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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Monday, March 08, 2004


Dean's a Moderate After All

posted by Conan at Monday, March 08, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
Forgive me for ever intimating that Howard Dean was a liberal. Once again, he proves to be a master of compromise. This AP article (printed in the Boston Globe) reveals that in just four short years civil unions have become completely normative in Vermont:

Just four years ago, civil unions for gay couples were considered a positively radical idea. Now, they are almost an ordinary event in Vermont.

In fact, in some parts of the country, civil unions have become the moderate fallback position in the nation's growing debate over gay marriage.

Massachusetts politicians, including Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, have searched for a way to institute civil unions and thwart a ruling by the state's highest court granting gay couples the right to marry. Similarly, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry opposes gay marriage but would support civil unions.

And despite fears that former Gov. Howard Dean's signing of the Vermont civil unions law would doom him, it played little if any role in the collapse of his presidential campaign.

Vermont officials are amazed at the shift in political reality.

''Now our `radical' civil union thing is the compromise proposal for moderates,'' said Attorney General William Sorrell.

As a student in the humanities studying at a California university I get lots of chances to interact with the local gay community. Many students in my department are keen on gender studies, and in fact we all debated the civil unions issue in the car on the way to vote for me at the February 8 Dean delegate caucus (I lost).

It seems to me that there is no denying on an ethical and/or constitutional level that if straight couples are given marriage rights then gay couples ought to receive the same. But 38 states have now passed laws specifically prohibiting gay marriage, and that ought to worry gay marriage advocates for the simple reason that 38 states would be more than enough to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage forever. Meanwhile, states like New Jersey have quietly passed civil unions legislation recently without much publicity. In this case, perhaps a bird in the hand is worth two in the Bush (sic).

One friend suggested that what was needed was to get rid of the term "marriage" itself and refer to all couplings, whether gay or straight, as civil unions. This type of secularization would also be fine with me, but I suspect that the Judge Roy Moores of the world would have nothing of it. They would see it as just another attempt to distance our form of government from Christianity (which is exactly what it would be, and a jolly good thing too).

This is not to say that I am not proud of fellow SUNY New Paltz alumnus Mayor Jason West for his courageous stand on the issue and for seeking to push the envelope in the state of my birth ? it may be that in progressive states like New York and California a gay marriage law is in fact possible. When the gay marriages spread to Nyack, my home town, I was literally bursting with pride. But in the long run, it may be that these are localized phenomena rather than a national trend.

History may yet prove Dean to have been the most judicious in his understanding of the issue. This is not to say that the civil unions compromise represents absolute justice -- but it just may be the best way to avoid absolute injustice. To quote Michael Collins, "I won't go to war over the form of words."


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.