A group called Faith 2 Action is rallying the troops to shoot down the hate crime extension bill coming before the Senate, possibly as early as June 15. It’s sending packets to senators urging them to defeat the bill on the grounds of free speech, even though the bill only adds time to sentences handed down for violent crimes. The mailing contains a mugshot, fingerprints, a picture of cuffed hands, and the headline “Don’t Make Me A Criminal.”
Jane Folger of the ministry Faith 2 Action says the hate crimes bill passed by the House is aimed at pastors or anyone else who has the “audacity” to disagree with the homosexual agenda. “Mike is standing at a football bar, or he’s standing at a restaurant, watching a game,” she posits; “Bruce comes out of the restroom, and he’s touching up his makeup. He’s a cross-dresser with red nails and a five o’clock shadow. He comes out and hits on Mike. Maybe he puts his arm around him or maybe he brushes or puts his hand through his hair.
If you ever wondered why they call it homophobia, now you have an idea. What’s next, a congressional mailing of coloring books illustrating the horrors of marriage equality?
It’s beyond galling for those of us who actually believe in the First Amendment—even for hate speech—to hear it eulogized by those who gave up even their lip-service to it after 9/11, at about the same time that Ari Fleischer warned “watch what you do, watch what you say.”
Those in Congress who warn ominously of thought crimes had no trouble retroactively legalizing the administration’s illegal wholesale spying on Americans’ telephone conversations and emails—activities which are not exactly conducive to the free and open expression of thoughts. “If you haven’t done anything wrong,” Bush apologists blandly assert, “you have nothing to fear.” Free speech and privacy, as rights and goods in and of themselves, count as nothing.
How many Republicans who are now making impassioned arguments defending free speech came to the defense of the Dixie Chicks when their CDs were being pitched into bonfires and Clear Channel put them on a no-play list? How many work tirelessly to get “inappropriate” books off library shelves?
How many seconds pass before Bill O’Reilly tells an opponent to shut up and/or cuts her mic?
More importantly, how many movement conservatives protesting the new hate crime bill on free speech grounds heckled, harassed, and shouted down anyone who had the temerity to point out the administration’s transparent lies as we marched into Iraq? Free speech doesn’t mean much when you can’t be heard. Or seen—how many objected to the creation of “free speech zones” that pen peaceful demonstrators far from the person or place they’re protesting?
Far from believing in an equal, open exchange of ideas, the religious and political right believe very strongly that they have a lock on absolute truth; they disparage intellectual humility, tolerance, and evidence-based decision-making as “moral relativism.” These attitudes have eroded public support for all human rights, not just the right to free speech.
Most notable in that regard is the Bush administration’s notion of the unitary executive, which gives the president unprecedented power to declare citizens “enemy combatants” and strip them of all rights, including the right to physical safety—the ultimate penalty enhancement. During a recent debate among Republican presidential candidates, every one of them, with the honorable exception of Representative Ron Paul, eagerly endorsed the Guantanamo detention center and the torturing of suspects.
The audience’s thunderous applause was chilling. Cruelty has become anonymous, sanitized: respectable.
The other argument conservatives make against penalty enhancements is that they undermine the concept of equal protection under the law. According to this thinking, it would be un-American to add an additional terrorist penalty to the sentences of abortion clinic bombers, for example—and as far as I know, no pro-life murderers have had such a penalty added to their sentences.
Yet when Judge James Cohn handed down a five-year sentence for Stephen Jordi for attempted fire-bombing of a reproductive health clinic, he added, “I have grave concerns regarding the future dangerousness of Mr. Jordi.” The prosecution argued that the remorseless Jordi should be sentenced as a terrorist, which would have doubled his sentence, but Cohn argued that under the law domestic acts could not be considered terrorism.
Unfortunately, Cohn’s legal scruples have not prevented an Oregon judge from sentencing two eco-activists as terrorists recently. This is the natural outcome of an FBI decision to designate environmental and animal rights activists as the leading domestic terrorist threats, in spite of the fact that there has never been a life lost in any action taken by those groups. Unlike abortion clinic bombers, environmental and animal activists have made the preservation of human life a priority.
Yet there has been no outcry from conservatives against this dangerously broad use of penalty enhancements. As with their new-found passion for free speech, the right’s support for equal protection in sentencing seems partisan at best.
Which is not to say that hate speech is harmless. Far from it. Recently Eric Rudolph, who exploded a nail-packed bomb outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham, Alabama, made the news on this very subject. Rudolph made a deal to avoid the death penalty and is now using his constitutionally-protected free speech to taunt one of his victims, nurse Emily Lyons, from his prison cell. (Be forewarned, this link contains extremely disturbing photos showing what Emily, a mother of two, has suffered from Rudolph’s vicious attack, including the loss of one eye.)
On a website set up by an Army of God admirer, Rudolph
recalls how Emily Lyons, in court, described the pain of her injuries and made an obscene gesture at Rudolph as she showed off a finger mangled by the blast. Rudolph writes: “It was a great speech and one that the denizens of freedom should be proud to enshrine in a museum somewhere. Perhaps they could put it next to MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream.’ They could call it ‘I Have a Middle Finger.’”
Rudolph also bombed a gay bar.
Jeff Lyons, Emily’s husband, worries that Rudolph, who is considered a “Hero of God” among anti-abortion fanatics, might incite further violence from his jail cell. It is certainly possible. And yet there’s no way to constrain Eric Rudolph’s free speech rights without compromising free speech for everyone.
I believe it would be both wrong and futile to try to solve the problem of rising hate by curtailing speech. But it would also be wrong—and dangerous—not to address the problem at all. Adding time to the sentences of criminals convicted of violently assaulting strangers simply because they are gay, or black, or work in an abortion clinic, is an eminently reasonable way to discourage further violence against vulnerable minorities while at the same time protecting free speech rights.
In other words, I support this extension of hate crime coverage precisely because of the value I put on the First Amendment. Penalty enhancements allow us, as a society, to take a stand against radical intolerance at the point where vicious words escalate into beatings, cross-burnings, and bombings.
In the words of Dr. King, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
Patriarchy: The Next Generation
What’s the opposite of patriarchy? Hint: it’s not matriarchy. The answer is equality.
That’s the way it’s always been. Whenever some oppressed group manages to obtain a measure of equal justice under the law, the retrograde forces immediately go to work to limit the damage to entrenched privilege and, if possible, roll back the gains.
Consider the Fourteenth Amendment, passed after the Civil War to insure that black people would never be forced back into slavery.
The abolitionist and universal suffrage movements had worked hand in hand up to that point. But in a tactic that carries down to our own day, the amendment was interpreted as narrowly as possibly, extending (theoretical) voting rights to black males only and leaving black and white women to fight on into the next century.
Way back then, the Bible said the woman is subject to the man. The Bible’s still saying it, but in our day, thank god, it’s not also the law of the land.
It also says spare the rod and spoil the child. How far could a biblical patriarch go? Leviticus gives him authority to stone a kid who mouths off. Also illegal now, luckily for me.
These days the Bible says that lying with a man as with a woman is an abomination, a theme that is being taken up by some black preachers who declare that the Bible is the final word on the subject, case closed. Homosexuality is wrong, wrong, wrong. And yet we don’t hear anything from these preachers about all those passages, in both the Old and New Testaments—many more than those prohibiting gay sex—where slaves are ordered to obey their masters. No more slavery, but those passages are still in the unchanging, absolutely infallible, timeless Good Book.
