=1>If you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was, she’s being who she was born as.
If only my ass could hold that much blown sunshine. John Kerry talked the talk, but walked with a Republican limp that may have cost him the election, and certainly cost liberals a few handfuls of soul. Lynne Cheney knew exactly how to respond to the invocation of her dirty little open secret, a lesbian daughter she loves. She dug around in her purse, pushing aside the kitten heads and the directions to her clit she’d jotted down for Dick and pulled out her ample stash of instant outrage, speaking not the language of authentic values, but simply its tones. Because she knows better than anyone that the affect of morality in this country is really all in the vocal modulation, the same strategy you use to draw your dog closer in order to strike it with a rolled newspaper. Kerry pulled “a cheap and tawdry political trick” she said, and picking up the White House God line, she handily determined “he is not a good man”.
I think Kerry was making a subtle dig, but it was a substantive ethical barb and not as Lynne puts it, a “trick”, which must be conservative code for “anything that makes us realize how evil we actually are”. Kerry simply pointed out the gulf between the Cheney’s private relationship with their daughter and the political goals she and her husband actively support. If Dick and Lynne love their daughter and support her relationship with her partner, why don’t they beat back against their party’s hungry lynch mobs? Ah yes, could it be because they fear that offering a moral counter narrative to evangelicals divinely granted monopoly on right and wrong would have shaved off a few votes that they needed to retain political power? They chose focus group polling in swing states over validating the life of their own flesh and blood. But liberals are far too squeamish for this level of confrontation: we want everyone to find their own path in the realm of values. But it would do us good to remember that tolerance is not a suicide pact.
If I had been Kerry’s political consultant, I would have prepared the following statement to be read with lips in a Billy Idol curl, legs straddling ala Elvis Fonz, a beer in one hand, and the other extending a middle finger that ideally should be shaken like it’s full of the vibrating fury of justice. “You fucking bitch. You stand by as your political associates exacerbate fear and loathing for your daughter, stand by as they call her a “hedonist” and worse, inscribing her inequality into their constitutions as they savagely plan for the day when she might be kept from employment, jailed, or as the most ardent among Christian reconstructionists believe, executed. What kind of mother are you? I’m sorry I recognized your daughter’s equal humanity and even sorrier that you can’t.”
But Kerry couldn’t do that because he had already conceded the essence of the overarching argument, that even if it’s not gay people’s, ahem, “fault” for being “that way”, we certainly can’t allow them to leave the kiddie table of freedom. That’s too bad, because by my estimation, there never was a gay marriage debate. If amendments banning gay marriage on the ballots in 11 states truly were the deciding factor in this election, then Democrats have only themselves to blame. After all, if gay marriage truly is as bad as Kerry and George Bush say, why not vote for the candidate who has shown more ferocity in his desire to hold the fort against all those “there goes the neighborhood” homos?
We were too frightened by the possibility of Bush’s reelection to recognize that Kerry frets his way around the language of values, handling it in his speeches the way macho men hold their wives’ purses for them. Kerry wanted to slip into Republican frames of moral discourse instead of carving out his own. As a consequence, waiting for Kerry to eke out a moral position was like waiting for a myna bird to accidentally recite a poem. Maybe every liberal except me bought Kerry’s knotting caveats about why his vote for Presidential authority to invade Iraq weaved in perfectly with his opposition to said war, but I suspect that most of you were like me in that, while at a surface intellectual level you “understood” the argument, you really wished he’d just admitted that he’d fucked up. As it stood, Kerry suffered mightily under his inability to reconcile his stated beliefs and actual policy positions. On Iraq, his answer came down to, “I said yes, but I wanted more foreplay”. On gay marriage, his position was somewhere between an apology and trying to give a theology lecture while brushing his teeth.
