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Posted by gustav at 05:01AM, Thursday, December 06th, 2007

Why I'm Not an Obama Fan

Friends, acquiantences, and strangers have assumed that I was an Obama supporter often enough that it's time for me to articulate why I'm not.

Don't get me wrong: I'm certainly not going to vote for John McCain, since a McCain presidency would undoubtedly destroy what's left of the integrity of the Supreme Court once and for all -- thereby, among other things, pushing back chances for gay equality by decades -- and doom the American industrial economy. However, that doesn't mean I'm happy about the Democrats, once again, nominating what I see as a hypocritical, conservative, religious candidate with weak coalition-building skills.

Relegated to the supporting cast: ignoring the civil rights struggle of our time

Back in 2004, Barack Obama rocketed onto the scene with what many heard as a visionary unifying speech. For some of us, there was a pretty remarkable absence from that speech. 2004 was the year that the so-called culture wars reached the boiling point, when Mayor Gavin Newsom directed San Francisco city officials to start giving marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, and when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its ruling that discriminating against gays and lesbians by refusing to allow them to marry violated the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The reaction from blow-hard politicians of both parties, and from the media, was immense. John Kerry fell over himself in his rush to assure the populace that he opposed gay marriage. Talking heads bloviated about how the "threat" of gay marriage was going to doom the Democrats' chances to take over the White House and the Congress. Of course, when the dust had settled in November, it turned out that Democrats managed to lose their races for completely different reasons, and there was as little truth to the assertions that gay rights would doom the party as there was to Bush's claim to have received a mandate (with more people voting against him than for any presidential candidate in American history.) ("[T]he election returns indicate that President Bush did less well in these battleground states with anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiatives than in battleground states that did not have referenda on same-sex marriage" cite)

This, then, was a remarkable year for people like me living in Massachusetts. I was finally able to obtain legal recognition of my marriage, allowing hospital visitation rights, inheritance, and all the other legal and social benefits of marriage -- at least on the state level. Meanwhile, I was scapegoated by the press and Democratic party officials for having the gall to think such rights were so important that they couldn't wait until some undefined, more-convenient time. The justices who issued the well-thought-out and soundly-reasoned ruling were accused of being traitorous activists. Petitions circulated in the state to change its constitution to strip me of my new-found rights. Kerry's disorganized presidential campaign couldn't figure out what to do with my offers of time and assistance; they asked for money instead, which, though I was nearly bankrupt that year, I gave them -- only to have Kerry, days later, denounce my relationship and its legal status.

That was the year I vowed never again to become involved in the campaign of a politician who opposed marriage equality. As we found out in 1954, separate is not equal (cite), and anyone who claims to favor gay equality, while actually opposing marriage equality, is contradicting himself.

Onto this scene burst Barack Obama, with his convention speech. It was hailed as nearly paramount to the second coming in the media and amongst so-called progressives. He gave a stirring oration about patriotism and race, quoting from the Declaration of Independence (a document whose assertions about the pursuit of happiness, echoed via the 14th Amendment, were, coincidentally, cited in the SJC decision in Massachusetts). He spoke of how, despite disparities in class and health, income, geography, and religion, Americans fundamentally agreed on issues of equality. He spoke about uniting against our real enemies, while not confusing who those might be. And yet, amidst all of this happy agreement and platitudes about coming-together, what did he say about what was, to many of us, the Big Issue, the elephant in the room, from 2004 -- gay equality? Only this:

"Yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States." (cite)

Note that his "we," which can encompass union workers and skyscraper-dwellers, Hawaiians and marines and black folks and Democrats and Republicans, doesn't include gay people. How about "We are gay parents in the Red States, we are straight Christians in the Blue States?" No, instead, we gays are no more than the friends, relegated to the supporting cast just as we were on 80s TV shows and movies, sent to the back of the bus, once again objectified as "other." Obama's "we" does not include us.

Forgive me for not finding his speech as unifying as others did. Forgive me also for taking offence that atheists, too, are not part of his great "we." I'm sure this is easy to dismiss as an overreaction, by those sitting within Obama's great "we" circle, but for me, I've witnessed this objectification and distancing far too many times already.

Honestly, I would be happy at this point to say that, perhaps, I was overreacting; perhaps it was just the oratory of a timid newcomer to the national stage, who nonetheless had his heart in the right place. Unfortunately, Obama did not make it possible to leave it at that.

