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COMMENTARY: A LESSON FOR DEMOCRATS The conservative media is arguing, as usual, that the Democrats lost the Presidential election because they were too liberal and too far to the left. So-called "moderate" democrats are going to make the same worn-out argument.

The argument is fallacious for many reasons. First, John Kerry did not run as a liberal; he tried to run as a "moderate," and in some cases he tried to go to the right of George W. Bush. Like every Democrat since LBJ, the Democrats have tried to distance themselves from liberalism and endorsed many conservative Republican positions.

There is much talk about "moral" issues, particularly gay marriage, as a reason for the Democratic defeats. However, neither Kerry nor the Democratic Party endorsed "gay marriage." In fact, Kerry emphasized that he agreed with Bush that gays should NOT be allowed to marry. (Another example of Democrats trying to blur the differences with Republicans.)

While the Republicans may have successfully used gay marriage as a wedge issue to motivate their conservative Christian Right base, it is not so clear that it was the main reason most voters supported Bush. Exit polls show that while a majority of voters opposed gay marriage, almost half supported "civil unions" for gay couples, a position endorsed by George W. Bush just before the election.

(I might point out that the Republican Party has attacked every Democrat who supports "civil unions" as enemies of marriage and family values. RNC Chair Ed Gillespie has said that civil unions are just another name for gay marriage.)

The real lesson of this election is that the Democratic Party has no clear identity. Most voters, like the Democratic Party itself, have no clue what they stand for. The lesson should be that when Democrats try to look and sound like Republicans, they usually lose. When people have a choice between an imitation and the real thing, they usually pick the real thing.

Two examples prove my point. Tom Daschle, former Democratic minority leader from South Dakota, distanced himself from liberals and Kerry and emphasized his affinity for President Bush. Daschle was a weak candidate and an extremely weak minority leader in congress. He lost. On the other hand, Illinois Senator-elect Barack Obama ran in Illinois as a progressive, with a vision and message that voters could embrace, against a right-wing conservative Republican, Alan Keyes. He won.

Here's another example of what is wrong with the Democratic Party--our own Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. What does he stand for? Does anyone know? I watch him speak and never can tell exactly. Before the election he took the same position as John Kerry that while he opposed gay marriage, he also opposed amending the Constitution to write discrimination into our sacred document. Then he switched his position and voted for the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment. In doing so, he went across party lines to vote with the radical right Republicans in congress! He took a position at odds with the Democratic Party platform and its Presidential candidate!

Perhaps the Democratic Party should follow the example of progressives like Barak Obama instead of the losing example of Republicrats like Tom Daschle.

(Jim Maynard is a Memphis gay activist who recently ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign against 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.)

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