Bipartisanship and centrism are back in the news as Obama's attempts to engage in a great compromise with Republicans on the economic recovery bill have fallen flat. He tried to include Republicans in good faith and that will likely make the upcoming depression longer and more painful, while centrists in the Senate have cut out the most useful programs from the bill in favor of more "middle class" tax cuts... you know, the poor people in the middle class who only have 6-figure incomes.
Well, it's important for LGBT folks to remember that centrism and bipartisanship do us no good either. When one side thinks that we're full and equal human beings deserving of the same rights, autonomy, and opportunities as everyone else and the other side thinks we're hell-bound perverts out to rape children and destroy Western civilization, there really isn't much space to find a compromise in which everyone wins.
But that doesn't mean that there isn't a certain type of political consultant who's tried to split that baby. "The Third Way," a think tank focused on finding solutions that make no one happy and that stunt liberal solutions by pretending the right has something to offer in terms of good-faith skepticism or ideas, has position papers on just about everything, including this one on ENDA:
[Centrists on gay issues] don't want their concerns dismissed, so supporters must show that these concerns were heard and addressed. That means talking about this legislation in terms of a common ground solution that took account of all sides.
It is fair for employers, because it takes the lead of America's most successful businesses. It is significant, in our view, that the business lobby does not oppose this legislation even though the legislation targets companies. This demonstrates that many in business realize that most employers are already ahead of Washington when it comes to equal employment opportunity. And ENDA is careful not to create, or imply, any rights for gays and lesbians that every other employee doesn't already have.
In addition, by including a specific exemption for religion that respects the freedom of religious communities to follow their own beliefs, lawmakers have listened to the concerns of people of faith. This legislation exempts faith-based employers who may feel that the hiring of gays and lesbians violates religious doctrine. Moreover, it upholds the moral and religious ideal of respecting the human dignity of all people. Thus, supporters can reject what groups like the Traditional Values Coalition say about the legislation.
When put into perspective, this moves the so-called center over to the far right. Let's consider a few things.
First, the ENDA is already very, very compromised. It doesn't deal with housing or public accommodation discrimination. It has a huge exemption, acknowledged by The Third Way, for religious organizations. Not just for churches determining who gets to be a member of clergy, which was a right they have that's never been threatened by any anti-discrimination legislation, but also to discriminate in anything they own, like charities, hospitals, schools, and other large institutions that employ many people and often receive federal and state funds.
Second, nowhere are transgender protections mentioned. That was supposed to be a half-a-loaf compromise to get wingers on board, even though cutting out an entire group of people would never be a half-a-loaf for that group of people.
Third, the TVC is defined as a mainstream right-wing organization, and nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, supporters can reject what they say, but they could have already - the TVC is a batshit insane group of fundies who represent nothing more than the most conservative sliver of Americans. Denouncing their ideology requires about as much courage as disagreeing publicly with Osama bin Laden would.
Fourth, this statement posits that people actually care whether the bill is "fair to business." The point of anti-discrimination legislation is to take away a freedom from businesses, that to fire based on their prejudice. It will always work against their interests, which is why passing a gender identity inclusive hate crimes law was much easier than a gender identity inclusive ENDA - Congress is much more comfortable with throwing people in prison than letting people sue businesses for discrimination. But the implication remains: if big business likes it, then it's the center.
Fifth, 90% of Americans support employment protections based on sexual orientation, a number the Third Way acknowledged in a separate memo. And about 2/3 of Americans support those protections based on gender identity. So, like, um, a full, loophole-free, all-inclusive ENDA is the center's preferred policy. Only a tiny minority of Americans feel that all the loopholes supported by the Third Way are necessary, and it makes no mathematical sense to put the "center" of American politics in a place between 10% and 90% of Americans.
Sixth, non-discrimination is the compromise position. It inherently favors no one. When a company can't discriminate based on sexual orientation, that doesn't mean that gays get ahead - it means that we will, hopefully, have the same opportunities. Sure, the enforcement mechanism for this sort of legislation is ineffective right now, but taken on-face, a perfectly-enforced, fully-inclusive, loophole-free ENDA is about as fair and unbiased as policy can get. Anything less is giving certain groups more opportunity than others.
But that's not what centrism and bipartisanship and "changing the tone in Washington" are all about. They're not about finding what's at the center of the Americans body politic. They're not about finding what works for the most people. And they're definitely not about actually making the best policy. These amorphous ideas are generally deployed to give more power and credence to conservatives than they actually deserve.
The Third Way's position on the ENDA is just one example of how the calls for false centrism screw us over. So while half the people on the teevee are calling for Democrats to make more concessions to bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship, we need to be watching how it turns out and preparing ourselves for the false compromises on our rights that will eventually be called for.
ENDA will come up this next year in Congress, and it will be great if it passes. But when it's being debated there will be lots of calls for all sorts of compromises on it that will turn the bill that's already an eighth-of-a-loaf into just crumbs. Then almost no Republicans will vote for it, they'll have destroyed the bill, and we'll be left with only the feeling of victory and an even harder time getting something else passed in the future, because, jeez, we've already received our special rights.