Separate but Equal:

Remember Gavin Newsom, the hero of the gay equality movement, who was demonized by other so-called progressives for supposedly bringing out the anti-gay vote in 2004? In an interview with Reuters in 2007, when he was asked about political repurcussions he'd felt from his decision to pursue marriage equality, he said:

"One of the three Democrats you mentioned as presidential candidates, as God is my witness, will not be photographed with me, will not be in the same room with me," Newsom told Reuters, "even though I've done fundraisers for that particular person - not once, but twice - because of this issue." (cite)

This year, Willie Brown confirmed that the prominent politician Newsom spoke of was, in fact, Obama. (cite)

At just the time the one thing in the world gays and lesbians, and, frankly, the Democratic party in general needed was a figure, such as Newsom, with conviction and a righteous claim to the moral high ground, Obama was trying to stamp out and stifle that very thing. Which, given the message of his campaign, is a bit hypocritical, to say the least.

Obama's anti-equality actions didn't stop there. Obama told the Chicago Tribune in March, 2007:

"I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman." (cite)

This non-statement is astonishing. He's trying to have his cake and eat it -- his religious beliefs shouldn't affect his political beliefs, he says, before justifying his political belief in inequality with his religion.

Obama has continued to put his faith in the spotlight (which is one of the reasons the continuing conservative claims that he's Muslim are so absurd.) For his "Embrace the Change" event in South Carolina, his campaign invited anti-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin to be a headliner. McClurkin has railed against homosexuality and labeled it a choice -- and said, on Pat Robertson's ultra-far-right TV show the "700 Club," that gay people are "trying to kill our children." (cite, cite) After the HRC objected, Obama added a gay preacher to the lineup -- but did not remove McClurkin -- to "balance" things out. (cite)

Now is the time for the requisite imagination exercise. Imagine, if you will, what would have been the outcry, had Hillary Clinton or John Edwards attended a fundraiser with a religious speaker whom the campaign had invited to keynote, who had made a public speech on the Christian Broadcasting Network claiming that black people, Jews, or Catholics were "trying to kill our children." There would, rightfully, have been high-profile denouncements from major media outlets and commentators on both ends of the political spectrum. Racism, at least when publicly and incontrovertibly expressed (as opposed to when it's couched in a veil of incompetence, as during Katrina,) is anathema in this country now. The same cannot be said of bigotry against gays and lesbians.

Bringing bigots and the people against whom they're bigoted into the same fundraiser is an odd way for Obama to highlight his message of bringing people together. And this is a racially-charged matter, since anti-gay black churches in the South are a base of support for Obama, and criticizing his support of them can and is often reported on with overtones of racism (see here: "A vigil that was planned to protest outside of the concert included only about 20 people, almost all white..." Is that really relevant?). Still, Obama's claims that civil unions for gays are separate but equal -- not a "lesser thing" (cite) -- are odious and blatantly untrue, as the Supreme Court decided half a century ago. It's ironic to hear them coming from a man who calls himself black. Such claims -- and one cannot honestly claim that Obama is so naive with respect to constitutional law that he does not know these claims to be lies -- are nearly as odious as inviting to represent his campaign a religious extremist who accuses all gay people of attempting murder. Obama himself seemed surprised by the subsequent negative reaction to his actions from the gay press, which has led many of us to question not only his lip service to equality, but his campaign's political acumen as well.

So much for bringing people together.

Principles versus Realpolitik: Change We Can Believe In?

By Spring 2008, of course, that permanent Republican majority that we all feared a few years back has begun to collapse. Yet we did deeply fear that majority, and, if not for wholesale abuse of power and sheer incompetence, along with contempt for the ability of the common people to bring any of that to light, it need not have ended. What did *not* cause the collapse was what swept the hard-right Republicans into power in the first place: their unabashed support of their base.

Aside from a few ridiculous claims to compassionate conservatism, Bush has never been apologetic about the desires of his base, or his desires to fulfil them. He ran on a vehemently anti-abortion platform, when most Americans favored the right to choose (cite). His views on issues like the environment and stem cell research were not in line with the views of most Americans, either (cite, cite.) Yet he attained the presidency in two successive terms. The conventional wisdom is that, even when voters disagreed with him, they respected his convictions, and he stuck by them. Clearly, then, having views with which a small majority of Americans disagree is no impediment to attaining office -- at least for Republicans.

