Earlier this week, I got on the computer to find that Ben had left open an article from the Advocate.com, "Gays vs Democrats". Reading the article, I got a sinking feeling. I've been complaining that the gay community has been ill served by the myopic focus on specifically "gay" issues while neglecting to build alliances with potential allies. I'm certainly not the only person who has commented along these lines, but by and large, most of what I see in terms of political coverage from the major gay organizations is disappointing.
Reading this article, one word kept screaming into my head again and again: "crybabies".
After 8 years of bush, which started with him jimmying his way into the Whitehouse with a super-legal crowbar, then passed through idiotic tax breaks for richie-riches, bungled handling of terrorist attacks, wars against brown people for control of resources, demonizing of gay people for political gain, finally leaving us with a downward facing economy and all kinds of other crap to clean up; we elect an inspiring but long-shot candidate who doesn't embarrass us every time he opens his mouth. I don't think the election was so far back that there is any reason any of us should have forgotten already how arduous this campaign was. It wasn't easy beating Hillary, and it wasn't easy winning, even if john mccain did more to help himself lose than he did to win. Obama won because we got out there and pushed and pulled and raised funds and rallied and kept momentum and energy pumping into the campaign.
Part of why he won was that he didn't try to do everything at once and didn't play into his critics' hands by reacting to every little complaint. He had a long game. I don't think he is perfect and can find plenty to complain about, but I don't think that he has any less of a long view now that he is in office.
He made it pretty clear during the campaign and early in office that healthcare was his number one priority. It was/is at the top of the list. He's made good on that. He went in and has pushed and prodded congress to force some kind of healthcare reform through. He's faced a complete stonewall by the republicans, who are simply trying to derail his reform as a way of neutering his administration. This is his big gambit; this is our big battle. If he passes a good healthcare reform bill, he has political capital to spare; if he fails, it is going to be a long, hard slog on every other issue. We all know this.
We all also know he can't do this without us. All of us who wrote friends and family during the campaign or donated or volunteered, where are we now? Did we only have the energy because we thought we'd get exactly what we wanted as soon as he was in office? Did the battle end on election day? Where have we been now that he really needed us? And when I say he really needs us, I mean we really need us because he's got great health coverage: we're the ones this fight is for in the end. He does need to win this battle to have the wiggle room to take on trickier challenges, like DOMA or ENDA or DODT, but you've got to be crazy to think he can touch any of those with a ten-foot pole if healthcare reform fails.
I've tried to keep my energy up and comment where I could and push my support for healthcare reform as much as I can. I've got my small sphere of influence and can only do so much, but I've been looking over the last year for similar energy from people with wider voices. I'd been waiting for the articles in the Advocate or Out rallying gay people around healthcare reform. I've been waiting for the HRC to throw some of its clout at the issue. Partly this all just seemed obvious to me: healthcare is a gay issue. The catalyzing event which fomented our community into a cohesive political entity was the AIDS crisis, a large-scale public health crisis. One of the major disparities between married couples and un-married partners is access to health insurance through a partner's coverage. How is healthcare reform not an issue of specific and urgent concern to the gay community?
More than just being important to our community, it is important to everyone else. It is something each of us needs and it is a natural place to build allegiances with other communities. If we want support on our pet issues, we've got to put our weight behind issues that we can find real common ground with other constituencies. Part of the reason Harvey Milk was able to get elected was because he rallied to get dog shit cleaned up. The reason the Briggs initiative was deep-sixed was because of that political capital that Milk and others in the gay community built through working on other battles of interest to more than just the gay community. Working with unions in their battle with Coors helped build our political clout. That battle wasn't won because we were right; it was won because we campaigned harder and smarter.
We aren't going to get gay marriage because Obama likes us or because it is right. We'll get it when we out-game the other side. Some of our strength comes from our weakness, from our otherness. We can go and scream bloody-murder and say things that anyone else wouldn't dare say. We should have been point people, out there in the streets or on tv demanding the farthest extreme of socialized medicine, pushing and tugging things as far left as we could. We should have been the voices asking for more than could ever possibly pass so that when the compromising started, they could come back from how far we pushed and hopefully compromise somewhere in the middle. We aren't the largest constituency, but we can be pretty damn loud when we want to be. We are well connected and are quick to organize. Instead, we were quiet. We didn't give any political cover on this most central fight. We didn't help out in the biggest battle for control and upper-hand in Washington today. What did we do?
We whined. We complained that we didn't get enough; that our specific issues weren't being taken care of fast enough. The exception to this is John Aravosis, who, incidentally, is quoted in this article. He screamed at the top of his lungs about healthcare reform at least as much if not more than he's gone on about gay marriage and ENDA and DOMA. But even from him, I never heard a clear rallying cry connecting our ability to push more specifically gay issues with our ability to mobilize behind this bigger battle. By and large, most of what I've read from the gay press has simply complained that we aren't getting what we want fast enough. Really, people?
Again, healthcare is Obama's biggest battle. It has already taken twice as long to get close to any progress on it and it still isn't there and looks like it is only going to get shoved through as a butchered version. With what political capital was he supposed to be repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell? He's having this much of a fight with something that benefits almost everyone, and we expected him to do what exactly about making gay marriage legal? bush was an obvious idiot and he got elected twice largely campaigning as protecting America from gays and brown people and we suddenly think now that a brown man is in the Whitehouse that all that resistance has magically disappeared and he just has to wave a wand?
This isn't Obama's battle to win or lose; it is ours. His success or failure is ultimately going to be to our credit or our fault. And we can't just fight one little part of the game without getting in and laying the groundwork necessary for the politicians on our side to have the wiggle room to attack these issues. Where is the cover story calling for us to do what we can do so our leaders can do what we need them to do? There have been enough cover stories for crybabies. I'm tired of reading whines; I want growls.