Alex Blaze

Casualties of the Culture Wars

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 18, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, bisexual, culture wars, Democrats, ENDA, Harry Reid, lesbian, LGBT, Nancy Pelosi, Newsweek, predictions, Senate, transgender

Try as I may to avoid them, there really isn't anyway I can not post on the fact that any hope of getting LGBT legislation through in 2010 is shot.

Jillian Weiss pointed to the article in The Hill this morning that says that Pelosi is going to try to protect conservative Democrats from "controversial" votes by waiting for the Senate to go first. Specifically mentioned is immigration, but there's no reason to think that that doesn't apply to LGBT legislation as well. In fact, unnamed sources in the article say that Pelosi's promise is across the board.

It also doesn't help that the Senate is apparently way behind on more pedestrian legislation. Not only do they have to deal with health care and immigration, they apparently have seven spending bills coming up. The estate tax is set to expire and create a great incentive to kill wealthy old people next year as it'll be reinstated the year after. And they haven't dealt with the war in Afghanistan yet. There's little reason to believe that they're up to these tasks, so giving us a hand seems almost impossible.

Joe Mirabella also posted about Newsweek releasing its ten yearly predictions for the following year, and it actually made "no LGBT legislation" an item. While Newsweek predictions are notoriously for their inaccuracy (predicting's hard, and it's best to forget predictions in politics a day after reading them), this one is like predicting that Beyoncé will have a hit song next year: you don't get prognostication points if you're right because it's just so obvious.

All the while, I'm left wondering what it is that we do, "we" being anyone in the left, oh, I don't know, 70% of the US. Because if we define the Democratic Party by its actions, it's toeing the line on the conservative side of aisle.

I can't help but think that all those reports last year as the transition between Bush and Obama was underway about how Obama wasn't going to repeat the same "mistake" of Clinton by going too far to the left may have had undue influence here. While there's ample evidence that 1994 elections were a result of a depressed Democratic base that was disappointed by, among other things, the failure of health care reform and the passage of NAFTA, the narrative got changed and history was rewritten, and we were treated to pundit after pundit claiming that it was, in fact, Newt Gingrich's Contract with America (who cares if it was written up long after it became apparent the Democrats were going to lose seats in 1994) that showed that the US wanted to tack to the right.

Just the same, I'll predict now that the Democrats will lose seats in 2010 (because the president's party generally does in midterms and because the base is depressed), and that we'll be treated to the conventional wisdom for weeks afterwards that Obama tried to go to far to the left on health care and immigration and lost seats. We're already seeing that lesson being learned now with Pelosi promising to postpone "controversial" votes - the problem can't ever be that the Democrats are to the right of the country in general (or just less active than it wants them to be), the problem is that they've moved too far to the left, too controversial, for people. Strange how that explanation itself is inevitable, no matter what happens in reality.

The only conclusion, at some point, is that all the key players want this situation to turn out as it does, that Democratic leaders actually want the country to move to the right, that they actually don't want to pass a health care bill that actually helps people, that they actually don't want to end the two wars, that they actually don't want to pass LGBT legislation, and that they actually don't want to make our tax structure fairer for working class and poor Americans.

I'm sure the thought blew your mind.

Seriously, though, it's been interesting to watch a small group of Senate conservative Democrats get so much power that they can hold up the entire Congress. Instead of twisting conservative Democrats' arms on legislation, the party leadership has sided with them and told the more progressive members to go along to get along. Instead of just getting rid of cloture and forcing Senators to actually filibuster something, thus decreasing the number of filibusters since they aren't as much fun to do as they are to threaten, Harry Reid has stuck right by that arcane Senate ritual as if it were written in the Constitution. And now Pelosi is saying that the House will be as log-jammed as the Senate's most conservative Democrats want it to be.