Despite this example, across the aisle, no "serious" Democratic candidate for President has ever been pro-gay-equality. The notion that such a thing might be possible is dismissed out-of-hand. All the "serious" candidates have at one time or another expressed their revulsion for the concept of gay marriage. When I've forked over a few hundred of my hard-earned, which I couldn't afford, to an incompetent campaign which then turns around and denigrates my marriage, that leaves a pretty bitter taste.

I believe, too, that all this anti-gay rhetoric from Democrats is all for naught. His actions got Kerry damned by conservatives like an ex-coworker of mine, who said that he didn't care what Kerry really believed; he just couldn't vote for a man he felt was too timid to express his convictions. If Kerry had unequivocally announced his support for gay rights and marriage equality, this Republican told me, rather than loudly agreeing with George Bush about civil unions, he would have had my coworker's vote. Instead, he got painted by the corporate media (accurately, I think) as being weak and afraid to voice his principles, if he had any -- and portrayed by conservative activists as pro-gay-marriage, despite Kerry's protestations.

This is a lose-lose tactic; lose-lose-lose, really, since it not only impairs Democrats' chances of being elected, while failing to support their base and convincing conservatives of their spinelessness, but alienates potential gay donors, as well. Gays and lesbians are relatively unlikely to jump ship to the Republican party, and yet this Kerry experience has prevented me from donating to any presidential candidate since. I'll point out that we gays are a very politically-active demographic with a lot of disposable income. Angering us is just not wise policy, yet time and time again, major Democratic candidates demonstrate their incompetence at building any coalition which includes us.

(To those who would argue that marriage equality is a minor issue in comparison with all the others that loom in national elections, I merely say: if that is your argument, and you are married, then get divorced. If you're unmarried, then vow never to marry. This will demonstrate your solidarity, and the sincerity of your professed belief that marriage is comparatively trivial. Once you do that, I will believe you, when you say marriage equality is relatively unimportant. If you're not willing to do this, then your argument is empty and you're a common hypocrite, advocating for others what you'd never undertake yourself, and objectifying as separate, as fodder ripe for discrimination, those of us born gay or lesbian. It's hard for me to see how that makes you any different from any other bigot; it's worse, in a way, because, while claiming to be on our "side," you block our progress at every opportunity, throwing us under the bus in pursuit of an objective which, unsurprisingly, your candidates (Gore, Kerry) never seem to attain, anyway.)

Leadership We Can Believe In?

All of this is why I'm saddened that the nominee is yet another anti-gay-equality centrist with no vision and no willingness to step out in front of the crowd, to lead the populace rather following. As a gay American, I and my kind have been thrown under the wheels of the party's bus too many times for me to volunteer to pay for the gas any longer. I no longer support the party. I will, of course, support individual candidates who espouse marriage equality. Sadly, these are almost entirely at the local level -- but, as the old saw goes, that's what politics is, and we've got some great local politicians in Massachusetts. People like Pat Jehlen and Deval Patrick -- and, of course, Gavin Newsom, on the other coast -- are the politicians who give me hope for the future. It is people like these who lead, not candidates who run on a platform of change and newness, and yet advocate nothing different when it comes to the civil rights issues of our time which directly concern me. History will note people like Newsom in hagiographies of gay rights leaders. Marriage equality will, of course, come about eventually, despite the opposition of major Democrats, and history will not be forgiving of those who opposed it, just as it has not been forgiving of those who argued against inter-racial marriage or the abolition of slavery. If civil rights history mentions politicians such as Barack Obama -- or John Kerry, or Al Gore, or Hillary Clinton -- at all in this context, it will be as proponents of the status quo, rather than as leaders.

This is terribly unfortunate, since what we need right now in American politics is leadership -- not just for civil rights, but for the necessary changes in global warming and health care policy (an area in which Obama agrees with the Republicans far too often: cite) which will enable the U.S. to compete in the global economy in the next century. I haven't seen such leadership in a national politician for years, despite what I see as the clear need. So don't ask me to get excited about the vacant and hypocritical promises of yet another national non-leader, or to believe that -- despite everything I've seen in his handling of issues like equality and health care, which are important to me, and despite what I've seen about his cluelessness and hypocrisy when it comes to bringing people together -- his effectiveness on other issues will, inexplicably, be different. Ask me to oppose his Republican opponent, and ask me to vote for him, but do not ask me to support yet another spineless Democrat who opposes equality, and supports religionists who label me a murderer for my sexual orientation. I will no longer pitch in with gas money for the bus under whose wheels I once again find myself tossed, and I will not congratulate anyone on his steering of it.

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