Some thoughts at the start of the 112th Congress:
1. Congressional sessions do not end the day after the election. Prior to ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933, lame-duck sessions lasted four months. Since then, only two. Cries of illegitimacy will not undo the post-election actions by the 111th Congress any more than the Republicans can repeal health care reform by themselves. Their new governing responsibility will render sniping from the sidelines rather implausible.
2. Karma’s a bitch. On one hand, appeals to know-nothingism and nativism (along with the recession) helped the Republican Party distract voters from its aggressive efforts on behalf of the wealthiest Americans at everyone else’s expense. On the other hand, the House’s incoming Tea Party zealots promise to make Rep. John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) life miserable. Have a good cry, Mr. Speaker.
3. Decisions have consequences. LGBT activists collectively decided three years ago to oppose a non-transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Instead of blaming others for ENDA being stalled, let’s get on with the work of organizing, electioneering and lobbying.
4. Incrementalism works. The District of Columbia’s 1992 domestic-partnership law, far from blocking the path to marriage equality, helped lay the groundwork for it. I know; I was there. If you are an all-or-nothing purist but your state doesn’t have marriage equality, maybe you should look around and try a different approach.
5. Leftist intellectuals are not entirely wrong. Author Gore Vidal, in an interview three years ago, noted President George W. Bush’s assault on habeas corpus as well as the increasing corporate oligarchy and said pessimistically, “Republics don’t restore themselves.” With the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay still operating and corporate campaign donations now unlimited, he makes fair points. But let’s cool the doomsday rhetoric. After all, Republicans are divided; Vidal has not been dragged off to Gitmo; and Wikileaks is thriving despite several countries’ efforts against Julian Assange.
6. Diversity includes diversity of opinion. Arguments are inevitable, even healthy, in any robust movement. LGBT people cover the political spectrum. If one group isn’t your cup of tea, you can choose from hundreds of others or start your own. Fundamental differences can make fighting unavoidable. But instead of habitually falling into recriminations, it is more productive to focus on our own efforts while listening receptively and keeping our bridges in good repair.
7. People you dislike can still do worthwhile things. It is no surprise that someone as gruff as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has his gay detractors, but his expert takedown of a CNS News reporter over the silly issue of straight and gay soldiers showering together (which they’ve been doing all along anyway, as he pointed out) suggests the valuable role he will play in opposition. Personally, I am with my Boston cousins who love the guy. But politics is not a dinner party. Voters send representatives to Washington not to “get along” but to fight for their interests. No one is better at this than the gentleman from Massachusetts.
8. Give Barack Obama some credit. This president inherited two wars, a recession and a banking crisis, yet is the most accomplished since Lyndon Johnson. Creating change is messy and involves unsavory compromises; but only those more devoted to their anger than to our common cause can continue denying Obama any credit. I said credit, not canonization. The Cassandras are an increasing drag on the rest of us.
9. We are slowly winning. The liberal supermajorities of 2008 are gone with much of the LGBT agenda still unmet, but we’ve made landmark advances despite relentless right-wing obstruction. We have court battles ahead, plus countless personal conversations to change minds. Close that enthusiasm gap and get in the game.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.