The Bible is, among other things, a historical document that endorses slavery as an institution, just as it accepts the radical subjugation of women and children to men. Women and children were property, and biblical patriarchs could dispose of them any way they saw fit, up to and including putting them to death. But we only seem to notice those passages that have to do with preventing new groups from achieving equal status. Once the culture has assimilated the change, Bible passages arguing against equality become dormant for most people.
This selective biblical amnesia has prompted a gay man named Mitchell Gold to start a national campaign to educate people about the way the Bible has been used to support bigotry throughout history.
Although many churches are participating in Gold’s campaign, some black preachers see it as an unfair attempt to equalize the sufferings of blacks and gays. Consider this comment by the Reverend Keith Ratliff of the Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa, where the campaign kicked off:
Even though there have been hate crimes against homosexuals, which is wrong, and discrimination against homosexuals, which is wrong, in my opinion the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement are not parallel.
Reverend Ratliff apparently feels that the push for gay equality somehow takes away from the monumental struggle and achievements of the black civil rights movement, but nothing could be further from the truth—or further from the soul of the civil rights movement. It was Dr. King who said, “<Injustice anywhere threatens the cause of justice everywhere.”
In my opinion, Rev. Ratliff would be better off if he stopped worrying about who’s suffered more—is that a contest anyone wants to win?—and concentrated instead on the fact that the same warped idea of equal protection is being used against both people of color and queers. This warping began almost as soon as the Fourteenth Amendment became law, when railroad robber barons were successful in using it to argue that corporations are legal persons, who therefore deserve all the constitutional rights belonging to living, breathing human beings—a ruling that’s helped make corporations first among equals for the past century and a half.
Because of that upside-down ruling, the amendment became a vehicle for protecting entrenched privilege rather than fulfilling its original intent of remedying injustice, and it’s still happening.
Conservatives on the Rehnquist Court used equal protection, of all things, to argue that counting votes in Florida in 2000 damaged George W. Bush’s interests. As for the interests of the thousands upon thousands of voters, many of them minorities, whose votes were tossed out like garbage, the Court said there is no constitutional mention of the individual vote. That’s just a custom.
In the same way, marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution is merely customary—it’s never needed to be written down. That’s why states are scrambling to amend their constitutions to explicitly confine marriage to one man and one woman. The difference is that arguing against voting rights, as the Court’s conservative majority did, benefits only the powerful few, while challenging the custom of exclusively heterosexual marriage legitimizes gay relationships that have always existed and are equally deserving of respect.
In fact, the institution of marriage has been evolving for hundreds and hundreds of years, away from the days when a father could sell his daughters and buy all the wives he could afford; when a husband could sign a recalcitrant wife over to an insane asylum just on his say-so; when a wife who left her husband for any reason lost all claim to her children; when married women could not own anything in their own right.
Within our own lifetimes, the birth control pill, legalized abortion, feminism, and no-fault divorce have moved the institution toward much greater equality. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s upsetting to some who have lived their lives according to the old rules of patriarchal marriage, where the father has more status and decision-making authority, if not intrinsic worth, than mother and children.
These traditionalists argue that same-sex marriages can never be equal to heterosexual marriage because only men and women can have children. Since people have children without marriage, and marriage without children, I would argue that what is and always has been of concern is establishing paternity.
In that sense, abortion and same-sex marriage present exactly the same threat to marriage understood as an institution for establishing paternity and passing on paternalistic values.
The Roberts Court’s recent upholding of a federal ban on late-term abortions without exceptions for the health of the mother—in contravention of settled precedent—confirms what many of us have long suspected: when it comes down to a choice between the actual life of the mother and the potential individuality of a fetus, the right wing chooses the proto-human fetus, hands down. And the reason is basic: the mother shares no genetic material with the father while the fetus shares half. In other words, the fetus is part of the father, but the mother is not.
So when social conservatives wail that gay marriage will destroy the institution, I guess I have to agree. Marriage equality really could go a long way toward dooming marriage as a patriarchal institution. The more images of legally-sanctioned equal relationships that we see in our society, the less attractive unequal relationships are likely to become.
The American electorate is looking more and more like the polar bear stranded on a shrinking ice floe—still powerful but with democracy melting out from under our feet. Unlike the polar bear, however, we should be able to analyze our situation and take action. The first thing we have to do is accept that certain familiar features of our habitat, which we have depended on in the past, are just gone.
We now have more media outlets than ever before, but their mission seems to be to drown out any molecule of truth. And our inter-dependent voting and justice systems have been reduced to slivers of their former selves.
For example, as time has gone by, the true significance of the Supreme Court’s selection of George W. Bush as president has become more and more painfully clear, in spite of efforts on the part of the media and across the political spectrum to obscure the bald truth: In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court shamelessly sided with a gang of Republican congressional aides swinging baseball bats who originally shut down the vote count and threw the case into the courts.
Jamin Raskin argued in March, 2001, in an article titled Bandits in Black Robes, that Bush v. Gore is easily the worst Supreme Court decision in history—even worse than Dred Scott, because in the case of Scott, justices could truthfully argue that the unamended 1857 (pre-Civil War) Constitution did regard black people as less than human. It was at least consistent. Not so with Bush v. Gore. Raskin says:
In a slapdash job of constitutional interpretation, the conservatives ravaged four foundational relationships in our constitutional system. It usurped the role of the Florida Supreme Court in interpreting state law. It usurped the role of the American people by halting the counting of ballots in a presidential election and effectively choosing the president for them. It usurped Congress’ powers to accept or reject the states’ electoral college votes. And it reversed the proper distribution of powers in federal government by having Supreme Court justices appoint the president rather than vice versa.
It’s important to remember that this was not a recount in the usual sense. Florida’s punch machines produced a number of so-called over-votes and under-votes. These were valid votes, but physical inspection of the ballot was necessary—and feasible. Often the voter’s intention was completely clear.
The media had already called the election in GWB’s favor, which no doubt gave the Florida GOP legislature, under Jeb Bush, the courage and ass-coverage to declare that they would send electors committed to George W. Bush, no matter what the outcome of the actual vote count.
Agreeing with Jeb and going even further, the Supreme Court used the opinion to remind the American people that the electorate does not really have a constitutional right to vote. The Constitution only mentions electors; the popular vote is just a custom.
Supreme Court justices appointing the president in defiance of the popular vote—in a total repudiation of the right to a popular vote—that’s about as activist as you can get. And we already have indications that Bush’s appointees to the Court are continuing in the same direction.
Starting off his tenure with the breathtaking gall that would soon become familiar, one of Bush’s first initiatives prescribed the remedy for his own theft of office: the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which required every state in the union to buy electronic vote machines—from highly partisan Republican vendors.
