August 06, 2005

Open Letter to Sen. Bayh

This is an open letter to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), and is a bit of a follow-up to my previous post: "Evan, Bye." As with any of my posts, it should not be thought of as the majority opinion of the Sollicitudo Rei Socialis contributors. It's just my opinion.

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Dear Senator Bayh:

The Associated Press is reporting that you made comments about Democratic policies on national security and the general direction of the Democratic vision in Iowa on Thursday, August 4. At the end of one report, they quoted you as saying the following: "We've got a few voices out there who would be a little bit more on the fringe. Unfortunately, too often they define the entire party." I assume by this statement that you were referring to liberal Democrats, as opposed to the moderate Democrats represented by the organization that you're so strongly affiliated with, the Democratic Leadership Council.

I'm writing to you as a former liberal Democrat who has recently decided to leave the Democratic Party and join the Green Party precisely because of comments like the ones that you made on Thursday. As a liberal, as a former Democrat, and as an American voter, I am writing to you today to ask you not to run for President in 2008.

I don't know if you're aware of it, Senator, but you've been in the news a lot lately. Air America Radio's Rachel Maddow is describing you as the man who killed the Peace Corps, because of the amendment to a defense budget bill you cosponsored with Senator John McCain that would force the Peace Corps to affiliate with the U.S. military against its strong objections. You've also been in the news criticizing your own party's position on national security. Now, you're in the news referring to the liberal majority of the Democratic Party as "a little bit more on the fringe." While this may be great publicity for you among Republicans, I don't think most Democrats are pleased. If they wanted "Republican lite" for President, Senator Bayh, they would elect Senator Arlen Specter. They would be members of the Republican Party. They wouldn't be Democrats.

Let me tell you a little bit more about myself and my history with the Democratic Party, to give you a better idea of why I'm asking you not to run for President. I'm a 21-year-old gay liberal from a small town in Ohio, where it's anything but popular to be either gay or liberal. I've voted in every election since I reached voting age, and I've consistently voted for Democrats. I was involved in the 2004 primaries, and I favored candidates like former Senator John Edwards, Representative Dennis Kucinich, and former Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun. I did not favor candidates like Senator Joseph Lieberman or Representative Richard Gephardt, precisely because I believed that they would take the party in a moderate-to-conservative direction antithetical to the liberal values traditionally held by the Democratic Party. I was ambivalent when it came to the man who would eventually be the Democratic frontrunner, Senator John Kerry.

When it became clear that Senator Kerry would get the nomination, I threw all of my support and energy behind him. I attended campaign rallies. I volunteered at local phone banks. I proudly displayed a Kerry/Edwards '04 bumper sticker on my vehicle, and I often wore campaign buttons and other accessories to show my support. I was never wild about Senator Kerry, but I believed that he would take the country in a better direction than President Bush would. I believed that he was committed to the liberal values that the Democratic Party has traditionally committed itself to. Despite my reservations, I believed in him. I was very disappointed when, after all of my hard work for his campaign, he proved to me after losing the election that I had been right to hesitate in supporting him. As I'm sure you're well aware, after the election was over Senator Kerry came out in favor of a constitutional amendment in his home state of Massachusetts that would ban gay marriage, which is now legal thanks to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. In doing this, Senator Kerry basically thumbed his nose at all of his gay and lesbian supporters, many of whom had worked very hard during his presidential campaign.

Senator Kerry's betrayal contributed significantly to my decision to leave the Democratic Party behind for a party that is truly committed to liberal values, in season and out of season.

Like Senator Kerry's betrayal, your recent dismissal of those who are "a little bit more on the fringe" looks like a thumbing of the nose at some of the Democratic Party's most hardcore supporters. It looks like you're thumbing your nose at the liberal majority, while giving a wink and a nod to Democratic moderates like Senator Mary Landrieu and conservative Democrats who really should be Republicans like former Senator Zell Miller or Pennsylvania senatorial candidate Bob Casey, Jr. -- to the exclusion of the many Democrats who identify with more liberal voices like that of Senator Ted Kennedy or Senator Barbara Boxer. It sounds like you're being particularly critical of Democrats who don't support the Iraq War, like Representative Dennis Kucinich whose district in Ohio recently lost twenty soldiers in Iraq. And it sounds like you're saying that Democrats need to be more like Republicans on national security matters in order to get elected. In other words, it sounds like you're proposing a Democratic Party that should rename itself the "Republican Lite Party."

You have said recently that the American people don't trust Democrats on national security, and that Democrats need to show the American people that they're willing to use force. You cite poll numbers, although all of the recent polls show that the American people are fed up with the Republican use of force and what it's done to our national security. The Republicans aside, let me remind you what happens when the Democrats show the nation they're willing to use force. As I'm writing this, the world is observing the sixtieth anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, the unspeakable act committed by Democratic President Harry Truman. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are what happens when Democrats show the nation that they're willing to use force. The NATO bombing of Kosovo is what happens when Democrats show the nation that they're willing to use force. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which have made our nation more secure but both of which a significant number of Democratic representatives and senators voted to approve, are what happen when Democrats show the nation that they're willing to use force.

Democrats must now show the nation that they're not willing to use force, in clear contrast to President Bush and Senator Kerry, both of whom decided to use force against Iraq irresponsibly. Is a commitment to strict nonviolence the answer for the Democratic Party? I think it is, but maybe I'm wrong. At the very least, a commitment to responsible use of force is absolutely necessary. A repudiation of what has been done in Iraq is absolutely necessary. Taking the hawkish position of the Republican Party is not only politically stupid, it is also morally reprehensible. What has this war done for our national security, what has this war done for the security of the international community, and what has this war done for the security of Iraq? Across the board, the answer is that it has hurt worldwide security and increased the fervor of global terrorism.

Finally, Senator Bayh, I would like to remind you that there are more important things in life than getting elected. I realize that's probably difficult for you to remember as a politician. You may be right that adopting a more hawkish stance similar to that of the Republicans will help Democrats get elected, but it will also deal a devastating blow to liberal values and crush the voice of America's liberal tradition, which is rooted in the Constitution and our other founding documents. Are we really willing to betray our most valued principles in order to get elected? After the abominable presidency of Bill Clinton, and after the mediocre and unprincipled presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, I think the answer must be that we are emphatically unwilling to betray our principles. If we betray our principles, then all we'll have left is our politicians, and that is a very sad place to be.

I believe that you have betrayed the Democratic Party's liberal values, Senator Bayh, and that's why I'm asking you not to run for President in 2008. What the Democratic Party needs now is someone unambiguously committed to the liberal principles it has held dear for a very long time, not someone looking to crush them and replace them with principles that can only be described as "Republican lite." Even if such a person never gets elected, we will be far better off for having him or her as a leader than having someone who is willing to betray our principles for the sake of political gain in the White House. We have already been there and done that, Senator Bayh; it's time for new wine and new wineskins.

Nathan Nelson