Why Martha Coakley lost..and what we can gain

20 01 2010

If you live in Massachusetts and have a pulse, you have an opinion about yesterday’s special election to fill the remaining two years of Ted Kennedy’s term.   Here’s mine.

First, to my Democratic friends across the country, don’t jump off the ledge yet.  Martha Coakley will go down in history as running one of the absolute worse political campaigns…ever.  She (and all her consultants who now need to be unemployed by Dems running in November) is trying to spin her way out of things by saying she worked “hard”.  Well, yes she did.  But she also worked “stupid”.  And that is at least 50% of why she lost.  You do not win campaigns by being so entitled that you select your Senate staff BEFORE Ted Kennedy even died.  You do not win campaigns by adamantly insisting on Monday that in no way would you ever back a health care bill that penalized those seeking abortion and then, one week later say, well of course you would.  And you do not win campaigns by saying that it makes much more sense to meet w/ union bosses, lobbyists and fund raisers than “stand outside Fenway Park…in the cold..and actually shake hands with people.”

So, yes, when Martha Coakley looked in the mirror this morning, she had to know that she was looking at the person who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory..not only of an election, but–perhaps–of broader health care access.

So, yes, it’s not time for Dems to jump off that ledge (besides, it’s only January..that’s a lifetime away from November..esp coming off an election when Coakley was up 10+ points 2 weeks ago).  But they should at least come out of the back-rooms they’re increasingly comfortable in and crawl out on that ledge for a dose of reality.

Here’s what they’d see:

1.  A party that is playing with an old playbook…that doesn’t fit the times.  Massachusetts has been a majority independent/unenrolled state for at least a decade (it’s, btw, why Ted Kennedy was in danger of losing in 1994).  Unions make up only 13% of the American public today..and only 7% of the private sector.  Barack Obama won by NOT making his race an issue in the campaign.  And the web has made facts and figures available to everyone-not just a select few.  THAT’s the world today.  Yet, in this race, MA Democrats acted as if their party was in the majority and that union support would carry an election.  Martha Coakley ripped not just a page but the entire book from Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign by initially arguing that her primary qualification was that she was a woman and that it was time to have a woman senator.  Finally, the Dem spin-meisters forgot that the average voter now is much more aware of what’s actually going on in DC.  So, when you try to say that gay rights will stall with a Brown win, many folks asked “but how do you stall that which already is stalled?”  When the D’s tried to say that Brown would reward Wall St, voters asked “But isn’t that what Chuck Schumer, Larry Summers, et al already are doing?”  Democrats, meet reality.

2.  A party that has lost its soul.  Forget rhetorical flourishes and fund raising events, Democrats now OPERATE pretty much the same way as Republicans.  The Obama Admin has added $1 trillion to the deficit–in one year.  It has escalated a war it promised to end.  When it comes to health care reform, it and Congress have welcomed the health care foxes into the public’s henhouse.  And they have tried to convince everyone that America’s economic recovery is largely dependent on Wall Street’s success..which works unless you happen to be un/underemployed—which 25 million Americans are. 25..MILLION.   I know many, many good Dems–in and out of Washington–who wonder if their party’s courage died with Ted Kennedy.  Especially when you see folks as politically divergent as Barney Frank and Jim Webb start today by saying yesterday’s defeat means we should hold off on health care.  Hmmm..what about the 47 million uninsured Americans?  The 22,000 who die every year because they don’t have health care?  Are we waiting for the day when it’s safe to enact health care reform?  America’s blacks should be very grateful JFK and LBJ didn’t take that strategy in the 60s.

3. A country that has lost its civility.  While all of the above contributed to Coakley’s defeat yesterday, I believe the fundamental reason is that we, the people, have lost our civility.  People are scared in this country right now.  We all heard it in the hysteria of the health care town hall meetings this summer.  And how did the Democrats react?  By calling people un-American.   Here in Massachusetts, good friends dismissed all Brown supporters as anti-gay, anti-choice bigots/imbeciles/assholes and worse. Name-calling and dismissal rather than trying to see the common humanity we all share. Trying to empathize with the terror you must feel if, like my almost 70 yr old mother, you have seen 30+% of your retirement vanish.  Trying to motivate people to vote based on that which unites us vs what divides us.  As election day neared, it is this that made me most distressed about a party I used to fiercely believe in.  This knee-jerk divisive reaction that is every bit as ignorant, prejudicial and harmful as the Republican’s. Coming from Democrats.

