Sunday, December 21, 2008

What If They Threw a Culture War and Nobody Showed Up?

Back when the presidential campaign was just getting warmed up - was that like eight years ago? - I was one of those who caught a lot of heat for not backing Barack Obama in the primaries. Let's just say I had my reasons but they were not based in any truly negative feelings about the Senator from Illinois.

Barack Obama seemed like a great candidate to me for a future national campaign. I felt this way mostly because the country had had such little exposure to him at that point that it would be too easy for the Republicans to stir up baseless suspicion about every aspect of his life - just as they did and continue to do. I am gratified that Obama and his growing team of professionals proved to be able to hold up under such mud-slinging and clinch the Presidency for him.

Still, the right wing persists conspiratorially, pounding lies into the heads of their obstinate followers that Obama is indeed a foreign-born secret Muslim socialist with ties to terrorism even as the President-elect prepares to take office. They are not about to quit any time soon so let's just hope that reason will ultimately prevail and those dubious unfounded claims will eventually yield to reason for the most part.

My greatest doubts about his early campaign were more about his "followers" than about him. I admit I was put off by the degree of blind devotion his early supporters showed: it seemed more apostolic than politic. I was suspicious of the heights to which his supporters raised him on that pedestal of adulation as though he embodied a prophesied savior sent to lead us out of bondage.

If there was anything about the man, Obama, that put me off it was his undeniable charisma.

I had felt the pull of it myself on that one occasion I had to be in his audience - when he came to in Philadelphia during the 2004 campaign. His charismatic draw was palpable and awesome. He could have said anything, I thought; the whole lot of us were inexplicably entranced by something emanating from this man's presence.

Lo, it made me sore afraid!

But of course I voted for him and I am thrilled that Obama won. I look forward to the inevitable huge changes that have already begun to take shape in the way we think about the government and the way the world looks at us. I believe he could become one of the greatest presidents we have ever had. But I am still weary of some of Obama's followers now that he has begun to take on the job as President.

About a year ago, when I saw how some some of Obama's devotees were breathlessly in awe of him, thinking he would be the answer to all our problems, I wondered aloud how crushingly awful it would be for them when he actually started work and made his first decision, after being elected, that did not necessarily please them.

Now I have seen this come to pass as well. Obama's choice of homophobic minister Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation has pissed off some people in the LGBT faction of the Democratic Party so bad that they are saying such things in blogs and elsewhere that they are sorry they voted for him. Some are already saying they won't vote for him in 2012 and are threatening to boycott the inaugural parade (Really? come on, now!).

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign sent a letter to President-elect Obama decrying his invitation to Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the January 20th inauguration as "a genuine blow to LGBT Americans."

I think this does represent the vocal response of many in our community but not all of us. I, for one, feel that all this fuss is an unfortunate overreaction that makes us look more like a bunch of spoiled brats, kicking and screaming over a minor infraction that is overall and in the long run, ultimately meaningless. Two minutes of mumbo jumbo uttered during the warm-up to a right of passage should be considered nothing more than a blip on the radar, whoever does the uttering.

Obama obviously felt indebted to Warren - who is no doubt a bigot - for the exposure he provided him as a Presidential candidate that may have actually been the cause of more than a few votes switching from the McCain camp to ours. If this is the extent of his political payback for that favor - a cameo appearance at the inauguration for two minutes of meaningless jabber - then so what?

The media has enthusiastically picked up on the overblown rift between Obama and his LGBT supporters dredging up the tired old specter raging in the minds of those right wing extremists who invented the phenomenon of a "Culture War" in this country. Once again, we are foolishly letting ourselves be dragged right into the middle of it.

Is it worth it? Wouldn't it be better to let this minor, unmemorable and meaningless infraction slide and keep our sights focused on the real battles yet to come?

