The swiftly changing winds of Washington, D.C. today are making my head spin, but one theme begins to clearly emerge from all this: the Democratic Party is at a tipping point.
The background of all this is the dire prediction of Democratic defeat and loss of the House and Senate in the November midterm elections. Some pundits have suggested that a loss of 50 or more seats in the House are a distinct possibility.
That's if the Democratic Party does nothing and things stay exactly the way they were when the predictions were made, which is impossible.
The Democratic Party will, of course, take steps. There are basically two choices.
One: Move to the right to attract conservative independents.
Two: Move to the left to lock up its base, including the LGBT community, and motivate the first-time Obama voters to show up at the polls again in an unexciting midterm year.
Movement on immigration reform is a harbinger of choice number two. Putting aside the significant merits of the immigration issue, we must, as a community, throw all of our heart and weight behind immigration reform if we are to accomplish our agenda.
I should note that, in talking about The Democratic Party, it's not really a single entity, but a collection of individuals and groups with many differing interests. The Party's platform is persuasive but not binding. It's more like a lesson plan than a lesson, and how much gets learned depends on whether the rowdy kids are in class or not.
We all know that there are a few crucial swing votes on ENDA. We all know that DADT is in trouble, but that could be reversed with the stroke of a pen.
What makes politicians pay attention? The major focus today is, of course, the midterm elections and the prospects of losing control of the country. That would be a very, very serious blow for a lot of progressive issues of great import. It would essentially mean that the Obama Administration would get very, very little done during the next two years, and imperil President Obama's re-election.
The Administration and the Democratic Party were clearly charting a course right-ward after the winter break. That is text-book election behavior. Elections are won from the center, not the margins.
But these plans were upended by several unpredictable events.
It started with the health care reform, which was watered down and watered down, and was about to be broken up into several minor bills when Jared Polis and Chellie Pingree rescued it with a stab-in-the-dark effort at using the reconciliation procedure that surprisingly won the day. The Democrats started to recover their mojo after that. Winning breeds winners, and everybody likes a winner.
But things kept sliding right-ward, and they are still sliding that way...but less so more and more every day, and the playing field is starting to tilt to the left ever so slowly. But you don't need much of a tilt to slide everything to one side.
Then came the Tea Party to capture all the conservative independents. They've done that quite effectively, which is why you see all sorts of third party races going on. Conservative independents now have a third, much more comfortable choice than either Republicans or Democrats.
Then came the over-reaching Arizona immigration bill, a total game changer. Nobody likes our current immigration system, but changing it is going to be a bear because there are so many strong, contradictory feelings against illegal immigration but wanting to keep people who would make good citizens and the impossibility of removing all undocumented people. But the Arizona immigration bill galvanized the Latino community, and the civil rights community, and it's starting to galvanize the Democratic politico community.
And then came the BP oil spill disaster, which is galvanizing the environmentalist community and the Louisiana and other Southern shoreline communities.
The stars are lining up in a left-ward direction. Immigration reform, which was assumed to be election-year dead a few short weeks ago is now hot stuff. "Drill, baby, drill," which some Administration officials had started to chant, is trailing away. The right-ward drift there is also reversing.
And then comes ENDA and DADT repeal. Is it in the best interests of the Democratic Party to alienate the LGBT community, or to alienate conservative independents?
No Democrat in their right mind can be counting on conservative independents today to get them elected.
Not only will immigration reform move the Democratic Party to the left, it will also school political operatives in the palatability of leftward movement generally. It will show nervous Democratic incumbents that their only choice, really, is to keep to the left.
And that's good for us.