In spite of the crudeness of these power grabs, most of which took place right out in the open, it is only now that we can begin to see how it all came together. In an important article by Steven Rosenfeld and Bob Fitrakis, Network Hosting Attorney Scandal E-Mails Also Hosted Ohio’s 2004 Election Results, we not only get more evidence that the GOP hacked electronic voting machines in Ohio in 2004, but we see how this links up with the firing of US District Attorneys:
There is more than ample documentation to show that on Election Night 2004, Ohio’s “official” Secretary of State website—which gave the world the presidential election results—was redirected from an Ohio government server to a group of servers that contain scores of Republican web sites, including the secret White House e-mail accounts that have emerged in the scandal surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s firing of eight federal prosecutors.
Did you get that? The servers the White House used to carry on illegal e-mail correspondence with GOP congressmembers about what they wanted from federal prosecutors—a wish list that included demands for prosecution of non-existent cases of voter identity theft and relief from the legitimate prosecution of Republicans—are the same servers that improperly hosted the 2004 Ohio election results.
Rosenfeld and Fitrakis go on to say:
Privatizing elections and allowing known partisans to run a key presidential vote count is troubling enough. But the reason Congress must investigate these high-tech ties is there is abundant evidence that Republicans could have used this computing network to delay announcing the winner of Ohio’s 2004 election while tinkering with the results.
I hope with all my heart that Congress heeds Rosenfeld and Fitrakis’s call for investigations into these servers.
It seems clear that as the electorate adapted and began to clean out partisan secretaries of state like Kenneth Blackwell, Karl Rove started maneuvering to put corrupt US district attorneys in place who would play a similar role in giving the GOP an illegal electoral edge.
It is very bitter to lose a tight election, particularly to right-wing authoritarians. But those of us who respect democracy tend to suck it up. We try, as the Honorable Justice Scalia suggested not too long ago, to “get over it.” We work to find a better candidate, we register new voters, we march. We even accept the winners’ right to select Supreme Court justices and appellate judges who will be around long after the victors are out of office.
But not when the “winners” never won. Not when the system is rigged. Not when the voting machines are sending data to the RNC to manipulate. Not when US attorneys are partisans.
Nor does the 2006 election prove that we’ve restored a meaningful connection between government and the will of the people. All it proves is that Democrats were able to overcome pervasive vote fraud with a sufficiently large national majority and a last-minute surge. That’s not exactly democracy.
Furthermore, accepting any electoral victory as our only redress for eight years of illegal leadership only legitimizes BushCo’s multiple, layered, ongoing crimes against the Constitution, humanity, and the planet we live on.
That’s why it isn’t enough for Democratic candidates simply to campaign for office; they have to lead. John Edwards has done that by refusing to debate at Fox-sponsored forums and by coming out against electronic touchscreen voting machines—the latter being of particular importance, given that congressional Dems still don’t understand the critical distinction between a paper trail and a paper ballot.
Mike Gravel did it in a recent debate by telling the truth about Iraq.
But most of all, Dennis Kucinich is giving the people a voice by submitting articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney.
The push for impeachment acknowledges two simple truths: we can’t wait for 2008, nor can we live with BushCo’s legacy. That is to say, we must not only remove GWB, but we must remove all the devices and stratagems his administration has used to subvert the Constitution including: signing statements and the concept of the unitary executive; the abrogation of the Geneva conventions, the concept of enemy combatants, extraordinary rendition, and Guantanamo; pre-emptive military attacks; warrantless spying on citizens; the unlabeled exchange of government propaganda for news; and much more.
These illegal maneuvers should not be available to future presidents of any party. Just as SCOTUS explicitly said that their ruling in Bush v. Gore could not be construed as a precedent, so the entire Bush presidency must be stripped of its power to set precedent—and nothing would go further toward that goal than impeachment.
Impeachment would also send a powerful warning to the Roberts’ Court that they, too, serve at the pleasure of the people.
Impeachment is the people’s powerful roar.
Forget Imus. All this fuss will be just so much wasted outrage unless we use it to direct public attention to the big picture: the way the media information cartel has rigged journalism in this country. We need to agitate to break up and re-regulate the media, beginning with restoration of the fairness doctrine.
Ever since the fairness doctrine went down for good in 1986, hate and misinformation have taken over the airwaves, beginning with Rush Limbaugh on the radio and spreading to TV. As Rep. Louise Slaughter said in a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers, after fairness was defeated,
AM radio rose. It wasn’t even gradual, Bill. I mean, almost immediately. And I should point out to you that when we tried to reinstate
Slaughter goes on to explain that the law wouldn’t have hushed Rush—that would take more than an act of Congress, I’m afraid—but it would have mandated that time be given to people who represent other sides of any issue discussed by Limbaugh. The same is true for Hannity, O’Reilly, and even Imus. They just wouldn’t have the airwaves all to themselves the way they do now.
The defeat of the fairness doctrine was followed in 2000 by the defeat of two corollary FCC guidelines: the political editorial rule, which required stations that editorialized against a political candidate to notify the candidate within 24 hours and allow him or her to respond; and the personal attack rule, which required a station to notify someone within a week of a personal attack made on the air and offer them time to respond.
Ask yourself, would Orrin Hatch have lied about fired US Attorney Carol Lam—he falsely claimed she was the southern California campaign manager for the Clinton campaign and had no previous prosecutorial experience—if he knew she would be offered a comparable Sunday morning time slot to rebut his claims? Doubtful.
The roll-back of fairness tilted the broadcasting playing field heavily to the right and led directly to the rise of Fox News and hate radio. Without constraints on how to present an issue, propaganda replaced real reporting—and became wildly popular. News suddenly became revenue stream responsible for generating ratings and earnings, and the race to the bottom in network news reporting began.
Then in 1999 Karl Rove reached out to GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch, promising radical deregulation for the broadcast industry (GE is the parent company of NBC). This fit right in with some of Welch’s thoughts and ambitions. He had long felt that the news division at NBC wasn’t living up to its full profit potential. According to a must-read article, “The Media Cover-up of the Gore Victory Part Four: Democracy, General Electric Style,” by David Podvin and Carolyn Kay, that conversation led to some important changes:
Toward that end, Welch said that he would finally deal with a longstanding grievance of his: the ludicrous idea that news organizations should be allowed to operate in conflict with the best interests of the corporations that own them.
And a cartel is born. A cartel can be a group of corporations within one industry who meet to set prices. In the case of oil and rubber companies early in the last century, a cartel ran light rail lines out of business and lobbied aggressively for the building of an interstate highway system—a manipulation that led to what the documentary “The End of Suburbia” modestly refers to as “the single greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.”
And yet the asset being manipulated to the public detriment by the corporate media—information—is arguably even more basic and precious than oil.
The five media companies that control the television airwaves—Time/Warner (CNN), GE (NBC), Viacom (CBS), Disney (ABC), and Fox—operate as an information cartel with the power to “create reality” in exactly the way a White House official described it to journalist Ron Suskind:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
In such an environment, hate and misinformation feed on each other, and reality is flipped on and off like . . . well, like a TV.
Right now there are a good half a dozen threats to the Constitution, including the wars on Iraq and Iran, the White House firing of US attorneys in an effort to shore up the 2008 election, and deleted White House emails showing just how those firings came about.
In a reality-based universe, these issues would be all-consuming, receiving the kind of saturation coverage given to the late lamented Anna Nicole. Those deleted White House/RNC emails, in particular, seem like the perfect media scandal, since they could easily lead straight to impeachment—particularly if people got as worked up about it as they are about Don Imus.