If he believed the quote above, how he could he possibly believe that committed partners do not deserve recognition of their unions? If people are born gay, why should they be punished solely as a concession to some group’s far reaching sexual panic? Kerry’s position seems even less sensible when coupled with his comments in an earlier debate that he didn’t believe it was the President’s job to impose his own personal, religious beliefs on the entire country. If Kerry can claim that kind of divided consciousness on matters of abortion, then why not with gay marriage, too? Ultimately, I voted for Kerry because I thought he didn’t really believe what he said. On that score, should I be surprised that plenty of people voted against him because they thought the same damn thing?
Had Democrats honestly unpacked the issue, they could have blunted much of its force. Most importantly, what harm could possibly befall marriage if gay people were allowed to participate in the institution? Nobody and I mean nobody even acted like this had to be explained over the course of the campaign. Because both candidates assumed that gay marriage would be some sort of travesty against civilization, citizens heading to the polls were left to surrender to fever brained dreams of brimstone and social meltdown. I might be yet again overestimating the committed stupidity of my fellow Americans, but I think Kerry had two avenues of argument on this issue that would have won out in the long run, if not the short term.
The first is a simple appeal to the “nunya biznass” strain of our culture that appeals to large cross sections of our population. I grew up in a deeply conservative small town and I can tell you that plenty of working class people have a healthy aversion to “Jesus freaks” and view them as nosy people who project their self-righteousness onto others because their own lives are usually hidden mass graves of wrongdoing. Democrats could have rhetorically posed the obvious: “How in the hell is giving the lesbian couple down the street a marriage license going to affect anyone else’s marriage? Do you go around your block finding out who might be committing adultery, who might be a single mother or who might have returned from a balls out Vegas bender with a band of gold mysteriously materialized on their index finger?” The most obvious short circuit of this doomsaying is to point out that the doomsayers are the least likely to be affected. Is there a single religious fundamentalist that would stop getting married because their government approved gay marriage? Who are these people that would suddenly just start cannibalizing their flocks of illegitimate children once the equality floodgates were opened? Hysteria got a free leash and people silently built an apocalypse from a molehill, when Democrats could have easily made the irrationality look ridiculous and melodramatic or in earthy common folk terms: utter bullshit.
Religious conservatives hide the true scope of their designs like they’re pet monsters held at bay with promises of “in good time, my pretties, all in good time.” In a recent Salon interview (“Get Ready For The ‘Revolution’ On The Right”, Mary Jacoby, 11 November 2004) right-wing activist Richard Viguerie couldn’t even bring himself to say that he wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade because he was hoping to quietly slip their judges through, so then right-wing Christianity could be imposed by judicial fiat. Yes, I’m aware of the myriad ironies therein. But we could have easily pointed out that gays and lesbians are only the current number one on their enemies list. How would straight people like the criminalization of adultery or the expansion of sodomy laws to include their original Biblical prohibitions against all oral and anal sex, straight or gay? Oh, yeah, the fundies don’t seem too pleasant now, do they? Because you know you heteros love getting freaky in the bedroom doing stuff that would make John Ashcroft flagellates himself for even thinking about. There has always been “gay person” at the core of their message; it used to be blacks, women, and Jews. Liberals have a proud history of shaming these people into relative quiet. We got lazy and soft and far too content to believe that the bad guys always get their comeuppance, forgetting that in order for that to happen, someone has to give it to them.
Tune out the punditry in the next weeks, because despite our narrow loss, they’ll be preaching some warmed over version of “more of the same”. They’ll tell us that our real problem is that we’re not Republicans. They’ll offer us guilt to add to our sorrow, call our sense of right “elitist” and exhort us to make nice and ask for more porridge with our caps crushed humbly into our chests. Would conservatives do that? When they lost the presidency in 1993 and again in 1997, they embarked on a tax payer funded Machiavellian assault, digging in the President’s underwear drawer in the hopes of thwarting democracy through phony scandal politics. They view power as a birthright and there is nothing immoral as long as it’s done to a liberal. I’m not saying we should match their bottomlessness, only that we shouldn’t flinch if we need to crush their toes into bone meal.
