Lately I’ve been saying that on Nov. 4, the lies about Sen. Barack Obama would finally end – and the lies about President-elect Obama would begin. As I write this, I do not know how the election will turn out; either way, the fight for the soul of America continues.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) ended the campaign in the gutter with her charge that Democratic challenger Kay Hagen was ”godless.” Hagen, a former Sunday-school teacher, slammed Dole for ”bearing false witness against fellow Christians.” This hard-hitting response is precisely how to turn the tables against the religious right and its allies who routinely violate the Ninth Commandment.
Last weekend brought a reminder that both parties are capable of dirty politics, when Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race was marred by an anonymous flier that photoshopped Republican incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell’s head on the bodies of the Village People and asked, ”Was Mitch McConnell discharged from the United States Army in 1967 for committing homosexual acts with another soldier?” There was also a radio spot from the government-employee union, AFSCME, saying, ”The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that McConnell was discharged after serving less than six months…. What is he hiding? Isn’t it time for Mitch McConnell to be straight with us?”
According to Wikipedia, McConnell was honorably discharged after being diagnosed with optic neuritis. Whatever the truth, the attack against McConnell illustrates Obama’s 2006 statement, ”We’ve come to be consumed by a 24-hour, slash-and-burn, negative ad, bickering, small-minded politics that doesn’t move us forward.”
Even if McConnell were known for personally trafficking in anti-gay demagoguery (and he is a far cry from a Rick Santorum), outing as a tactic trades in homophobia and thus works against gay dignity and equality. Partisan zealots do not care about this, because they think the end justifies the means. As Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, ”Most people who serve in Washington have been trained either as lawyers or as political operatives – professions that tend to place a premium on winning arguments rather than solving problems.” One thing we could learn from Obama is to project confidence in the face of Rove-style character assassination and to trade in hope rather than fear and smear.
A Democratic victory still leaves us a long way from passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and passing the Uniting American Families Act to help binational, same-sex couples. As Obama quoted Frederick Douglass in the final days of the campaign, ”Power concedes nothing.” We must make a positive case for our equal rights and overcome the closeted messaging still so prevalent in our initiative battles.
A hate-crimes bill will be the easiest thing to pass in the 111th Congress, but its success will improve our further prospects. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently told the Library of Congress GLOBE chapter that the prospects of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will improve once we are on a path of withdrawal from Iraq. This political reality is frustrating given the fact that the forced discharge of more than 12,000 service members is harming America’s military readiness. But that brings us back to the point about power conceding nothing. We have more work ahead to win the fights on military service, employment discrimination and immigration equality (including for my own partner, Patrick). From a longer perspective, a liberal or centrist president naming the next few Supreme Court justices could mean the difference between a Supreme Court that advances marriage equality versus one that reverses the 2003 Lawrence decision on sodomy.
After such an exhausting season, the prospect of further struggles is daunting for a volunteer activist. This is a reminder that increasing capacity and professionalizing our movement at the state level are essential for our long-term prospects. Front-line organizations require consistent support rather than the crisis-driven funding seen in the final weeks of the Prop. 8 fight in California. When the Mormon Church can pour $20 million into an anti-gay initiative, we cannot afford to wait for others to fill the breach for us. The fact is that our poll numbers improve when our side is properly funded and staffed.
As we take time to replenish ourselves and assess what worked and what did not, we can be uplifted by knowing that we are not fighting alone. Lend your strength to others, and all of us will move ahead.