The argument isn't that Democrats and Republicans are "the same." They're not, that's clear. But the differences people focus on, the ones that stem from the phony Culture War that we all thought Obama could see through because he burst onto the scene in 2004 claiming that he wanted to move beyond it, aren't where our attention should be. The Culture Wars aren't about making the two parties the same, but about making it so that most Americans will only have one choice in the following election, and so the party can fully cater to its wealthier segments internally because the sheep won't have anywhere else to go. They'll only be able to vote for one party because one party represents their team, their identity, while the other one is simply offensive to their identity.

Funny that Obama ran on a campaign explicitly about moving beyond the culture war while, at the same time, only giving the Blue Team Culture War victories. He's African American, Harvard-educated, eloquent, intellectual, nuanced, and a Constitutional scholar. And, based on that, we think he's on our team, even though all that stuff, in the end, is fluff compared to his beliefs and motivations.

I don't know where that leaves us. It's not like the left had much choice in 2008 - McCain was a joke to us in much the same way I assume Obama was a joke to the average Red State voter and would have been no matter his skin color. Someone who gets off on a president saying "Bring it on" isn't going to like to see someone who sends Ramadan greetings to the people of Iran in charge, no matter if they're both willing to bomb the same countries.

At some point, though, we need to move beyond this Culture War stuff, because it's sucking the energy out of the room. We need clarity in who we are and what we're working for, and political arguments that focus on who is screwing us over instead of the actual screwing process will just send us back to the polls distracted while the less politically involved just give up, thinking the game is fixed.

Joe's right, maybe people are pissed and won't come out to vote in 2010. Or maybe they'll work against Democrats. At some point, though, the left and liberals and centrists and independents concerned with good policy outcomes will need a choice in the US, and neither party is providing that. All they're catering to now is how much we want to beat down the other side, the offensive-for-the-sake-of-being-offensive Republicans. Fun for a while, but I think most of us would like something more substantive.


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Alex, it might be time for a reality check ...

... "we" being anyone in the left, oh, I don't know, 70% of the US. ...

Alex, if we were to rate every American on some sort of "progressive attitudes" index, and then start at the 100th percentile and proceed down to the 30th percentile, I am afraid we would be including many who regard global warming as a liberal conspiracy and, as Tina Fey said, believe that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church every Sunday. Not to mention the entire Blue Dog Democratic Caucus (don't you love the favors they've been doing us lately?) and whatever American segment it is that might be called "Republican moderates".

To me, America seems polarized --- still --- between progressives and conservatives, and the balance seems depressingly as if it is very close to 50/50.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 18, 2009 5:22 PM

First of all, get it right! Adam and Eve didn't ride dinosaurs to church; they ran around naked in a garden, where they eventually encountered a talking snake.

As for Obama, yes, "He's African American, Harvard-educated, eloquent, intellectual, nuanced, and a Constitutional scholar." But the problem isn't really his beliefs and motivations; it's much simpler.

I'm reminded of something Bill Ayers (no less!) said to me - that Obama is perhaps the most intelligent human being he's ever met, but that we need to remember, above all, that he's a politician.

As Grandma used to tell me, "Politics is a dirty business." And Grandma wasn't even from Chicago!

"predicting's hard, and it's best to forget predictions in politics a day after reading them."

I still can't figure out why people refuse to recognize the reality of the US Senate - 45 Senators are anti-Gay. Their constituents make them that way. Politics is 90% about getting re-elected and 10% about looking good.

It's easy to understand Obama and his position on LGBT issues, he already told us:

"As a Christian, I am constantly wrestling with my Faith and my solicitude and regard and concern for gays and lesbians."

But again, he is being calculatedly ambiguous.

Did he mean, "I am concerned that if I champion GLBT rights too effectively, that I will bring about a world that does not please God, and someday He might hold me accountable for it" ... or did he mean ... "I constantly wrestle with my Faith, trying to find the courage to do what's right for GLBT Americans even though I know that the Religious Right will skewer me for it."

Unfortunately, I doubt that it is the latter.

Well, he is somewhat clear about marriage equality - separate but equal, a back-of-the-bus approach (oddly enough). He's okay with rights, but not real equality.