With Democrats like Ben Chandler, who needs Republicans? [The Arena]

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The amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill Ben Chandler [D-KY] voted for on July 7th reaffirming the Defense of Marriage Act served no legal purpose. It did not change the law of the land. It did not change Pentagon policy. It was not required in order for the Pentagon to get the money it needs from the larger appropriations bill. The only thing it did was allow a homophobic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to, as if it was necessary to do so yet again, put their bigotry on record.

Shame on him. And shame on the 18 other Democrats who voted with him and 229 Republicans in support of the amendment.

Now more than ever, the Democratic Party is in desperate need of leadership. It is in need of leaders who will defend its core values. It is in need of leaders who will stand for what is right in the long term rather than bowing to what seems expedient in the short term.

During the healthcare debate in 2009, Rep. Chandler explained to a small group of progressives that he had to tread ever so carefully on things like principles (well, he didn't actually put it that way...) because the Democratic electoral margin in his district is very narrow. This is no doubt also his rationale for supporting an anti-gay amendment that had no purpose other than to be anti-gay.

A strong leader, the kind of leader the Democratic Party has too few of these days, would take a Democratic stand. Rather than fear his constituents, he would would explain to them. He would teach them. He would lead. Rather than be afraid of far right wing Christian bigotry, strong leaders go to the mat to make the case that bigotry has no place in Christianity!

The Blue Dog strategy is for Democrats in close districts to move far enough right to win some Republican votes while being simply "better than the alternative" to their base and core constituency. But the lesson of 2010 was that Democrats cannot out-Republican Republicans. When they try, elections become questions of Republican vs Republican-Lite and that just is not a compelling reason for Democrats to leave work early and vote.

November 2012 is now less than 16 months away. The Obama campaign has already, for all intents and purposes, decided not to bother with Kentucky. So any Democratic enthusiasm for Ben Chandler in Lexington is really going to have to come from Ben Chandler. Here's hoping that between now and then he decides to give central Kentucky Democrats a better reason to vote for him than "he's not as bad as the other guy".

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