Kerry deserves some credit, even as many of us share the collective responsibility of pretending that the democrats could junk our better angels and sound more like Republicans just to get rid of the monkey messiah. At least Kerry did not take the advice that pork chop letch, Bill Clinton, who suggested ratcheting up anti-gay rhetoric in order to tempt a few pieces of filth into the fold. (Newsweek, Special Election Issue, 15 November 2004) I am reminded how Bill Clinton made sure to fly home and execute a retarded man during his campaign to prove to borderline Republicans that he could be heartless and morally stunted enough to pick up a southern State.
Still, even as I hammer at Kerry for not making his difference more stark, I can’t imagine what it’s like to get put through the Republican’s demonizing hate machine. We should have been better prepared though, because the Republican political apparatus is built around hypocritical audacity masquerading as the clarion call to virtue. Bush’s campaign attacked Kerry’s patriotism and his military service, even though their own cokehead, alkie underachiever treated his National Guard service the way the cast of Animal House treated their term papers. They scared up a rumor of an affair and went after his wife with knives drawn for not being more like lovely Laura, who sits with folded hands in her lap and lacquered grin as the atrocities of the world pass before her. Thank God at least one woman in the world understands the importance of her absence. They painted the Democrats as people willing to feed us all to the wolves, and yet it was conservatives who sacrificed our security in war based wholly on intentional deceptions and some poisonous vision ripped from the Book of Revelation and the oeuvre of Steven Segal. Kerry could have driven that point home again and again, but instead he preferred an expansive thoughtfulness that wouldn’t shit or get off the pot.
The path ahead is not necessarily going to be riddled with major victories. Conservatives have a huge head start in the discourse of morality, and it’s going to take a long, concerted effort and the breaking of many china thin niceties in order to point out that history tells a different tale. But we won before, so much so that conservatives have implicitly absorbed much of our morality in their public front, even if privately they still believe in racial superiority or that women should never leave the home unless it’s to go get groceries or to take their litter to church.
The war on terror is a shoplifted patchwork of our desires for humanitarianism around the globe, a notion that Republicans used to scoff at as they blithely funded and supported genocidal warlords and theocratic fascists. Did you ever think you’d hear a Republican talk about women’s rights in Afghanistan as an achievement, rather than a troublesome development of secularism? Liberals should put the brass knuckles on and show that we do have ethical stakes in the world and our lives are filled with a passionate sense of what is right and just. Our concern for those less fortunate than us is a sign of elegant strength as surely as Republican greed and indifference to suffering is a sign of their weakness and crumpling cowardice when it comes to actually living the teachings of Christ versus simply using God as a bludgeoning extension of the ego’s darkest cancers.
On nearly every question of moral courage this country has ever faced (desegregation, women’s equality, freedom of religion for Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness and Catholics), conservative fundamentalists have been on the wrong side, suckling their fears and unifying only in the perpetual search for a common victim. If liberals really want to win, we need to approach our values with Bill O’Reilly certitude and language that burns with clarity, beauty, fearlessness, and hope. We need to paint the contrast of two America’s, one where freedom truly casts the widest possible embrace and liberty trumps insecurity, and the other which is little more than a Christian Iran, where the mind of God is crushed in the eye of a needle. We need to club Republican ideas back under the rock where they belong. We need to make “faggot” as morally repugnant an epithet as “nigger”, which even the most right-wing Republican will only mutter once the servants and David Brooks have left the room. Oh, wait, I guess that last part is redundant, since Brooks is really just a boot licker for people who use him to make their terror more palatable like Smuckers on a shit cracker
Here’s my advice to liberals: start talking the language of right and wrong, because we actually mean it, and just so happen to be on the preferred side of the dichotomy. My advice to conservatives? Get ready to defend your empty ground, because you’re about to get the beat down of your lives as liberals recover from your sucker punch and rise up to take apart that Jim Jone’s Kool-Aid you call “values”.