The Pollyanna Perspective

I was always grateful I didn’t have to live through the Great Depression. But as I look at the current status of the United States and world economies, I think my gratitude may have been—how shall we say it?—premature.


These are the times that try a control-freak’s soul. The vast majority of us can do little or nothing to repair the wounds inflicted by the private greed and public incompetence of our most recent “gilded age.” We are reduced to reading the analyses of self-proclaimed “experts” and patently self-interested spokespersons for this or that interest group, and wondering who is right. Is Obama a “socialist” bent upon turning the U.S. into a—horrors!—European welfare state?? (And if he is, why would that be so terrible?) Or is he a pragmatist, using whatever tools seem most likely to cure what ails us? And if that is correct, is he choosing the right tools? Who knows?


Then there are the fears that run deepest among marginalized communities. In bad economic times, people have always looked for someone to blame, someone to hate. (Think of the conditions in Germany that gave rise to Hitler!) Already, there are indications of upticks in anti-Semitism, long on the decline. The election of Obama marked great progress in race relations, but has also occasioned eruptions of really psychotic racism. If the downturn continues and deepens, what will that mean for attitudes toward Jews, blacks, immigrants, gays and lesbians?


The answer to all these questions is unknowable at this point. So, rather than wallow in fear of potential disasters that may never come, I choose to focus on rosy possibilities that may also never come, but comfort me with their promise.


As Rahm Emmanuel said shortly after the election, every crisis is also an opportunity. It’s a sentiment that has been echoed by President Obama, and it has the virtue of being true. As dangerous and depressing as the current situation is, it allows us to take stock of what we’ve done wrong and correct our course. Bad times may encourage inter-group tensions, but they may also lead to the tardy realization that we are all on this planet together, and our differences are far less than our similarities.


What are the opportunities, the potential “upsides,” for the gay community?


Probably the most significant is the promise of universal healthcare. Back in 2006, I wrote the following in my June Word column:


“One reason recognizing gay marriage or civil unions is so important is health insurance: currently, if you are gay and don’t work for an enlightened employer, you cannot put your partner (or your partner’s children unless you have somehow established a legal relationship with them—itself not easy) on your health insurance.

Of course, that assumes your employer even offers health insurance. And the number of employers who do is declining.


The bottom line is that America’s refusal to deal with our dysfunctional health system in a rational way affects gays and lesbians, and poor people, disproportionately. It is one more example why bad public policy—and not just bad policy on gay-related issues—is especially important to the community.”


If access to affordable health insurance didn’t depend upon where you worked, but instead was treated as a right that comes with citizenship (much as it is in those retrograde European countries), what a difference that would make! Equality would immediately be enhanced, because gay families would no longer face barriers to medical care that straight citizens don’t face.  


Fixing our broken health care system would probably be the most important positive change we might anticipate, but it’s far from the only one. In a crisis, sound leadership (which, thankfully, has replaced the manifest incompetence of the Bush Administration) requires the use of the very best talent available. That means that we don’t turn away people with the skills we need just because they happen to be openly gay. Obama has already staffed his administration with several “out” gay people, and he has promised to repeal the ridiculous and counterproductive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And of course, addressing the very real threat of global warming is a priority for everyone on the planet, not just straight folks. Rescuing our constitutional liberties similarly benefits us all.


I can go on, but you get the picture. As long as change is inevitable—and it is—why not be Pollyannaish? Why not envision the changes that would make life better for all Americans, including gay Americans?  


After all, wasn’t electing Barack Obama all about replacing fear with hope?