We certainly need to study the media information cartel—judiciously, of course—but right now it’s more important that we join “history’s actors.” This is not an optional fight. We can’t hope to take back reality by targeting individual media personalities or even by targeting their sponsors. We can’t do without government regulation of corporate media giants, any more than we can just give up on proper regulation of our food and drug supply.
If you’re still in doubt, please tune in to PBS on April 25 to see Bill Moyers lay out the Record of Iraq War Lies. David Swanson, who saw an advance copy of the program, writes, “Spending that 90 minutes on this will actually save you time, because you’ll never watch television news again—not even on PBS, which comes in for its share of criticism.”
We can use that time instead to work on breaking up the media information cartel that’s destroying our freedom. We can start by writing to our congressmembers, senators, and local papers. Tell them that in order to prevent the abuse of our public airwaves you support Dennis Kucinich’s plan to restore the fairness doctrine.
Hate By Any Other Name
Larry Kramer was one of the very first people to recognize the AIDS epidemic for what it was. While the Reagan administration refused to acknowledge the burgeoning epidemic and gay men didn’t want to believe it, Kramer helped found the legendary group ACT-UP, whose motto was Silence=Death.
Twenty years later, Larry Kramer has re-ignited ACT-UP to wake us up to another grim reality we’d rather not face. “The needs are different now. Then it was AIDS, and now” he says, “it is utter sheer hate hurled at us right and left.”
As blunt and confrontational as ever, Kramer began an open letter to straight people in the Los Angeles Times with <i>the</i> question, “Why do you hate gay people so much?” Put another way, why do those who claim to hate the sin but love the sinner often seem, instead, to love the hate but hate the h word.
For example, when former NBA player Tim Hardaway came right out and said, “I hate gay people,” Concerned Women for America immediately issued a press release condemning not his bigotry but his language:
Hardaway’s comments are both unfortunate and inappropriate. They provide political fodder for those who wish to paint all opposition to the homosexual lifestyle as being rooted in “hate.” It’s important to note that Hardaway’s words represent the feelings of Hardaway. His words do not represent the feelings of the vast majority of people opposed to the homosexual agenda. . . . Thousands of former homosexuals have been freed from the homosexual lifestyle through acts of love. Hardaway’s comments only serve to foment misperceptions of widespread homosexual “victimhood” which the homosexual lobby has craftily manufactured.
It’s funny how much “hate” feels like the real thing when you’re on the receiving end.
Maintaining an emotional disconnect from the pain they inflict is crucial to the anti-gay project. It’s a hard balancing act to pull off, particularly these days, when it seems that the right is running on nothing but fumes and hate. The media seem to think it’s enough to ban the use of the word faggot.
By that reckoning, General Peter Pace’s recent statement that gays should not be allowed to serve in the military because homosexuality is immoral should be no big deal; after all, he didn’t use any naughty words. And yet somehow one feels the hate is there. Former Senator Alan Simpson, Republican from Wyoming, lays it out in a piece for the Washington Post entitled “Bigotry That Hurts Our Military”:
According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 300 language experts have been fired under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. This when even Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice recently acknowledged the nation’s “foreign language deficit” and how much our government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers. Is there a “straight” way to translate Arabic? Is there a “gay” Farsi? My God, we’d better start talking sense before it is too late. . . .
Peter Pace would rather recruit criminals who would otherwise be sitting in prison than retain highly qualified—even indispensable—LGBT personnel under his command. You can call that General Pace’s religion or his personal opinion. You can even call it love if you have the nerve, but it’s hatred all the same.
Pace’s bigotry has proved somewhat awkward, since it lays him open, at the very least, to charges of serious managerial incompetence, but it’s exactly the kind of divisiveness the rightwing political blogosphere glories in. Consider, for example, this posting by Mike Adams on Townhall.com, regarding the suggestion that, as with the n word, only gay people can use the word faggot without giving offense:
This is an unspeakable insult to black people. Gay persecution does not rival black persecution in the annals (I could not find a better word to insert here) of American history. Any assertion to the contrary is simply too queer to take seriously.
The distinction between racial and gay prejudice is wholly artificial. In real life, hate runs rough-shod over such careful (and clever: “annals” looks like “anal” and then you “insert,” get it?) boundaries. For example, when a black man named Corey Andrew recently told Army recruiter Sgt. Marcia Ramode that he was gay, this is where she went (via email):
GO BACK TO AFRICA AND DO YOUR GAY VOODOO LIMBO TANGO AND WANGO DANCE AND JUMP AROUND AND PRANCE AND RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE HALF NAKED THERE.
Mr. Adams’ article has the charming title, “How to bomb a gay bath house,” and I highly recommend it. Read it and experience the “hate” for yourself. And yes, he does recommend that Ann Coulter follow six steps for bombing a gay bath house—but it’s not what you think! It’s all good, clean fun.
Hatred is explicitly Adams’ subject:
Perhaps the most compelling reason for Ann to refrain from issuing an apology is that it might send the message that homosexuality is somehow “wrong.” Those saying that the implication that Edwards is a homosexual is “defamatory” are suggesting that homosexuality is “bad.” This flies in the face of the teachings of the official religion of the Diversity Movement, which is, of course, moral relativism.
Q.E.D. And yet in the middle of this farrago of taunts, incitements to violence, and monster wit, Adams actually does, in a way, answer Larry Kramer’s question. He recounts an occasion when, during a casual visit with a man who “happened to be gay,” the gay guy joked that he had furnished his place in
. . . “Early 20th Century Colonial Faggot.” He made the joke partially because he had a few too many drinks before his guests arrived. But he also did it because many homosexuals have never really aspired to the goal of making everyone feel as comfortable as they feel they have a right to feel at all times.
Interestingly enough, this sounds a note very similar to one hit by Garrison Keillor in a recent piece entitled, “Stating the obvious,” in which the homespun humorist bemoans what he calls serial monogamy (and what my old Lutheran pastor more sternly called serial polygamy), and in which he advises “stereotypical gay men” to can the flamboyance if they want to be “accepted as couples and daddies.”
I agree with his idea that children should take center stage in the family drama, but he would have come across as a whole lot less snide and sanctimonious if the thrice-married Keillor had mentioned his own serial polygamy.
And his timing is atrocious. We are in the middle of a veritable heat wave of anti-gay hate—when the state of Virginia, as an example, has passed a draconian anti-equality amendment that forbids any marriage-mimicking legal contracts between gay couples, including simple power of attorney arrangements. In other words, the people of Virginia voted to curtail the freedom of some—but only some—taxpaying citizens to legally designate the person who is closest to them emotionally to act on their behalf if they’re incapacitated.
This is an amendment with a purpose: to drive openly gay people from the state.
I don’t believe that Garrison Keillor is anti-gay, but he definitely represents the problem Larry Kramer is talking about. While the fundamentalists are totally fixated on wiping same sex love off the face of the earth, our friends are often lukewarm. Candidates are cowardly because they know very well that discomfort with the social change that gay equality represents cuts across the ideological spectrum. That’s why it’s so valuable to the right. It magnifies the ability of an embattled minority to dominate the rest of us.
Fighting with each other while these madmen take over the world only benefits Halliburton. It’s time for people of good will to unite and ACT-UP against the real source of social instability, which is and always has been hate.
