December 01, 2004


The following is a considerably expanded version, just for DIRELAND readers, of an article I originally wrote for this week's L.A. Weekly:

Democrats, liberals, and gays are all in denial about the meaning and extent of the defeat they suffered on Election Day--and about the sea-change in the nation’s politics that defeat confirmed.

I have argued, since 9/11, that the dastardly terrorist attacks that day cemented a tectonic shift to the right in the nation’s politics which had been under way for over two decades. Since the first Reagan presidency, the weight of progressive values in electoral politics have been steadily eroded, as the money-and-poll driven Democrats have scurried--sometimes furtively, often openly--to their right. This election only reinforced my conclusion that we are in for a period of reaction that may well last several generations.

There have been a few who have captured the atmosphere in which America’s politics now breathes--but they have been dismissed contemptuously by the liberal elites in denial. For example, The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd got it absolutely right when she wrote a post-election diagnosis of “"a scary, paranoid, regressive reality," with "strains of isolationism, nativism, chauvinism, puritanism and religious fanaticism." All of which, by the by, are the symptoms of what I’ve identified as the base reactionary demagogy whose success was guaranteed by 9/11. But, in a rare attack on another pundit, D.C.-style liberalism’s Pope of the Obvious--the Washington Post’s David Broder--reflected the Inside-the-Beltway Democratic establishment’s thinking when he wrote a sniffy, mocking dismissal of Dowd’s dire diagnosis as “exaggerated,” and portrayed the election results as just another quadrennial pendulum swing that left the Democrats “a sturdy base from which to climb back into power.”

Typical of liberalism’s Pollyanna politics of denial was an article in The Nation for November 29. The magazine’s editor, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and Robert Borosage (director of the Campaign for America’s Future) co-signed a manifesto urging progressives to “get ready to fight” for a series of sensible, if rather mild, shifts in political attitude. But the article by my friends Bob and Katrina was seriously flawed by its delusional overestimation of progressive political strength: it asserted that “progressives drove the debate” during the election campaign, and that “progressives drive this [Democratic] party now.”

Well, just about every single post-election autopsy of the presidential campaign--from Time to Newsweek to Kerry’s hometown Boston Globe--has emphasized how the Democrats’ campaign was reactive to Bush‘s demagogy, rather than driven by progressive values. No less than James Carville, the snarling face of knee-jerk Democrats, told Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift that, “We lost because we didn’t say anything,” just like in 2000. Does that sound like a campaign in which progressives “drove the debate”? Cueball Carville added that the Democrats failed to break out of the box framed by Bush’s “narrative forged in the ashes of 9/11. ‘I’m going to protect you from the terrorists in Tikrit and the homos in Hollywood,’ is how Carville summed it up.” Running a reactive campaign devoid of real content- instead of a pro-active, pro-government, progressive/populist one--is the principal reason why a post-election Pew Poll released November 11 found that, asked to rate the Democrats’ campaign on a report card, only 37% gave it an A or a B. The average score was a grudging C minus.

Moreover, all across the country, Democratic House and Senate candidates scampered away from even the milquetoast liberalism of the party’s watered-down national platform--led by the Democrats’ defeated Senate leader, Tom Daschle, who dumped on the presidential candidate of his party on “Meet the Press” and distanced himself from the party’s positions on “social” questions on the stump, in a failed genuflection to the “family values” mood imposed by the Republicans. Some right-wing Democrats, like commentator Chris Matthews, are even positing a religious test for the Democrats' next nominee, asserting (as Matthews did on his MSNBC cablecast) that "only a Southern Baptist" has even a prayer of defeating the Republicans and winning the White House.

As to the assertion that “progressives drive the party now,” the election of the Mormon abortion foe and corporate-coddling lobbyists’ darling Harry Reid (who also opposes marriage equality for gays) as the party’s Senate leader--and thus its most public face for the next four years--is only the latest refutation of such unwarranted optimism.

The election was also a rebuttal of the Pollyanna liberals’ favorite mantra: that the bigger the turnout, and the more new voters who could be registered, the better it was for Democrats. The latest, post-election New Voters Poll sponsored by Rock the Vote and Pace University, released November 18, not only underscores the emptiness of such febrile notions, it gives much reason for pessimism about the future--since new voters are heavily skewed toward the young. By a significant margin, new voters say they’re political conservatives, not liberals (36% to 29%). And 55% of new voters say their vote was affected by the gay marriage issue (much higher than the one in five of all voters who said so in the last, pre-election national Gallup survey). A lopsided majority of white women (65%) among new voters say gay marriage affected how they voted--worse, so did 61% of college students. Similarly, the study said that “we found considerable support for the conventional wisdom that pro-life, rather than pro-choice, voters are the most likely to vote on the abortion issue,” with a 15 point advantage to Bush over Kerry among new voters who said the issue was key in determining their vote. So for new voters, the study concluded, “moral values, gay marriage, and abortion appear to be their motivating issues.”

