A misfire by Senate liberals last month is more proof of the Democratic Party's political troubles heading into the midterm elections.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid couldn't muster a 60-vote supermajority to end a GOP-led filibuster of the defense appropriation bill Sept. 21. Democrats had tacked on three unrelated amendments that drew Republicans' opposition.
One would have repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals serving openly in the armed services. A second would have given legal status to millions of illegal immigrants through the DREAM Act, and a third ended a long-time ban on abortions at overseas military hospitals.
As Congress left town last Wednesday, most coverage went to the expiring Bush-era tax cuts that lawmakers opted to put off extending. But Democrats' failure to act on these three social issues shows their weakness, particularly when it comes to "don't ask, don't tell."
No politician wants to touch radioactive issues in an election year, but polls suggest that repealing the policy isn't radioactive. In fact, it's one of the least sensitive social issues Democrats could take on -- at least at first glance.
Leftists have scored a win in the court of public opinion by portraying the question as one of civil rights rather than of military effectiveness. Yet Congress still won't touch it before facing voters' at the polls, much to the chagrin of far left activists.
Even President Barack Obama, the most leftist chief executive in American history, has treated the issue with kid gloves. The administration made paltry efforts to pass the repeal in September, according to the pro-gay marriage Advocate.
"White House aides confirmed that Vice President Joseph Biden did make one call to GOP Senator Susan Collins on the day of the critical vote," the publication reported, "but the White House legislative affairs team did not have a visible presence on the Hill according to multiple accounts from people who lobby on the issue and Capitol Hill staffers."
John McCain is correct when he says the repeal effort amounts to "a cynical ploy to try and galvanize and energize their base." It would have accomplished that, but also served to reinvigorate the GOP's socially conservative base, sidelined this year by economic issues.
Sidestepping the abortion question is touchier politically, because polls consistently show that Americans oppose taxpayer-funded abortion. Although the amendment wouldn't have funded abortions directly, it would have bankrolled the facilities used to end unborn human life. If Democrats had pushed the issue, GOP candidates would have had fresh fodder to peg their opponents with the ominous designation of pro-taxpayer-funded abortion.
Even if Democrats had mounted a campaign to pass more hard-left legislation leading into October, it wouldn't have closed the enthusiasm gap. The reason, obviously, is that registered Democrats aren't eager to rally with the economy in the tank and general dissatisfaction with their elected leaders. Even if liberals approve of Obama's job in office, ask any if they wish he'd done more, and they'll say yes.
On the flip side, Republicans have every reason to vote, regardless of what Congress does or doesn't do in the waning hours of the election season. And the growing number of unaffiliated voters -- who tilt leftward on social issues -- are preoccupied with fiscal issues this year. They don't care if Republicans block a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" as long as the Party of Lincoln is willing to stem the tide of spending.
Look for Congress to take up the repeal in the lame duck session, when voters have already determined Congress' fate. Assuming Democrats reverse the policy, a big question is whether Republicans -- who are heading for a handy takeover of the House -- will spend any political capital reversing the reversal in 2011.
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