Word Column Sheila Suess Kennedy
January 29, 2008 811 words
A Post-Culture-War America?
Okay, let me begin with an admission—I’m obsessed with the Presidential campaign. Totally, hopelessly obsessed. I spend really embarrassing amounts of time emailing back and forth with two of my sons who are equally obsessed, and equally enamored of “my” candidate.
By the time this column appears in print, the primary may well be decided. Worse, on those rare occasions when I force myself to be realistic, I have to admit that the odds are against my guy; the smart money says he isn’t going to be the candidate. The thing is, it has been so long since there has been a national candidate I could wholeheartedly support; it’s sort of like falling in love, even when you know—as my husband keeps warning me—you are likely to get your heart broken. Again.
When I sat down to write this column, I wasn’t going to write about the primary. But then I thought about why it is that I am so enthusiastic about Barack Obama, why his emergence has made me feel almost hopeful for the future of the country I love, and it seemed a phenomenon worth exploring, because his candidacy has a particular message for America’s minority communities, including the gay community.
The past seven years have been a disaster for America, and if polls are to be believed, a significant majority of Americans recognize the dimensions of that disaster. We are a sour, dispirited electorate. (My husband says I’ve been in a really bad mood since 2000.) In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, there was a rush of national solidarity and the best kind of patriotism, but it didn’t take long for this Administration to slam that window shut, and to turn us against each other. “Good Christian Amuricans” were under attack by “Islamofascists,” “homosexual deviates,” “secular humanists” and other assorted heathens—and they weren’t going to let us forget to be very, very afraid.
Fair is fair; this Administration didn’t invent the culture wars. They just used culture war issues to gain and retain power. I don’t have to remind readers of The Word how Karl Rove and his political disciples sliced and diced the electorate in order to win elections; anyone who voted in a swing state in 2004 knows just how well the cynical use of state constitutional marriage amendments worked—bringing out the haters to vote against the “queers” and not coincidentally to pull a lever for George W. Bush.
Bush and his crowd will be gone in November, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. (Hell, we can have a party! I certainly intend to.) It is certainly true that almost anyone who takes the oath of office next January will be an improvement. But we have a chance to do more than trade a sleazy, incompetent Commander in Chief for a sleazy, competent one. We have a chance to elect a post-culture-war President, and begin to put the nastiness and intolerance behind us.
When the campaign began, I’d have gladly taken any of the Democratic front-runners. (Someday, perhaps, if the sane people retake control of the GOP, I can feel that way about Republicans again…). But after watching the Clintons’ willingness to say and do anything in South Carolina—their willingness to distort, smear and shamelessly use the race card a la Karl Rove—I no longer feel that way.
The Clintons have been allies of the African-American community for decades—but they were clearly willing to throw blacks under the bus when they thought it served their purposes. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” gave the gay community a taste of how lasting their commitment to gay rights was. Hillary is running well among Hispanics, but she was quick to retreat from her statement at an early debate that undocumented workers should be able to obtain drivers’ licenses—an issue very important to that community. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Clintons’ alliances are strategic—and disposable—rather than principled and enduring.
As Ted Kennedy said when he endorsed Obama, we have a chance to make this a transformational election. We can put a new kind of candidate in office; multi-ethnic, multi-racial and post-culture-war. As Obama himself said in his South Carolina victory speech, this is not an election about gender or race or ethnicity—it is about the old politics versus a new politics. It is about the past versus the future.
I am so ready for that future.
It may be that by the time you read this column, the primary is effectively over. It may well be the case that the “old politics” has won. (There’s an old saying that goes, “age and treachery will beat youth and skill every time,” and for all I know, that’s true.) But for right now, for the first time in a very long time, I’m in a good mood.