There is similar bad news in that November 11 Pew Poll, which--when it asked voters what had motivated them--found that “a plurality of 27% selected moral values, followed by 22% who chose Iraq and 21% who selected the economy and jobs. Terrorism was chosen by 14%; education and health care were chosen by 4% each and taxes by 3%.” That “moral values” number is a full five points higher than in the much-disputed National Election Service exit polls taken for the TV networks on November 2.

There's a lot more evidence of the basis for a multi-decade Republican ascendancy. The L.A. Times reported on November 22 that Bush carried 97 of the country's 100 fastest-growing counties--providing a margin of Republican victory in these "exurban" counties four times greater than Bob Dole's eight years ago. And the Annenberg National Election Survey released November 19, as the poll's political director Adam Clymer noted, "reflects steady Republican gains" in party identification that have virtually wiped out the nearly two-to one advantage Democrats enjoyed in the '60s, and shows the Republicans "moved closer" to enjoying "a party realignment in which they would assume dominant status" that could last. No wonder last Sunday's Washington Post was forced to run a front-page piece grudgingly acknowledging the possibility that "the Republican advantage on the most important issues of the day...and the party's uncontested control of the federal government leave it in a position to win long-term loyalty among key voter blocs and craft an enduring majority."

More so than any other Americans, gay people have reason to fear both the election results and this description of our current political topography. The Republicans scapegoated gays to win the election. Now, the DLC Democratic right wing--and the Gitlinesque and Tomaskyish pseudo-liberal commentators, with their endless crusades against identity politics--are blaming the election loss on gays for, as California’s indigestible Senator Diane Feinstein put it, wanting “too much, too fast, too soon.”

That’s all balderdash, of course. All politics is identity politics
in one way or another.
Unions are built on the identity of the salaried. Ethnic politics, a staple of American electoral organization, is built upon identity. Even the much-maligned Trial Lawyers organize on the basis of identity--so do teachers. The gay political organizing that has brought hundreds of gays to local  elected office, resting as it does on the bedrock of coming out, is a perfectly normal electoral assertion of identity--it puts gays on a par with other societal categories, and gives us queers a fighting chance to move even further out of the shadows of blind and ignorant prejudice. We want no more than our fair share of the fundamental American promise on which this republic is theoretically based: the full equality of all before the law.

But our chances to hold the line against the political assault on us this year were hobbled by the insistence on a narrow, single-issue focus by our leading gay institutions--like the fundraising-driven kapos of the Human Rights Campaign, whose PAC endorsed 17 Republican House and Senate candidates. (HRC has just confirmed its capitulationist politics by naming as co-executive directors Michael Berman--president of The Duberstein group, a lobby shop headed by former Reagan White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein--and Hillary Rosen, the former chief lobbyist for the Recording Industry of America, who gave thousands of dollars in personal checks to the campaigns of archconservative Republican foes of the gay community like Sens. Orin Hatch and Spence Abraham).

By failing to reach out and make coalitions with others on their issues (thus ignoring the dictum of the late civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who taught us that all coalitions are built on mutual self-interest), these institutions left the gay community virtually alone to fight the 11 viciously anti-gay referenda in the states (8 of which banned civil unions, domestic partnership benefits, and many other legal recognitions of same-sex love-bonding way short of marriage). The Democrats harvested gay dollars in the multi-millions--and gave nothing in return. In not a single referendum state did the party or its leaders lift a finger to help defeat the vicious, hate-building referenda, nor try to educate its own base about these blatant electoral manipulations of bigotry and fear. Is it any wonder we got creamed--or that a part of the Democrats’ working class base was lured into voting for the gay-baiting Republican president when more gut-grabbing, bread-and-butter issues were off the table?

And now, as the Democratic establishment tries to shove gays asking for fairness not just to the back of the bus, but to the back of the closet, we face a theocratic roll-back agenda of frightening dimensions. Karl Rove has already proclaimed in the Washington Times, that Bush in his second term will continue to try to force through an anti-gay Constitutional marrige amendment.

But the GOP hasn’t even waited until the New Year to begin tearing down what remains of the wall separating church and state--that essential dyke against new tsunamis of primitive religious bigotry. On November 17, the lame-duck Republican House passed the California Missions Preservation Act, which provides $10 million to “restore and repair” 21 mission churches, 19 of which have active congregations, and all of which are owned by the Roman Catholic Church--the same church whose bishops this year preached electoral homo-hate from the pulpit. And there’s a lot more to come. The falange of new Republican Senatorial religious primitives elected in November from North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Florida, and Louisiana can be counted on to bolster support for the Constitution Restoration Act now making its way through Congress. This bill would forbid the courts from taking up any challenge to "an element of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official personal capacity), by reason of that element's or officer's acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government," thus shutting the door to any litigation that would  overturn religiously inspired anti-gay prejudice.

We in the gay community will have few national allies as the Democrats squirm even further into the "family values" cacoon, leaving us isolated and blamed for the '04 defeat. And for every step forward we manage to win in the courts, under the Republicans' renewed legislative assault--at both state and national levels--we will be forced two steps back.

