[The Democrats] also need to start defusing deadly cultural and "moral" issues that have been so effective for the Republicans. And they need to be sly about it.
For instance, a lot of Democrats would like to see gay marriage or at least civil gay unions passed into law. This is a matter of equity, since gay partners can't even get into a hospital to see an ill partner because hospitals limit visits to close family.
This issue scares the bejesus out of the red states.
But if Democrats were sly, there is a way out. The Baptist southern presidential candidate should start a campaign to get the goddamn Federal government out of the marriage business. It has to be framed that way. Marriage should be a faith-based institution and we should turn it over to the churches. If someone doesn't want to be married in a church, then the Federal government can offer them a legal civil contract (this is a better name for it than civil union). That's not a marriage and the candidate could solemnly observe that they are taking their salvation in their own hands if they go that route, but that is their business. But marriage is sacred and the churches should be in charge of it.
If you succeeded in getting the Federal government out of the marriage business, then the whole issue would collapse on the Republicans. You appeal to populist sentiments against the Feds and to the long Baptist tradition of support for the US first amendment enshrining separation of religion and state.
But the final result would be to depoliticize gay marriage, because the Federal government wouldn't be the arena for arguing about it. The Federal government could offer gays the same civil contract status as it offers straight people who want to shack up legally but without the sanction of a church. As for gays who wanted a church marriage, that would be between them and their church (remember, the Federal government is not in the business, but would go on recognizing church-performed marriages as equivalent legally to the Federal civil contract). The Unitarian Universalists could arrange it for them. The red states' populations can be hostile to the UUists all they like, it wouldn't translate into a victory at the polls for a Republican president.
The final outcome would be both more progressive (the Federal government should not in fact be solemnizing a religioius ceremony like marriage) and also advantageous to the Democrats, and it would leave gays actually better off.
There are other such strategies that could be adopted. But it seems clear. In 2008, the Democrats have to find a way to get back a couple of big red states. They can't do that unless they find canny ways to defuse the cultural issues the Republicans have been deploying so effectively.
This is a perfect example of the kind of thing the Republicans have done to us. Use of language, hot issues, and referendums. Turn it around on 'em. What religious chump would argue with "strengthening the church?" this plan's so crazy it just might work!
Before getting into the gay marriage thing, Juan Cole analyzes who wins Presidential races for the Dems and surmises we need to find "a southern governor with a southern accent who is a Baptist" to run for President. I'm not sure that's 100% true or who that "dream candidate" might be, but I agree with Prof. Cole, her name isn't Hillary.
* Oh, and the smartest person in Ann Arbor? Not me. I'm an idiot. But my wife's pretty damn sharp.