November 3, 2004
Oh dear God please not again. Oh dear God please don’t let it be all convoluted and depressing and messy and stupid and please don’t let it all embarrass us on an international level all over again even more than it already has and even more than it already is and even more than we’ve endured lo these past four debilitating and soul-crushing years. Hello? Please? Is it already too late?
Why yes, yes it is.
And lo and behold, it’s apparently another completely tortuous and entirely knotted presidential election, still not finished and still not all ironed out and as of this writing, Ohio is headed for a recount and Kerry still has a glimpse of a chance, and hence we still don’t really know the outcome, even though it appears to be leaning toward the utterly appalling notion of another four years of Bush and another Republican stranglehold of Congress and repeated GOP chants of “More War in ‘04!”
Which is, well, simply staggering. Mind-blowing. Odd. Gut-wrenching. Colon-knotting. Eyeball-gouging. And so on.
You want to block it out. You want to rend your flesh and yank your hair and say no way in hell and lean out your window and scream into the Void and pray it will all be over soon, even though you know you’re an atheist Buddhist Taoist Rosicrucian Zen Orgasmican and you don’t normally pray to anything except maybe the gods of really exceptional sake and skin-tingling sex and maybe a few luminous transcendental deities that look remarkably like Jenna Jameson.
It simply boggles the mind: We’ve already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it’s all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and still much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn’t possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant.
Inexplicable? Not really. People want to believe. They want to trust their leaders, even against all screaming, neon-lit evidence and stack upon stack of flagrant, impeachment-grade lie. They simply cannot allow that Dubya might really be an utter boob and that they are being treated like an abused, beaten housewife who keeps coming back for more, insisting her drunk husband didn’t mean it, that she probably had it coming, that the cuts and bruises and blood and broken bones are all for her own good.
And this election, it might be all be very amusing, in a Mel Gibsony, blood-drenched hamburger-of-Christ sorta way, were it not so sad and dangerous. It might all be tolerable and cute, in a violence-engorged, sexist, video-gamey sorta way, were it not so lopsided and wrong.
This election’s apparent outcome, this heartbreaking proof of a nation split more deeply and decisively than ever, it simply reinforces the feeling among much of the educated populace: It is a weirdly embarrassing time to be an American. It is jarring and oddly shattering and makes you rethink what it really means to be a part of this country. The answer: It doesn’t mean much at all. Not really. Not anymore.
Here’s the thing: For tens of millions of us, it is simply unconscionable that we could possibly be led for another four years by a small and spoiled little man who has very little real idea what he’s doing and even less of how the hell he got there. It would be funny, in a Adam Sandler, toilet-humored sort of way, were it not so poisonous and depressing. And yet it looks like we’re stuck with it, like a shard of glass buried deep in the eye. …
We Are the Wedge
The Republicans’ moralizing anti-gay crusade played a crucial role in George W. Bush’s re-election. The Rove-Bush decision to surf on the anti-gay backlash came about in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, in the spring of 2003, to overturn the so-called sodomy laws. After that decision, there was a precipitous 20-point Gallup poll drop in numbers of those who thought gay sex should be legal, and support for civil unions also slalomed downward.
Under the guidance of Commissar Karl Rove, the Republicans crafted a strategy to make political hay out of the anti-gay backlash and to fuel its intensity, just as soon as the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided that denying marriage equality to gay people was a violation of fundamental civil rights. The tools to make gays a political scapegoat that would mobilize the 4 million evangelicals who failed to vote in 2000—and at the same time appeal to Catholic adepts of anti-gay papal precepts—were the Federal Marriage Amendment and the eleven anti-gay state referenda on the marriage issue. These measures were seized on as wedges to divide the traditional Democratic coalition by prejudiced appeals to blacks and Latinos. Last year, among blacks, the drop on legalizing gay marriage was, at 23 points, even sharper than the national average. A New York Times poll from August last year confirmed the backlash Gallup found, especially among blacks and Latinos, with strong majorities opposing gay marriage—65 to 28 for blacks, 54 to 40 for Latinos. Out of numbers like these came the Bush-Rove anti-gay strategy.
This is, after all, a country drowning in censorious, politicized religiosity. And race is no longer the great political dividing line in this country—region and religion have replaced it. The exit polls on Tuesday night showed that Bush won a whopping 42 percent of the Latino vote, in large part thanks to the power of anti-gay propaganda in a community—already marinated in macho cultural traditions—that gets a lot of its cohesiveness and sense of identity from homophobic Pentecostal churches.
Moreover, 21 percent of voters said that “moral values”—more than either Iraq or the economy—were what determined their vote. In many states the GOP used TV ads featuring two men kissing to fan the anti-gay marriage flames. Nowhere did the strategy work better than in Ohio, where the southern tier of counties is the cultural equivalent of a Deep South state, steeped in religiously inculcated homo-hate. Ohio is also a state where traditionally Democratic working-class Catholic voters—whom Kerry failed to bind to him with an economic program that could arouse their passions—were peeled off in sufficient numbers to reduce Kerry’s margins in the larger cities. And the sweeping anti-gay referendum in Ohio—which outlaws civil unions or any lesser legal recognition of same-sex couples, as well as gay marriage—passed by two to one. Huge anti-gay majorities were rolled up as well in all the other ten states with referenda, with the smallest margin of victory for the anti-gay measure in Oregon (a supposedly tolerant state where it won by a resounding 14 points).