P.S. THERE'S ANOTHER PIECE, besides mine,  in this week's L.A. Weekly election post-mortem which you really must check out. My companero  Marc Cooper has targeted a perfect example of Democrats in denial in his terrific column slapping around MoveOn.org, and he's quite right to do so. I've been particularly put out, as was Marc, by MoveOn's jumping on the "stolen election" bandwagon. As someone who has hands-on experience with more elections than I care to remember--first as a campaign manager, then as a journalist--I can say with confidence that we have ALWAYS had a voting system that  riddled with problems, errors--both mechanical and human--and occasional fraud (although there's a lot less of the latter than there ws in the days of what used to be called  "machine politics.".I don't think this election cycle was a great deal different from those which preceded it--it's just that the problems with the way we vote got more publicity this year than ever before (because of the 2000 "chad" debacle in Florida which--we shouldn't forget--was the fault of a Democratic board of elections). I simply don't buy the notion that the election was "stolen" by a massive conspiracy--I think those who are peddling that notion (a) can't possibly demonstrate that it is so, and (b) are taking refuge in a process debate instead of engaging in the fundamental political debate which progressives and the Democratic Party need to have even a prayer of refocusing, rebuilding, and recreating a viable politics for the future. There may well have been vote-stealing or vote-suppression here and there, as is usual in US elections, but the Dems got beaten by three-and-a-half million votes more or less, and that was not the result of a massive conspiracy by their opponents. And this whole conspiracy theory got started because a bunch of tyros in the blogosphere with no experience of exit polls didn't know what those of us who've been reading them for decades could have told them: exit polls on who's winning and who's losing that are issued during the day, before the real polls close, and before the final, weighted calculations are made, are pretty nearly always inaccurate. ..But, don't forget to pounce on Cooper's column.

Also, in an important speech just five days after the election, the gay and AIDS communities’ secular saint, Larry Kramer, declared, “I hope you all realize that, as of November 2nd, gay rights are officially dead.” Our beloved illuminé is a queer John Wesley, and his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric is sometimes over the top. (I note in passing I've always had a problem with people who use words like "Nazi" and Fascist" too loosely--before deploying these vocables, one should consult the latest book by that superb historian Rober Paxton, "The Anatomy of Fascism," published earlier this year by Knopf, a summing up of what Paxton has learned in a lifetime of research and writing on this subject). But, with that exception, this time Larry is not all that far off the mark. (You can read the full text of Larry’s speech, “The Tragedy of Gays,” at http://www.hivforumnyc.org/lk.php).

Finally, don't miss the Slate piece by that great Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston on why the Supremes' refusal to review the Massachusetts decision on gay marriage was really a non-story.

Posted by Direland at 05:39 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference DEMOCRATS IN DENIAL, GAYS ON THE ROPES:

» Living in DIRELAND from Hiding In Plain Sight
In Democrats in Denial, Gays on the Ropes, Doug Ireland diagnoses our nation's chilling swing to the far right. What he doesn't discuss are the far more terrifying signs (you see them too, don't you?) that we may be witnessing a global phenomenon. Keep... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 3, 2004 11:24:36 AM


It is wrong to infer very much from the very small margin by which one set of war-mongering, super-rich oligarchs defeated another set of war-mongering, super-rich oiligarchs: It means simply that that busy, largely-distracted people are less inlined to mark the nuances between oligarchs than are career liberals like Doug here and his trust-fund pals at the Nation.

Nor should one assume that because a majority of Americans, and an increasingly slim one at that, opposes gay marriage, that they are regressive and reactionary on everything else, or that the opinion of this majority is immutable and politically definitive. Opinion studies by Pew and other outfits confirm again and again that a majority of Americans support single-payer health insurance, distrust corporations, think well of unions, support abortion in most circumstances, support affirmative action, oppose war generally and the war in Iraq specificallly and on and on. But they are stuck with two parties that do not speak to their class interests at all. Therefore the stakes for supporting the party that at least panders to their darker side in regard to sexuality and religion are extremely low. Perhaps if opposing gay marriage also meant opposing health insurance for themselves and their family, or opposing a living wage, they might be more inclined to come around. But that's not going to happen so long as the Democrats continue to run interference for the Republicans and the Nation tea party and its ilk continue to run interference for the Democrats.

Posted by: lionel | Oct 2, 2005 2:41:23 PM

Posted by: Jeff Gottesman | Dec 13, 2004 12:39:02 AM

This article has left me shaken, scared and, frankly, feeling impotent. Are we living in Berlin, 1933, or America, 2004? Are we now permanently consigned to the sidelines, watching anti-gay law and after anti-gay law after law be passed, unable to muster support from even our supporters? Is the situation in Michigan permanent?

Why can't someone tell us what to do? What are the solutions to our abyssmal predicament, Doug?

At what point do we stop asking questions, and start demanding more from our so-called leadership?

Posted by: Andy | Dec 8, 2004 7:09:58 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.