And it made me wonder if those who kept talking about the need to beat the imbeciles/haters, etc in memory of Ted really knew Ted Kennedy.  If they did, they’d remember what I do:  that one of his guiding beliefs–so strong that it was what Teddy Jr highlighted at his father’s funeral–was that your opponents love your country just as much as you do.  That Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, Newt Gingrich et al love America.  That, while you may disagree w/ them on most things, you should never forget that fact–even if they do.

So, to all those on both sides–whether you’re a lefty who thinks the bigots have taken over our country or a Tea Bagger who suggested Martha Coakley get creative with a curling iron (a taunt that is as familiar as an old shirt to those of us who campaigned in the old days for gay electeds), look across the political spectrum and see the “opposition” as your brother or sister.  Remember that–just like the health care bill languishing in DC–we most likely agree on far more fundamentals than disagree.  And, see what happens.  It may take a few deep breaths.  Hell, it may even take some martinis and illict substances (the Democrats, of course…never the Republicans!)  But, over time, you might actually see–and believe in–those similarities.  And, then, we can get to work in–together–rebuilding this country.


Questions raised by Obama’s DOMA defense

15 06 2009

“The greatest thing…is just to love and be loved in return.”  I have thought about those words (from Eden Abhez’s 1947  song “Nature Boy”) again and again the last few days.  Because, while love indeed IS the greatest thing, it is NOT all you need when you choose to live in a governed society (a choice I’m reconsidering with great intensity since President Obama defended DOMA last week).

If you don’t know:  the President’s Department of Justice argued in favor of DOMA last week in a California case.  In their argument, President Obama’s team compared gay marriage to incest, to sex with minors.  And, my personal favorite, they argued that–in these tough economic times, the President has an obligation to protect our country’s scarce resources and, thus, can’t support granting of equal rights that carry a price tag.   As my friend David Mixner said, it was as if Pat Robertson snuck into DOJ and wrote the brief.

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to argue the “case” against DOMA.

For me, the Administration’s actions have raised some very basic questions.

Questions for you, Mr. President:

  • How does it feel to be the first president who could not have held office if prior presidents had not signed laws granting you equality?
  • How can you, a man who 140 years ago would have been viewed as property, not a president, how can you give an economic excuse for denying civil rights?
  • And, Mr. President, when you tuck Sasha and Malia in at night, how does it feel to know that your legacy to them very well could be that you took that man-given right and used it to prevent others from having the same rights?
  • When they ask why you, Mr. President, the man who won an office on the words “yes, we can”, turned around and told millions of Americans, “no, you can’t”?

Of course, you are not just a father, Mr. President. You are the President of the United States.  A man who is a quite public student of his predecessors.

So, I ask you to look to President Johnston and recall the Civil Rights Act of 1964–the act that granted you equal access to employment and education, Mr. President.  An act that was passed in the midst of the Vietnam War.  An act that Johnson readily acknowledged “will cost us (as in Democrats) the South” for at least a generation.

  • When you recall that Act and its consequences, ask yourself, was it worth it for you and your fellow African-Americans, Mr. President?
  • Was Johnson right to tirelessly work the phones for the Acts passage–in the midst of a war?
  • Was he right to stand up to Democratic leaders who said, “No you can’t” and say, “Yes, we can…because we must”? Was it worth the sacrifice of lost political power to ensure your equality, Mr. President?

If the answer is “yes”, then why can’t you be a little more like LBJ, Mr. President, and a little less like Bill Clinton?

Because it was Bill Clinton who gave us DOMA in the first place.  Probably while Monica Lewinsky was on her knees blowing his…marriage vows.  That he felt compelled to protect with a federal law.  Guilt’s a funny thing, huh?

Now, I have some questions for our community, too:

  • Are we Democrats first and g,l, b or t second?  Why else would we willingly drink the partisan Kool-Aid that tells us it’s because of the Republican that we don’t have equal rights?  See Bill Clinton above.  See how the Democrats control the White House AND the Senate AND the House.  And, yet, Nancy Pelosi said as recently as April that repeal of DOMA was not a priority.  If Newt Gingrich had said that, what would our response have been?  Would we have gladly given him millions upon millions of dollars to keep fighting the good fight?
  • Why is our community—lovers of instant gratification–so content with postponed gratification when it comes to our rights?  When Barney Frank et al tell us that the time’s not right to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, why do we say “OK, no problem.  Please let us know when it’s convenient”?
  • And, when our friends, co-workers, and family members tell us to cut President Obama some slack, why don’t we ask them to replace “gay” with “woman”, “Jew”,  or “Black”?  Why don’t we say, “OK.  so if the issue wasn’t gay rights, but Israel, would you still argue that the President has more important issues on his plate?”  OR “If  Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination had been a white guy instead of a Latina, would women’s groups and Latinos have cautioned their communities to be patient, because they president’s a busy man?” ” Would the media outlets have ignored such a move…as they have ignored the President’s DOMA arguments?”