Propaganda and Conscience
Watching Shut Up and Sing took me right back to the national dementia of 2003, when the Bush administration worked the country with into war frenzy with lies, innuendos, and delusional images of mushroom clouds ascending from the ruins of American cities. BushCo was so confident, the propaganda was so overwhelming, that even people who knew better had occasional spasms of doubt.
The corporate media were nothing less than reverent as Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld did whatever it took to sell the war. And it worked.
New York City restaurants poured expensive French wines into the sewer, while the congressional cafeteria started serving “freedom fries.” UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was a spineless fool who didn’t know what he was talking about. Scott Ritter was accused of being a spy. The UN was a bunch of timid old ladies whose time had passed. Diplomacy itself was reviled as nothing but a euphemism for appeasement.
Even when the war propaganda failed to convince, it intimidated. In my own little village on Long Island, I saw a bumper sticker that said “War Protesters Makes Great Speed Bumps,” and a diner with a sign in the window that said “No War Protesters Welcome.”
Enter the Dixie Chicks. The great pleasure of the movie was seeing these three young women grit their teeth and get through a radio blackout, CD bonfires, the over-the-top invective of the rightwing attack machine, an anti-Chicks song by Toby Keith, and even death threats. Four years down the road, their honesty and courage come across, while the pro-war fanatics look . . . foolish. And not in a good way.
It brings to mind Hannah Arendt’s comments on the banality of evil. Viewing the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, Arendt saw not a monster but a horrifying clown. A conformist, a true believer. Someone who would feel guilty for being late to work, but not guilty for the work he did—supervising the transport of countless Jews to the death camps.
In Arendt’s view, Eichmann—and the millions of other Germans who acted as human cogs in the Nazi war machine—were triumphs of propaganda. Propaganda’s purpose is to replace rational thought with slogans and clichés. It works steadily to grind down the individual conscience and replace it with loyalty to a group—which Eichmann called duty. Only failing to do his duty could make him to feel guilty.
In that he sounds suspiciously like Joel Surnow, co-creator and executive producer of the hit show 24—and, as it happens, a good friend of Rush Limbaugh.
According to a recent article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, a delegation of experts from West Point, the US Army, and the FBI went to Hollywood recently to complain that the way torture is portrayed on 24 is undermining their ability to train troops and agents in professional interrogation techniques. Trainees simply refuse to believe that torture doesn’t work.
Not only does torture not generate actionable intelligence, but according to FBI interrogation expert Joe Navarro, torture is especially ineffective in the case of the ticking time bomb—the favorite scenario of torture apologists and the main plot device on 24—because the person being tortured knows he only has to hang on for a limited amount of time.
They also made it clear to writers and producers that in real life no one can torture and remain rational and reliable the way Jack Bauer does. Says Navarro, “Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected. You don’t want people like that in your organization. They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems.”
Both points are pretty obvious, once you think about it—which shows how seldom we do. A brilliantly crafted, suspenseful program like 24 is damaging precisely because it preempts rational thought, making reason seem somehow unworthy of the values at stake.
That’s certainly the position taken by Surnow, who says, Eichmann-esque, “If someone had one of my children, or my wife, I would hope I’d do it. There is nothing—nothing—I wouldn’t do.” Nothing, apparently, except listen to the warnings of people who actually know what they’re talking about.
Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Jack Bauer, does not defend the show’s representation of torture. Instead, he hopes that people are able to distinguish fantasy from reality. Talk about wishful thinking. Clearly, people are not able to make that distinction, particularly in an environment where there is no consensus on what constitutes a fact.
We Americans like to think we’re somehow morally superior, not just to other nations but to something like propaganda, which, to a lot of people, sounds like some kind of lame excuse. We have such complete faith in our grounding in right and wrong that we think we’re immune to evil. We put our faith in fundamentalist religious leaders who tell us that good and evil are unchanging, eternal verities—unlike mere facts.
But looking back, it’s clear that what divided the country so deeply before and during the early stages of our unprovoked attack on Iraq was a simple question of fact: were George W. Bush and his minions telling the truth or not?
A connection between al Qaeda and Iraq; WMDs; yellow cake from Niger; bringing freedom and democracy to the country and the whole region: it was all a pack of lies.
And if we have such a totally immovable sense of right and wrong, one wonders why we’ve so blandly swallowed the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. If torture isn’t absolutely evil, at all times and in all places, then what is?
Or do we play with words to fool our consciences, and, like Alberto Gonzales, simply define torture out of existence? Gonzales’ updated definition, replacing that of US law and the Geneva Conventions, is that torture is inflicting pain equivalent to major organ failure or death. Sounds more like attempted murder to me.
The fact is most people in most places tend to go along with conventional wisdom and comply with authority. It’s not generally a bad thing. It predisposes us to be law-abiding and makes peace possible. But when the same powerful interests control both government and the media, then we are all vulnerable to propaganda, and under the influence of propaganda, ordinary people are capable of doing very great evil without even feeling guilty.
What It’s Really All About
I still don’t think of myself as married, even though it’s been nearly three years since Karen and I tied the knot in a little gay-owned bed and breakfast in Vancouver, British Columbia. I have to admit that I’ve always been one of those who feel that not having to get married or join the army are two great perks of being gay. But with the country’s rightward tilt tending toward out and out fascism, we decided we wanted to get married as a political statement.
As it turned out, it was an unexpectedly emotional experience for both of us. We chose traditional vows: for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. The commissioner who performed the service was warm and friendly, and two lovely women who were friends of friends (and are now friends in their own right) served as our witnesses.
Talking afterwards to our Canadian friends, the commissioner, and the owner of the bed and breakfast, though, we were surprised to hear from all of them that gay Canadians aren’t nearly as interested in marriage as Americans. Part of it was that they simply don’t feel as attacked as their American counterparts. In fact, when the conservative new prime minister, Stephen Harper, put gay marriage to the test in Parliament again last year, as he had promised, it actually got more votes than when it came up the first time.
But I think the bigger factor in gay Canadians’ relative indifference to marriage is Canada’s universal health care system. Here in the states, the most devastating consequence of the anti-marriage equality amendments sweeping the country is the potential loss of health insurance for domestic partners and their children. As Karen’s domestic partner, I have been covered under her insurance policy for over a decade. I’m now in my early fifties, and I can tell you that I do not want to even contemplate the prospect of finding my own insurance at this stage of life.
But it looks a lot of people are going to have to do just that. Recently, courts in my home state of Michigan have ruled that the anti-gay marriage amendment passed in 2004 forbids public institutions from offering domestic partner benefits. If this ruling stands, it will spread to all the other states that have voted for these amendments, and countless people will lose their health insurance. People being treated for cancer. Children with asthma. People with all sorts of pre-existing conditions who need regular treatment and drugs.
Imagine how you’d feel if you woke up to find that the people of your state had voted to revoke <i>your</i> health insurance.
Come to think of it, you don’t really have to imagine, because George Bush and the GOP are working hard to do just that at this very moment. In his State of the Union address, GWB proposed a tax-credit health care initiative that would destroy our current employer-based healthcare system. If passed, it would allow—or even encourage—employers to drop health care benefits for employees, on the grounds that people would be able to obtain it on the open market with their tax credits.
How does that sound?
