The Government We Deserve

There is an old saying to the effect that people get the government they deserve. I used to believe that–before the current administration took office. Now I’m not so sure.

There is an old saying to the effect that people get the government they deserve. I used to believe that—before the current administration took office. Now I’m not so sure.

Consider a couple of recent stories of particular relevance to gays and lesbians:

  • Leona Helmsley—the aptly named “Queen of Mean” was recently sued by the former manager of one of her hotels. He charged her with discrimination based upon his sexual orientation, and he won handily. Not so long ago, juries were less apt to understand—let alone compensate—such allegations. There weren’t even laws protecting gay people from discrimination until relatively recently.
  • The Advocate recently reported that Focus on the Family, a Christian Right organization known for its homophobic diatribes, has had to cut millions from its budget and lay off workers, due to declining contributions.
  • The Advocate also ran the story of a minister from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who has refused to preside over heterosexual marriages for a year, as a protest over the government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages. It used to be, when a story in a gay publication began with “The Reverend So-and-so from Fayetteville, Arkansas,” what followed wasn’t pretty. Who would expect such affirmation from Arkansas, for crying out loud!
You need only turn on your television, or pick up a copy of the local newspaper, to see daily changes for the better in the popular culture, the media and the legal system. (This month, there’s a Gay Irish Film Festival in New York…who knew there was an Irish gay film industry??)

Then there is the Bush Administration. Ah, where to begin? Well, there was the anti-gay appointee Bush tried to name to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. A conservative Christian who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, he had called homosexuality “a deathstyle, not a lifestyle.” The resulting furor was enough to make Bush withdraw his name—but not enough to make him withdraw his candidate to head up women’s health issues at the National Institutes of Health. Among other scientific credentials, that “pro-life” charmer has written a book explaining that prayer can cure PMS.

Bush appointees all seem to come from two camps: either they were previously lobbyists for oil and gas companies, or they are drawn from the Christian very far Right. His nominees for the federal bench are not just a bit right of center—they are far, far out of the mainstream of the legal profession. If he can get enough of them confirmed, the legal protections for which women, gays and African-Americans have worked so hard will be overturned. Not tomorrow, because it takes time. But inevitably.

Of course, it isn’t just civil rights and civil liberties that affect gays and other minority communities. Like the rest of America, gays have a stake in the wider issues that matter to all of us. If this administration were doing a good job for the country in general, it would be necessary to balance that against the particular harms done. But the general picture is equally bleak. In the two and a half years since Bush was installed

·        The stock market has lost 40% of its value.

·        The economy has lost a net of one and a half million jobs

·        1.9 million good manufacturing jobs have been lost, with poorer-paying service jobs replacing some four hundred thousand of them.

·        Unemployment among young people ages 16-24 who are out of school has ballooned to five and a half million. In response, the Bush Administration has eliminated many youth programs and cut the rest.

·        Deficits, which had disappeared during the Clinton Administration, are escalating into the trillions.

·        Environmental regulations have been gutted.

·        We have abruptly and unilaterally withdrawn from treaties we negotiated in good faith.

·        Civil liberties have been the major casualty of the War on Terror; Attorney General John Ashcroft is openly contemptuous of the Constitution; Bush just as clearly doesn’t understand it.

·        As the economy tanks, Bush proposes more tax cuts for the rich, in the face of virtual unanimity by economists that his proposals will not stimulate the economy.

And of course, there is the small matter of Bush’s obsession with Sadaam Hussain and his relentless march to war. Studies suggest that airlines (already on the brink) will go bankrupt if we go to war; oil and gas prices will soar along with the deficit. And the dangers of triggering a wider conflict are very real.

This administration is bad for all Americans—gay or straight, black or white. The American people deserve much, much better than this.