With Open Eyes

Commentary: Town Square

by Richard J. Rosendall
Published on October 26, 2006, 12:00am | Comments

If not the morning after the election, then soon thereafter, we will all move from the false certitudes and pretended stark choices of the political contest to the contingencies of actually having to govern. And if you have overdosed on the campaign ads for the Maryland and Virginia races as I have, you are probably sick of hearing even the candidates you favor.

Lately, my e-mail inbox has been a competition between the Democratic National Committee and a horde of people who want to enlarge my penis, send me winnings from a lottery I never entered, renew my account information at banks I never heard of, and appoint me the American agent for various well-funded overseas enterprises that are desperate to receive the benefit of my investment skills. I am particularly doubtful as to why I am being wooed so assiduously by someone who signs his messages, ''Governor Howard Dean, M.D.''

I love the fundraising e-mails that repeat a link to facilitate online giving after every couple of paragraphs, like a child tugging at its mother in the supermarket: ''Mommy, Mommy, click on this, click on this!'' If voters are really as stupid as campaign managers seem convinced that we are, then perhaps we shouldn't blame those Diebold electronic voting machines for any strange results that occur on Election Day.

On Oct. 18, Gov. Dean sent me one of those ''Feed me! Feed me!'' e-mails seeking dollars from ''people just like you who believe that every Democrat should own a piece of this party -- in contrast to the special interests and lobbyists that own the Republican Party'' (as if Americans needed another reminder of that, Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney pleaded guilty to corruption charges on Friday). Somehow, Dean neglected to mention Louisiana Democratic Congressman William Jefferson, who was videotaped accepting $100,000 in bribe money, $90,000 of which was later found stuffed in his freezer.

On Oct. 19, Hillary Clinton sent me an e-mail on behalf of Tim Mahoney, the Democrat running for Mark Foley's seat in Congress. Inevitably, she talked about the need ''to protect our children,'' just as Maryland Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele does in a TV spot. This annoyed me despite my own criticism of Foley's abuse of his office, because few people honestly think of 16-year-olds as children, and the Democratic cries of outrage have been over-amplified by opportunism.

Sen. Clinton's message continued, ''Florida's 16th district deserves better representation than Mark Foley - and we all deserve a better Congress!'' While I agree that Congress will be improved by getting rid of the Republican leadership, I see no evidence that, the page scandal aside, Rep. Foley was such a poor representative in comparison to many of Clinton's Democratic colleagues.

Let's have a look at the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard. Mark Foley's scores for the 109th and 108th Congresses: 75 and 88. Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.): 89 and 88. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): 88 and 75. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa): 78 and 75. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.): 89 and 75. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.): 89 and 75. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.): 89 and 63. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.): 78 and 63. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.): 67 and 50. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.): 67 and 63.

To be sure, Democrats overall were much better than Republicans. For example, 10 Democratic senators earned perfect 100s from HRC, compared to one Republican, Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.). But the close races that will decide who controls the 110th Congress are between particular individuals, not statistics. Red-state Democrats, in order to defeat their Republican opponents, typically run to the right. For example, Tennessee Democratic senatorial candidate Rep. Harold Ford earned HRC scores of 25 and 44 in the 109th and 108th Congresses, after earning a 100 in the 107th. That shows the effect higher ambitions can have on a Bible-Belt politician.

None of this is meant to discourage those who, like me, seek a change in leadership on Capitol Hill. I am simply trying to administer a dose of reality. Even if the Democrats take control of both houses, they will almost certainly have narrow majorities, and the overall numbers on gay-related issues are unlikely to change much. The main difference, and it's a big one, will be in who gets to set the legislative calendar and run committees. Imagine the extraordinary moment when Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), HRC score 100, takes over the Financial Services Committee.

The value of a Democratic Congress would not be that it would pass pro-gay legislation (which would only provoke a presidential veto), but that it would apply brakes to the hell-bound train of the nation's current leadership. That is reason enough to vote Democratic this time out, but let's keep our eyes open. The last Democrat-controlled Congress gave us ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' and a ban on immigration for HIV-positive persons.

Looking ahead to the 2008 presidential race, the Democrats will need more than public disaffection with a retiring George W. Bush. They will need a candidate who can appeal to voters across the political spectrum. As it happens, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), HRC score 89, just announced he is considering a run. He is bright, attractive, inspiring and a deft centrist. He has charisma Hillary can only dream of. Please don't throw cold water on me for a while. I am entitled to dream, aren't I?

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.


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