Bush bases his radical proposal on the extremely dubious claim that over-use of insurance is to blame for rising health-care costs. In fact, using insurance for check-ups, mammograms, colonoscopies, and other regular screening protocols helps prevent health disasters and saves money in the long run—if you count the cost to society and not just to the insurance industry.
What most commentaries on this plan fail to mention, however, is that it would also slash Social Security benefits, killing two benefits with one stone. As economist Dean Baker explains in his blog of February 3, 2007: “ . . . the Bush plan refunds Social Security tax payments on the first $15k of wages for workers who have a family insurance policy. For a worker earning $20k a year, this would mean most of their SS taxes would be refunded, but they would also see their benefits cut by close to 60 percent when they retire.” (My emphasis.)
You might think Bush’s plan has little chance of passing, and you’d be right, but that isn’t the only attack on heterosexual health insurance that’s being launched as we speak. The drastic Medicare and Medicaid cuts proposed in GWB’s 2008 budget actually amount to a phase-out of Medicare. Once again, Dean Baker gives the context and the full implications of the GOP plan.
According to Baker’s blog entry of February 11, media accounts have failed to show just how much money families currently receive from Medicare and Medicaid: “Medicare and Medicaid spending come to about “8,300 for a family of four in 2007, and $11,300 for a family of four in 2012. In other words, this is real money.”
But the more important point (covered in Baker’s blog entry for February 4) has to do with Bush’s proposal to change rules on indexing Medicare’s means-testing cut-offs. By dropping the index, more and more people over time will face a means test for their benefits, until eventually everyone is paying full price for what was once a government-subsidized program designed to help keep senior citizens, widows, orphans, and the disabled from falling into poverty as a result of health-care costs.
I’d like to think that if people understood this connection, they wouldn’t be quite so quick to vote their neighbors’ benefits out of existence. In the last election, Arizona seemed to prove just that. Activists there waged a campaign based on loss of benefits, and the measure went down.
Even though a majority of people favor universal health care in this country, special interests, specifically the trillion-dollar insurance and pharmaceutical industries, have managed to prevent it. Amendments against gay marriage distract us from our common interest and divide us from potential allies in this all-important battle.
It’s time to spread the word that this is a fight we can win if we all work together. Because taking care of each other is what it’s really all about.
The Limits of Tolerance
With the words, “I’m in it to win,” Hillary Clinton tossed her hat into the ring—and gave us the motto of the Democratic Leadership Council, the group that launched her husband’s presidency and continues to dominate Democratic Party strategy. In the mid- to late-eighties, at the height of the Reagan Revolution, this group of Democratic politicians and strategists realized that unless they could figure out a way to start winning elections again, they would not have political careers.
So instead of bucking Reaganomics, they hitched the Democratic Party to the Republicans’ bumper, like a string of tin cans bouncing along in the dust. They declared that business and government would henceforth be friends and partners. They had found a third way, a new center. No more unseemly scuffles.
In practice, however, it turned out to be a very lopsided partnership. If the average citizen won by inches during Bill Clinton’s tenure—with his popular family leave bill, for example—big business won by light years, especially with the passage of NAFTA. (This is the same Bill Clinton, by the way, who chose to leave the Kyoto global warming protocols unsigned at the end of his term.)
Hillary’s current war chest shows just how handsomely the move to a business-friendly party has paid off in cold hard cash—at least for people named Clinton. Rupert Murdoch actually held a fundraiser for Hillary over the summer—which just goes to show that corporate moguls know the value of having two parties to choose from. But not everyone has the billions it takes to put a down payment on a president. And the price is going up.
Senator Clinton has opted out of public financing, the first candidate to do so for both the nomination and the general election campaigns—which, according to experts, will probably be the end of the current voluntary system for regulating big money in presidential campaigns.
Since the passage of NAFTA, we’ve seen the same effects in the US that we’ve seen with globalization all around the world: increasing economic inequality. Monetary agreements are harshly enforced, but there is no corresponding enforcement of labor, human rights, or environmental standards. Free trade has, in fact, turned out to be a very efficient vehicle for concentrating wealth in a few private hands at the expense of whole societies. It’s a privatizing, planet-eating machine.
As the war in Iraq should make clear to the least attentive among us, where resources cannot be obtained through unequal trade and debt agreements, they are being taken at gunpoint. Iran is next.
FDR and LBJ talked openly about class war. Like his cousin Teddy before him, FDR warned about monopolies that corner markets, fix prices, lie, cheat, and chisel in a relentless and single-minded quest for profits. Johnson, for all his sins, pointed out the shameful relationship between race and poverty. Not the DLC. In an attempt to woo back Reagan Democrats, Clinton constantly intoned the mantra of the little guy who “works hard and plays by the rules”—a culture war pitch.
Let’s forget for a minute that effort and obedience are more properly attributes of a robot than a citizen in a modern republic, and consider the fact that the same centrists who tell us that big business is our friend are also telling us that we have to be tolerant and respectful of “deeply held beliefs”—for the sake of winning.
I might actually go for that, if I thought the culture war was about gay marriage or immigration or abortion. But it’s not. The culture war is not about any particular conflict. It’s about the ground rules for deciding differences.
One way is based on equality, the primary assumption of secular government. The first sentence of the Declaration of Independence declares all men equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights. Over a hundred years later that promise of equality was extended to black people with the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law for everyone, a promise many state constitutions also make. Constitutional guarantees are bedrock, not to be voted away—in the same way that we can’t simply vote slavery back into existence.
The other way to settle differences is to give more weight to “good” people. We decide issues not on the basis of evidence and expertise, but on the basis of values and moral authority. For example, when it comes to gay marriage, a lot of citizens are very happy to see family values prevail over scientific expertise and equal rights. They’re quite willing to amend their state constitutions, or even the Constitution of the United States, to make an exception to the requirement of equal rights for all.
The problem is, gay marriage isn’t the only decision we’re making that way. We’re making decisions about when and how to go to war in the exact same way.
During the run-up to the war on Iraq, we heard a lot about George W. Bush’s character, his faith and steely resolve, his instincts and ability to recognize and confront evil, his refreshing black-and-white moral clarity. Evidence and expertise were very much in the background. Not only that, but this “good” Republican president, a faithful evangelical Christian, wasn’t pressed for corroboration in the same way that a “bad” Democratic secularist like Clinton was when, for example, he sent American troops into Somalia.
The culture war is about manufacturing the attitudes required for people to accept endless resources wars and extremes of economic inequality. The culture-warring right isn’t asking for tolerance. It demands submission.
It certainly wasn’t tolerance when President Bill Clinton sat on his hands as Republican operatives wielding baseball bats stopped votes from being counted in Florida in 2000.
It’s the class war that has the potential to unite us. Hatred of George Bush has brought together a very broad coalition of unconscious class warriors. Now it’s time for us to realize that hatred of Bush is really hatred of the ruthless corporate oligarchy he represents.
The good news is that the increasing economic insecurity of the middle class in this country is reaching a critical mass. As Princeton economist and Hamilton Project participant Alan Blinder puts it, “There’s a whole class of people who are smart, well educated and articulate, and politically involved who will not just sit there and take it.” I’d like to think I’m one of those people, and I know a lot of others who fit that description. We have an opening.