Scurrilous gay-baiting literature abounded. And, of course, the Bushniks could count on the fervent homophobia of Bush’s shock troops from the Christian right (heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars through patronage disguised as “faith-based initiatives”) to hammer home the Sunday-go-to-meetin’ anti-gay message—and the sweeping Republican victory.
Suddenly Last Winter
Never did I imagine, as I dashed to San Francisco City Hall to get married on February 13, that my act of spiritual affirmation would end up transformed into the right wing’s trump card. Yet I suddenly find my love twisted into the fear and hatred necessary to grant George W. Bush and his cabal of corporate warlords up to four more years to pillage the planet.
How could America’s unholy union of Republican extremists, Catholic reactionaries, and Evangelical Fundamentalists get away with picturing our acts of hope and celebration as threats to the very foundation of so-called American civilization? How could nuns handing out leaflets and priests forbidding congregants from voting for Kerry so successfully sweep their haunting legacy of pedophilia and sexual abuse under the rug? How could up to 75% of Americans still believe that Osama bin Laden was directly supported by Iraq and its non-existent weapons of mass destruction?
I’ve been asking similar questions ever since I became aware of the anti-semitism that condemned my relatives to death in the pogroms of czarist Russia and the ovens of Nazi Germany. I asked them again when, as an alienated college sophomore, I spent the summer of 1965 doing civil rights voter registration in North Carolina. And I returned to them anew when, while opposing the War in Vietnam, I became involved in the early Gay Liberation movement. …
Re-electing Bush was not a rational act. With forty percent of the U.S. population living in poverty, adequate health care increasingly inaccessible to the middle class, divisions between black-brown-white-rich-middle class-poor growing by the minute, and the planet verging toward ecological suicide, the right wing’s black and white absolutes successfully swayed people to reinstate the very oligarchy that is making things worse for them.
The fears upon which the Right builds its empire do not operate on a rational level. Bush and Crew have consolidated their power by repeating over and over that “they” are out to get “us” and our way of life. And “they,” in their cosmology, include lesbians, gays, and abortionists. If A Course in Miracles posits that love is letting go of fear, the right-wing Bible instead proclaims that only by turning fear into aggression can we safeguard those we love.
Jason Victor Serinus
In Election 2004, we shot our political wad too soon, and nobody’s satisfied. Face it, my brothers and sisters, we screwed up. At the very gay rights organizations that so many of us entrusted with our earnest volunteerism and hard-earned money, heads must roll. These ambitious, well-intentioned, but dangerously naive baby boomer leaders grew up in a fast-food culture of instant gratification. They acted on impulse—“Let’s go for the gold!”—and in the process have torpedoed twenty years of forward movement in a single election. We need to express our disappointment with some serious introspection, more judicious philanthropy, and a major reorganization of our civil rights strategy.
Let’s be clear about what happened. Civil rights are an American tradition, and most Americans support fairness in principle, but “marriage,” however, is a term so suffused with religious and cultural overtones that it crosses the line between church and state, between the parochial and the secular—a boundary that we accuse evangelical Republicans of repeatedly violating in their efforts to inject their values into public policy. We rushed across that boundary ourselves this time, without heeding just how much we were challenging deeply held traditional beliefs. And we got pushed back.
Civil rights are not won in the war zone of a national election but, rather, in a series of small but important evolutionary steps. Fresh off the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court victory that decriminalized our long-outlawed private behavior, gay community advocates got cocky and reckless, to put it bluntly. With dopamine awash in their brains, our appointed spokespeople decided that we’d go for it, immediately demanding our piece of the marriage pie.
Dumb move. The rest of the country wasn’t ready yet, and we knew it. Countless polls—including those in my own liberal bellwether, California—showed that most Americans favored gay civil rights, but the honorific of “marriage” made them quiver.
Failing to heed these polls and the timetables of the civil rights history they were quoting to us, our leaders skated over the fact that major advances took decades to materialize. African-Americans finally got the right to vote without restriction 100 years after being freed from slavery. It took 72 years, from the first Women’s Suffrage Convention in 1848 to the 19th Amendment ratification in the Constitution in 1920, before women won the right to vote. From the earliest days of 1950’s secret gay Mattachine Society to our post-act-up world of openly gay everything, we have followed a similar path to equal rights that other oppressed minorities have taken—small steps, taken over many years, to incrementally acclimate our neighbors to peaceful coexistence with us. Until this election cycle.
We owe it to our community to spend our political capital wisely, to set a better example as responsible adults and to secure for our youth a brighter future. Campaigning for gay civil rights is a marathon to the finish line, not a sprint. We should work to secure our civil and legal rights well before we choose the ultimate battle of naming our unions “marriage.” Unpopular as this all may sound, look where we are now, with several states not only banning same-sex unions but domestic-partnership benefits as well. We have taken a big step backward for all of gay-kind.
Gary R. Cohan
Jason Victor Serinus (www.jasonserinus.com) reviews music for Opera News and other publications. Mark Morford writes for SFGate.com, from which this piece is excerpted (© 2004, with permission). Doug Ireland is a columnist for LA Weekly, from which this piece is excerpted with permission. Gary R. Cohan, MD (www.doctorcohan.com), is a physician practicing internal medicine in LA. This piece is excerpted from a longer article that appeared in Advocate.com.