Kos gets this just right, I think:
One of the key problems with the Democratic Party is that single issue groups have hijacked it for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin'-cetera. We don't stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don't have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off.
So if nothing else, [NARAL's endorsement of Chafee] should add urgency to party efforts to find that elusive core philosophy that will help brand our party independent of those single-issue causes. A brand isn't built on the basis of a checklist. And we, as a party, need to stop thinking that way.
Why is it, exactly, that Democrats are slammed as the party of abortion and gay marriage while Republicans stroll along upholding "family values"? I mean this very seriously -- what dynamic has left us a party of issues and them a party of principles? Because that seems to underpin this whole discussion. An all-star array of normally level-headed folk -- I'm thinking here of my friend Matt Singer -- have reared back in horror when myself and a handful of others criticized a tactical move of NARAL's. Why?
Lindsay Beyerstein, in her fine post on the subject, makes a good point. Compromise is fine, but you need to know what you're compromising for. Let me invert that though: wedding yourself to interest groups is fine, but only if you know what you're getting out of it. The Republican party has made a clearly tactical decision to bear hug the Christian Right. They've decided that the negative press and legislative giveaways needed to get Dobson enmeshed in the party's fortunes were a fair trade trade for the votes he controls. For now, that seems to have been a bright move, though we'll see where they end up.
But the Democratic party is closely allied with a number of causes that give us nothing but a vague sense of moral superiority. Say what you will about their issues, but our interactions with NOW, NARAL, the ACLU, HRC, and a variety of other interest groups have afforded us no electoral benefit whatsoever. And yet, for some peculiar reason, criticism of them (I've gone after the ACLU and NARAL in the last few days, so I know of what I speak) is somehow considered out of bounds for a Democrat.
So I think, in fact, that we should follow Matt's protests of NARAL's independence to their logical extreme. Cut 'em loose. Indeed, cut the whole raft of hanger-ons and haranguers loose, let them drift their way and we'll drift ours. For too long, the Democratic party has relied on our alliances to articulate our principals. All our candidates show up for NARAL's debate, so we must be pro-choice. Most of our candidates show up for the NAACP's debate (and the few who don't get bitch-slapped and humiliated), so we must care about the black community. But the party can chart its own ideological course.