It will be an uphill battle. Centrist Democrats are working as hard as Republicans to protect free trade, while the deregulated corporate media continues block most discussion of class inequality—and almost no one is pointing out the connections between culture war and class war inequality.
It’s also likely that there are those Republicans who, having shot government in the head, would be quite content to see it flatline on a Democrat’s watch. They’re already getting the Dems in the new Congress to do their dirty work. While the GOP continue their insatiable shrieking for more and more corporate welfare, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are returning to PAYGO standards—a move which would, without a return to fair taxation for the rich and big business, require that Democrats slash the remaining tatters of our social safety net.
No way. That’s not winning. We need a complete turnaround, not a slight course correction. Roll back obscene corporate welfare. Pass universal health care. Drop out of NAFTA, sign Kyoto, withdraw from Iraq. Return to FCC fairness and equal-time rules, and begin enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act again, beginning with the big media monopolies. Real public financing of elections and paper ballots.
If grass- and netroots Democrats can re-ignite the class war, the culture war will lose its wallop, and we might just stand a chance of, at least, beginning to think about the problems that are threatening our very survival.
Respect for All
So it seems Republican voters have finally turned. With the arsenal of election-rigging techniques the Republican Party has been working up since 2000—including caging and purge lists, push polls, insufficient machines in Democratic areas, uncounted provisional ballots, robocalls, unfair rules from corrupt secretaries of state—it has long been abundantly clear that Democrats will never take office with a narrow win.
And those are just the surface obstacles. The deep structure of our electoral system tilts to the right: the senate is an anti-democratic institution with empty-box red states getting the same number of senators as far more populous blue states; the mid-census gerrymandering of districts favors Republicans across the country; and the electoral college’s winner-take-all rules and weighting in favor of smaller states blunt liberal gains.
Given all of that, it’s hard to fault Howard Dean’s fifty-state strategy of putting up conservative Democrats to run in conservative states. It worked. That’s the good news and the bad news.
The good news is obvious but after such a long drought of hope, it bears repeating and savoring. We all have to heave a big sigh of relief at seeing the backside of the likes of Rick Santorum, George Allen, and Mike DeWine—or better yet, let out a whoop of joy and do a happy dance. John Conyers heading the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Waxman with subpoena power, Bernie Sanders in the Senate—it feels like a weight has been lifted.
The bad news is it consolidates the political center very far to the right—to the right of the Constitution, in fact, if recent legislation is not rolled back. If we’re not careful, the Democratic win could end up representing a profoundly pragmatic, middle-manager solution to an all-out assault on our freedom. Impeachment off the table, a return to pay-as-you-go rules, implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations—these all indicate a return to the Clinton credo of winning by inches when what we have lost is our whole way of life.
In an attempt to hold on to the voters who gave them this political opportunity, Democrats are willing to restrict debate around the question of how we got to this sorry pass in the first place. They want to start cleaning up the wreckage before we have a chance to think about what our recent history means. We can’t let that happen, not least because it would be a mistake to imagine the culture war is over.
But many on the left have never acknowledged its existence in the first place. Progressives like to use the phrase “social wedge issues” instead. Sounds less like a paranoid fantasy. But it is a paranoid fantasy, on a mass level, and we would do well to remember that as we sift through the rubble of our system of checks and balances.
While BushCo has been rolling out one initiative after another in a deliberate effort to transform our entire culture—so fast it literally makes your head spin—the left’s response has been to painstakingly compile evidence of wrongdoing in area after area, slowly connecting the dots of criminal intent and design over the whole expanse of our government and legal system. It’s like doing an ergonomic analysis of a wrecking ball’s destructive swathe through our government—a reaction right-wing culture warriors counted on.
Whereas they are at war. That means, quite simply, that they have rejected the normal rule of law. They do not recognize the legitimacy of secular authority. They are answering to a higher power in a fight against evil. The pagans and the feminists, the gays and the lesbians, the abortionists, People for the American Way, liberals, the Democrat Party—we are what’s wrong with this country.
Not only will they not tolerate us, they consider tolerance itself a great moral weakness, one they do not want taught to their children. The pervasiveness of tolerant attitudes in secular culture is one of the prime motivations behind the culture war: they need to stamp it out. That’s the explanation for the apparently nonsensical fuss over Sponge Bob and Postcards from Buster. As Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said about the Mark Foley sex scandal: “When we elevate tolerance and diversity to the guidepost of public life, this is what we get—men chasing 16-year-old boys around the halls of Congress.”
In this climate, the defeat in Arizona of a law against civil unions is big news. The fact that a ban on gay marriage passed in Virginia with less than 60 percent of the vote is earth-shattering.
When liberals frame marriage equality as a wedge issue, they answer an obvious question: Why are these initiatives politically useful to the right? We can all see that marriage equality has the ability to set progressive constituencies against each other at the same time that it distracts the whole country from real concerns. But in a recent article titled, “War, religion, and gay rights, James Carroll asked a better question: “When gay people openly assert their identities as such, whether through parades or the demand for full and equal social recognition, reactionaries cannot stand it. Why?”
The answer lies in that one all-important word: “equal.” The true crux of the religious right’s morality is hierarchical, unequal sex roles.
Not very long ago, rigid sex roles encompassed all the knowledge necessary to be a good man or a good woman, a good citizen, parent, child. Those roles, with strict dress codes to match, enforced patriarchal inequality and went deep into the economy, designating high-paying, high-status jobs for men and lower-paying jobs, if any at all, for women. It took a bloody civil war to break up the slave economy and begin a movement toward racial equality. It’s no wonder that efforts to break up thousands of years of unquestioned male economic and social dominance have resulted in a cold civil war.
Gay marriage equality and insistence on a woman’s right to control her own body are direct affronts to the type of family Christianists see as the foundation of civilization, a family where Mother obeys Father and children obey both parents, a family where unquestioning obedience to authority is seen as the bedrock strength of the society. These societies need to be strong precisely because of their intolerance: there can be only one One True God. All fundamentalist theocracies are, by their very nature, at war with other fundamentalist theocracies and with secular society.
This explains how it is that so many of our fellow countrymen—the most religious among us, if you take them at their own estimation—could enthusiastically support pre-emptive war, torture, and the overthrow of civil liberties, secular society, and the rule of law. In other words, we are where we are today not in spite of Christianist family values but because of them.
Although it may have been politically astute for Howard Dean to follow up the success of his fifty-state strategy with a Saturday Democratic radio address showing that he is not embarrassed to talk about religious beliefs and family values, we would all be better off if we returned our focus to the primary political unit of a democracy, which is not the family but the individual. All individuals should be equal under the impartial rule of law and are entitled to respect.
On the other hand, we are not obligated to respect others’ religious beliefs, especially if they are subversive to the rule of law and infringe on others’ pursuit of happiness. I certainly do not respect the Christianist family values that have contributed to our slide toward authoritarianism. As far as I’m concerned, they are a very big part of the problem. In this age, with its 24/7 spin and media saturation, any culture that does not produce individuals capable of critical, independent thought is already halfway down the road to fascism.