Politically, I think it is best to call a truce over this silly battle immediately. Obama has responded to the complaints, reiterating his support for our community as much as ever. Though he outwardly opposed California's Proposition 8 while Warren supported it, Obama NEVER supported full marriage rights for same-sex couples, any more than all the other major candidates for national office except for Dennis Kucinich.

At this point, if Obama gave in to our mounting demands and yanked Warren from the inaugural program he would be seen by the media as responsible for escalating the fake Culture War and he is not about to do anything as stupid as that. Rabid fundamentalists, still itching for a battle, would brand Obama as beholden to the interests of their enemies. And this would open up an even greater opportunity to the likes of the fag-hating Reverend Fred Phelps to bring more of his idiotic followers out in force to picket the inauguration and dog the new President for who knows how long?

As I said before, we are in danger of a replay of the same kind of issue that bogged down President Clinton at the start of his presidency. Then it was gays in the military that was used by the radical right to hinder his effectiveness in the long run and actually solidified the fundamentalist base who believe they are fighting the good fight in this imaginary Culture War. The cause was and is righteous but the tactics were tragically counterproductive, to say the least. We ended up with the worst possible scenario, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" which helped turn Clinton into such an emasculated advocate for our rights that he finally sold us out altogether, signing into law the "Protection of Marriage Act" under a cloak of shame.

HRC's current letter to President-elect Obama correctly points out that "Our loss in California over the passage of Proposition 8 which stripped loving, committed same-sex couples of their given legal right to marry is the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years."

But it goes overboard, I think in following that with: "by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table."

After ticking off inarguable legitimate reasons why Warren's views and actions are offensive to reasonable people everywhere, the HRC letter concludes, "We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination. Only when Rev. Warren and others support basic legislative protections for LGBT Americans can we believe their claim that they are not four-square against our rights and dignity. In that light, we urge you to reconsider this announcement."

So, OK, now that our main advocacy organization has made our objections known, I am just saying that we should move past it. Let Warren have his payback with those fleeting two-minutes of fame. This will appease those who need to see somebody at the inauguration speaking as though from a "pulpit" - a concession to religion that I find more objectionable than anything else but I'm not going to raise hell about it.

For those who still buy into the divisive myths of our day, it's time to withdraw our gay troops from the Culture War. We have bigger fish to fry, real issues to confront and other, real-world wars to end.


P.S. Obama may have picked a turd to deliver the invoca-shun, but I expect real inspiration will come from the Inaugural Poet he has chosen: Elizabeth Alexander. 

This will be only the fourth time a poet has been asked to compose a piece and read it at the swearing in. The first was Robert Frost who read at JFK's inauguration.

Big Surprise: Republicans have never had a purely creative person of culture featured at their inaugurations. Alexander is a cool and edgy choice and we are in for a real treat that will surely outshine any of the fire-and-brimstone crap the preacher man may bore us with.

Here is an excerpt from one of her works...


funky, is
leaky, is
a soggy, bloody crotch, is
sharp jets of breast milk shot straight across the room,
is gaudy, mustard-colored poop, is
postpartum tears that soak the baby’s lovely head.

Then everything dries and disappears
Then everything dries and disappears

is day into night into day,
light into dark into light, semi-
and full-fledged, hyperconscious,
is funky, is funny: the baby farts,
we laugh. The baby burps, we smile, say “Yes.”
The baby poops, his whole body stiffens,
then steam heat floods the pipes.
He slashes his nose with nails we cannot bear to trim,
takes a nap, and the wounds disappear.
The spirit lives in your squirts and coos.
Your noises and fluids are what you do.

is what we cannot see: you speak to the birds,
the birds speak back, is solemn,
singing, funky, frightening,
buckets of tears on the baby’s lovely head, is

“One day you’ll forget the baby,” Mother says,
“as if he were a pocketbook, a bag of groceries,
something you leave on a kitchen counter-top.
I left you once, put on my coat and hat,
remembered my pocketbook, the top and bottom locks,
got all the way to the elevator before I realized.

It only happens once.”

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