Which raises two, final questions:

  • Why do gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgenders allow those who SAY they are our friends to ACT as our enemies?
  • How long are we going to take it?

Gay Pride: The good, the bad, and the ugly

13 06 2009

I went to Gay Pride in Boston yesterday.

It captured–in one hour–the good, the bad and the ugly of this moment in our community’s march for equality.

The good.

  • God LOVES Fags.  THAT should be the headline of Boston Pride.  I never knew there were so many churches in Greater Boston and I had NO idea they were so prideful of their gay flocks.  I mean, I can see why they would be.  We know how to make even the most boring, Puritanical, Yankee church look just fabulous.  That was evident from the brightly colored gay flourishes–rainbow wands, brightly colored streamers and the like–that colored the delegations of churches marching for gay pride. And there were a lot of them.  I mean… A LOT.  Take that, Fred Phelps!
  • Menino LOVE Fags.  And we love him.  Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s been such an ardent supporter of the glbt community, that he’s damned close to breaking into the Holy Trinity of Madonna, Cher and Judy.  He’s that good.  And there he was again, this year, marching as he’s done every year.  Not because he’s running for his–what?–34th term.  Nope. He marches because he “gets” that, on this day in particular, it’s as important to show his support for US as our support for him.  And, while I think Mike Flaherty’s a helluva good guy, we really should show “The Mayor” that we support him.  He’s earned it.

The Bad:  In the dualistic illusion we call society, what’s the point of having “good” without a little old fashioned “bad”? I mean, our movement has become so much about assimilation.  Can’t we–at least for one hour of one day–be our down-n-dirty bad-assed selves?  Looking around today, I guess the answer is “no”—fitting, perhaps, given the Stepford times in which we live and, probably, appropriate given the kids who now flood Pride, but, damn, I miss the bad, which is why:

  • I LOVE The Theatre Offensive.  There they were, with their fabulous placards–designed as name tags that read “Hello, My Favorite Sex Act is…”  They captured what Pride USED to be:  bold, daring, irreverent, ALIVE.  As they passed gayly forward, I thought, “God, I miss THIS face of the gay community (I can say that to God now, see above…he loves us).”  Then I wondered, “Can I only be accepted by being not who I am but by being who others will tolerate me being?”  That seems to be the prevailing wisdom in our movement these days.  And if it indeed is so, how tragic (and dreadfully dull) to trade one closet for another.
  • I kinda love the go-go boys.  Pride used to be filled with–well–eye candy.  Gyrating, sweaty, sock-in-the-jock eye candy.  It was fabulous!  (and, no, I’m not being sexist.  The lesbians have the dykes on bikes…they make the kind of impression that lasts an entire parade). This year, there were about five go-go boys.  And they weren’t gyrating.  They stood like bored, aloof statues (think what Mr. Freeze used to do to the good guys on Batman).  “Are the drugs that bad these days?” I asked a friend standing next to me

The Ugly.

  • The D-side of Pride.  Watching today’s Pride, it’s obvious that it’s become a D-list event.  Aside from politicians and the leaders of GLAD and MassEquality, no other “leaders” were there, not the Executive Directors of AIDS Action or Fenway or HRC, not the fabulous fund raisers, not the gay-listers.  Is Pride beneath them?  Especially THIS year… the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.  Especially THIS week…three days after President Obama’s Dept of Justice compared gay marriage to incest and argued that it would be too expensive for his government to extend equal rights to our community.

It’s enough to make one downright UNprideful.  Except…for the pride present in the spectators who DID show up.  They –we–may not have been large in number or high in status, but we most definitely were overflowing—are overflowing– in pride.

And impatience.

It’s time to (re-) capture our Pride.  Not the “Stepford pride” that gay groups would foist upon us, but the REAL pride that’s deep inside each of us.  The “pride” that you don’t need a fund raising event or a politician or a press release to define for you.   The pride that is you, just as you are.  As we are.   Let’s take THAT pride, bottle it up like a good bottle of gin or nail polish and…

  • Say “f*&^k off” to the lazy, RICH, and bloated “leaders” who can’t be bothered with Pride .
  • Say “we want our money back” to Obama and his DNC/gay group apologists.
  • Take the hand of God AND the go-go boys…and go get us some equal rights!

Anyone want to come along?