Saturday, December 20, 2008

Disappointment and reality

Yesterday I wrote about President-elect Obama’s mistake in choosing homophobic far-right christianist Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. If you believed what some gay activists and bloggers have been saying, Obama has morphed into another Bush. Those people need to get a grip.

Which is not say they don’t have some valid points. For example, activists are right that GLBT concerns and issues aren’t taken as seriously by the new Administration as other minorities’ are. Also, there are no out-gay or lesbian people in Obama’s cabinet. Let’s contrast these two with the Bush-Cheney regime: Not only did they not pay any attention to GLBT issues, they did everything in their power to make things worse for us. A current example is the US opposing the UN’s gay rights resolution: Some State Department staff wanted the US to back it, but Bush-Cheney’s “pro-family” appointees made sure the US opposed it.

In my opinion—and it’s just that—there was never any real possibility that an out-gay or lesbian person would be appointed to the Cabinet. It was rumoured that lesbian labour activist Mary Beth Maxwell might be appointed Secretary of Labor, but I wonder if that was just a kind of wishful-thinking. Nancy Sutley was appointed chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality and some media said she was the first prominent, out-gay or lesbian person to join Obama’s cabinet—but that’s hardly a cabinet or even cabinet-level position. It’s also important to remember that very often Secretaries have little power, and often these “lesser” positions have a lot of power. Needless to say, there would never even be a rumour of an out-gay or lesbian cabinet official for any Republican.

Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has an anti-gay voting record. He voted to enshrine a “one man, one woman” definition of marriage in the Constitution twice, he voted to ban gay adoptions in the District of Columbia, he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and he twice voted against the Uniting American Families Act which would have allowed US citizens to bring their non-US citizen partners into the US, a law that would affect people like me. This is part of his solidly conservative voting record, including being completely anti-abortion and against stem-cell research, for example.

As Secretary of Transportation, however, LaHood won’t be working on any of these issues. It has been suggested that if Obama is to get Congress to pass the biggest transportation infrastructure legislation since Eisenhower’s interstate highway program, he’ll need a legislative insider respected by both parties. So, LaHood’s anti-GLBT record is irrelevant, especially because he was never a leader on any of those issues—he just voted the wrong way on them.

So, what do we get in the new Administration? We have mostly good, competent and fair-minded people, and a few who are well behind the times on social issues. There’s a mix of races, genders and parties—and arguably even ideology within those parties. What we have, in other words, is an Administration that looks more like America than the one that’s about to leave. If President Obama is to win the support of all Americans, and not just those on the centre and left, then not all of his appointees can be expected to pass our litmus tests. That’s politics.

The issue of Rick Warren, however, is completely different due to the huge symbolic message it sends out. That’s a mistake that I can’t—and won’t—defend. I’m disappointed about the speaking role for Warren, but you know what? I’ll glady take this Administration after eight years with nothing but disappointment over and over again. The reality is that even with these disappointments, the worst day of the Obama-Biden Administration will be far, far better than the best day of the outgoing one. Not even Rick Warren can change that.


epilonious said...

I dunno, I still think Rick Warren is a lot better than most of the other evangelical super-preachers out there. He's on the 'lets focus more on the needy and the morally bankrupt' side of the rift than the older 'lets scour the gays from the earth' position of such people. (IE, he seems to care about the things Jesus cares about).

Granted, I can only expect/understand Gay People will damn him with faint praise rather than just damn him, but I also expect Obama to be talking with a lot more people that Gay People will really not like.

And I guess I'd much rather see Gays try the whole disagree without being disagreeable thing which Obama is striving-for rather than get really angry about it. Namely because I don't think the Anger over the gay marriage issue will get us anything beyond a "aww, did the gays not get what they wanted, well life sucks sometimes..." type of reaction, and it will blind people to possible collaborations and common ground because we'll just be focused on how much we hate the other side.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

You know, I think I finally get where you're coming from and, as I'm sure you've been able to work out, I don't completely disagree with you. But obviously I don't completely agree with you, either.