As for me, I take the right-wing culture warriors at their word when they say they will not tolerate us. We defeat them or they defeat us, that’s the deal. And it’s fine with me. Like the Dixie Chicks say, I’m not ready to make nice. Just the opposite, baby.
by Patricia Goldsmith
It seems the Mark Foley scandal was only the beginning of a long-overdue national discussion about the ethics and wisdom of outing political figures. In Florida, gay journalists are the ones who advocate asking Republican candidate for governor, Charlie Crist, about rumors that he’s gay. The mainstream media continues to claim that it’s a non-issue, ignoring Reform Party candidate Max Linn’s statement that he will “swear on a stack of Bibles” that Crist is gay.
But even the mainstream media isn’t ignoring news that Ted Haggard, pastor of an influential anti-gay evangelical megachurch, was outed by a gay male prostitute. Given the startling homophobia of many in those fundamentalist pulpits, it’s a wonder more ministers haven’t been outed, until you remember that those most likely to know about a political figure’s homosexuality—prostitutes, children, and LGBT people in general—have been understandably afraid of the right-wing attack machine.
My position on outing is rooted in the idea of gay pride.
Gay pride is more than a march on the last Sunday in June. It’s more than being gay, too. While all civil rights movements tell truth to power, truth-telling and self-identification are the distinguishing characteristics of the gay movement. Without coming out, there is no gay movement, period.
Ideally, every LGBT person would realize that living a lie is not only psychologically and spiritually damaging, but that the more of us who come out the safer we all are from physical and social violence
But it’s not an ideal world. <1> If we were in any doubt about it, seeing Jim “I Am a Gay American” McGreevey on the cover of the Advocate’s coming out issue would clue us in. McGreevey, you’ll remember, didn’t come out, exactly. He announced he was gay when he was blackmailed by an employee with whom he was having an affair. Not exactly an inspiring profile in courage.
In his review of McGreevey’s life story, The Gay Governor Has No Clothes, Andy Humm argues that McGreevey exaggerates the homophobia he faced growing up in New Jersey in the seventies—the heyday of the gay liberation movement—in order to rationalize his self-interested decision to hide in the closet, just as he rationalizes his later failure to act on behalf of gay people while in office.
Many pro-gay progressives are, in my view, overly sympathetic to such rationalizations. They tend to subscribe to the school of thought that says outing is always wrong, even with elected officials. The reasoning is that outing contributes to homophobia, because it implies that there is something wrong with being gay.
As far as I can tell, the main cause of homophobia is and always has been the closet. That’s why the GOP loves it so much. They’ve even constructed one with a special swinging door for Mary Cheney, sort of like a dog flap, so she can go in and out at will.
The closet keeps us faceless, voiceless, and powerless—a blank screen onto which the rightwing noise machine can project whatever they want. It is the venerable institution of the closet, not heterosexual marriage, that neocons are so eager to protect. By attacking marriage equality, the right hopes to roll back 30 years of progress on gay rights won with blood, sweat, and tears.
Fortunately, nothing can roll back the changes that have come as a result of the most powerful act of coming out: telling our parents and siblings. Over the past three decades, millions of people took a big risk and told their families who they are. That takes guts. That’s where hearts and minds change. Coming out at work has been successful, as well; tolerant corporations have become major forces for equality. In both cases, timing is crucial. It has to be up to the good judgment of the individual.
But when it comes to political figures, we all have very good reasons to object to the closet. History shows that the closet breeds monsters.
A closeted homosexual masterminded the most infamous political witch-hunt of the twentieth century, McCarthyism. Persistent rumors of homosexual activity swirled around Senator Joseph McCarthy throughout his lifetime. Given that McCarthy relied absolutely on hearsay, innuendo, and blackmail, I’d say that’s proof enough. But there’s also guilt by association: there are also rumors that two other major figures in McCarthy’s anti-commie crusade, Roy Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover , were closeted homosexuals.
McCarthy gave targeted victims an impossible choice: betray the people closest to you or get blackballed and become an unemployable pariah.
Cohn, a Jew, was recommended to McCarthy by their mutual friend Hoover on the basis of his excellent work on the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spy trial, which resulted in the Rosenbergs’ execution. Cohn denied he was gay right up to the day he died of AIDS.
But J. Edgar Hoover was the worst of the bunch. During his decades at the FBI, Hoover turned the agency into one big closet, shielded from oversight by blackmail collected on leaders of both political parties. In his new book, Conservatives Without Conscience <2>, John Dean says of Hoover (hardcover, pgs. 84-87),
After studying Hoover’s behavior and activities, Dr. Harold Lief, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, concluded he was “what is known as an Authoritarian Personality. Hoover would have made a perfect high-level Nazi.”
The fact that these grotesque leaders were homosexual is a dire warning about the pathology of the closet—lying as one’s central life skill, disdain for the suckers who fall for the lies, inability to sustain (or even imagine) equal relationships. The false, vengeful lives they led were a cynical parody of the conformity they imposed on others. The truth is, when you deny who you are and who you love, you become soulless. All you’re left with are lies and hate. And, in Hoover’s case, unfortunately, power.
Regarding “Hoover’s true legacy,” Dean says:
it was he with his fanaticism who planted the seeds from which contemporary social and cultural conservatism has grown. Hoover’s focus on the American family and Christianity attracted an earlier generation of adamant anticommunists, who have become today’s zealous social conservatives.
Enter Karl Rove, the most zealous of the new authoritarians. James Moore, co-author of Bush’s Brain, has written a new account of the Rove phenomenon, The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power, in which he reveals that Karl Rove’s step-father, with whom he was very close, was a gay man. In an interview on Democracy Now!, Mr. Moore said:
Karl Rove buried his father Louie Rove in July of 2004. There was no public notice in the newspaper. And then he got on the campaign plane, and he went to eleven key swing states to help facilitate the anti-gay marriage amendments around this country, which drove voter turnout in the last election. . . .
And it turns out that Karl Rove, the man who is the architect behind evangelical voters and their turnout and a voter delivery system of the Christian right, is agnostic. . . .
. . . .
In Rove’s defense, it has to be said that some of his “voter delivery system” is not entirely savory. Greased by billions in faith-based initiative money, some black churches are eagerly continuing Rove’s attack on marriage equality—even after Hurricane Katrina. Gregory Daniels, senior pastor of the Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, says, “If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them.”
Reading a statement like that you have to wonder, is marriage equality really a greater threat to the black community than the KKK and George W. Bush? Or is it, for some reason, merely a greater threat to Gregory Daniels? In other words, is Daniels gay?
That’s exactly the question Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick ask in a series of profiles of Daniels and other homophobic black pastors. It’s the right question to ask, because it’s definitely not a non-issue.
Eric Hegedus, national president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, expresses my view on the subject: “There’s nothing wrong with asking a candidate <3> if he’s gay. It’s just like asking him if he’s married, dating anyone or has children. There’s nothing shameful about being gay.”
He’s right, there’s nothing wrong with being gay. But there’s lot wrong with lying about it. It’s a matter of pride.
<1> For an excellent book on a closeted father’s impact on a family, I highly recommend Alison Bechdel’s brilliant graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
<2> See also David Brock’s courageous insider’s account of rightwing politics in the nineties, Blinded By the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, for more information on the closet from the inside.
<3> See Michael Rogers’ website, blogactive, for more information on elected officials and staffers who are closet cases. All closeted officials have a hidden incentive to act against gay interests, at best. At worst, they’re trying to out-hate the homophobes around them.
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