice and pro–gay rights—that's what saves Democrats every time. The Democrats: the Pro-Fucking Party. Seriously people, the Democrats need some new issues. I'm all for gay rights (and fucking), but with Eastside Republican Finkbeiner signing off on Murray's gay rights bill, the Democrats have gotten a rude but necessary wake up call. Democrats don't have an identity anymore.
Sure, just like you, I can run through a list of issues that distinguish Democrats from Republicans. Democrats are for a legal system that protects consumers and workers; Democrats are for mass transit over roads; Democrats are for synching up our economy with Green principles and for strong environmental protections; Democrats are for expanding stem-cell research; Democrats are for getting at the root cause of crime rather than simply getting tough on criminals; and Seattle Democrats, a lot of them, are probably for legalizing drugs. But none of these issues work as a symbolic common denominator for the party the way gay rights has. Gay rights has been shorthand for open-minded, progressive, fair, and well, the opposite of those uptight, square Republicans.
But as more uptight, square Republicans come to agree with Democrats on the issue, Democratic candidates will be left without a trump card to cover for their identity problem. Whether Finkbeiner knows it or not, in giving the Democrats their gay rights bill, he's also given them a problem. Let's see if they can deal with it.