First, about Warren, I agree that he comes across as "a lot better than most of the other evangelical super-preachers out there", but I suggest he's really no different. I base that on the fact that he said so (he said the only difference between him and the vile James Dobson is one of tone) and on his own statements, like saying that same-sex marriage is the same as incestuous, polygamous and pedophile “marriages”. His own church forbids membership to out gay people—unless they're seeking to "change" and, of course, like most megachurches, they run an extensive ex-gay delusion. These are among the reasons I say he's no different in intent or agenda than any other far right christianist preacher, and he is, in fact a typical anti-gay bigot.

I do agree, however, that generally gay rights isn't what he chooses to talk about (apart from being an ardent proponent of Prop 8). I also acknowledge that the old-line hard right christianists despise Warren because he talks about poverty and climate change, which—let's be honest—most of the far right preachers refuse to even acknowledge exist, let alone talk about.

It's because he's a bigot that I think inviting him to the Inauguration was a mistake—not a surprise, but still a mistake. But as you've no doubt noticed, I'm not willing to go to the barricades over it, and I think that those who declare that this somehow makes Obama anti-gay need to get a grip.

I also generally agree with you about anger. I completely understand where it comes from and why, and I think some rage is okay. But—and this is a big "but"—I also think that in the long run anger alone won't get us anywhere. We need something sustainable and long-term.

However, I couldn't care less about some straight people adopting a "life sucks sometimes" attitude, and "possible collaborations and common ground" are largely illusory. In a previous life, I was a gay activist. I was the suit-and-tie kind who are now so reviled, even though we got things done (in my day, anyway).

In the main, straight people only saw our side if we were seen as victims, which meant we were at a position of weakness, depending on them to "save" us. Maybe that worked before my time, but by the Reagan years, weakness wasn't rewarded in a "bootstraps" political culture where everyone was expected to seize opportunities. When we did, we got precisely the reaction you describe, so whichever way we went—victimhood or champion—we couldn't gain straight approval.

However, once we won a battle, straights usually accepted it. In California, the anti-marriage equality side has been shrinking—from nearly two-thirds against marriage equality in the first initiative to barely over half this time to now polls showing a majority in favour of marriage equality. What has made the difference has been out and visible GLBT people; what we always said really is true, that once straights see and realise that people they know and care about are gay, they're far less likely to be anti-gay and may even become pro-gay rights.

As for collaborations, in my time as an activist, those were attempted mostly with the left and sometimes centrist "liberal" groups. Those groups were sometimes willing to lend their name to, say, our position on legislation, but in return we were expected to endorse virtually their entire agenda, diverting scarce resources (time, personnel, money) to fight their causes—even if they had little or nothing to do with our own. They were seldom willing to reciprocate, and this is exclusively on the centre and left—the right wouldn't even talk to us.

Times change. There has been some work with the right in some areas of common interest (such as combating HIV/AIDS in minority communities, or helping homeless GLBT youth). But apart from community issues, there has never been much dialogue, much less cooperation between the GLBT political movement and the right for one simple reason: Our positions on GLBT issues are completely opposite from each other and there is no common ground.

Or, is there? Some right wing christianists—very few, but some—say that what they opppose is marriage for gay people, and they may support "civil unions". Putting aside the fundamental problems with those, the issue hasn't often been explored where opposition to marriage equality is the strongest. Even the Mormons claimed that they could support civil unions (I personally think they were lying as a campaign tactic, but they can still prove me wrong on that).

When the dust settles, there will be a return to the mostly quiet work that went on before, but hopefully with a much more active street side. Because we suit-and-tie types were always far more effective with rag tag demonstrations—it made us seem so much more reasonable to deal with by comparison, even if our demands were identical. And for that reason, I'm not willing to tell the angry to stop their anger—they just shouldn't expect that, by itself, it will change anything. But neither should the angry give up on Obama, because inviting Warren is not the end of the world, or anything else. However, the evidence suggests that this will make the new Administration a little more careful in the future, and that's a good thing, too.

There, maybe I made myself a little clearer, too?