The past few years are finally catching up with me. Normally, I am an outgoing and generally optimistic sort of person. Lately, I have found that I have been having a harder time dealing with stress. Strategies that mental health gurus tend to offer, such as getting more rest, exercising more, eating better and spending quality time doing enjoyable activities with people you care about, were all actions I strove to make. Yet, in these past years, during this â€˜Great Recessionâ€™, they have not always helped me cope. The biggest worry that haunts me is the level of extremism in our civil discussions.
While I am not contending that the level of political partisanship is unusual for our times, I would suggest that its impact and vociferous qualities are more harmful as our country experiences such economic distress and malaise. Certainly contributing to my stress is the mass mediaâ€™s constant focus on political disagreements and economic challenges. Of course, the media does need to report on all these difficulties, though I find it has been inordinate in its focus on political and rhetorical disputes and broadsides.
I realize that you may be thinking that I am going â€œoff topicâ€� because this column is supposed to be about gay issues and experiences â€œOut Hereâ€� in western Maryland. I am partially going off topic only so as to make some points. I feel that what we all need to do, in order to improve the political conversation in our country, applies to all of us, not merely gay people. Some history gleaned from my constant reading of gay media since the mid-1980s informs what I am suggesting here. The cure to all of our political conflicts? Choose sides.
Yes, that is correct. Pick a side. Join a party. Get into the argument. Lately, it feels like only idiots are arguing the big issues of the day. Why is it that some audience members at a political debate can boo an American soldier, who happened to be gay, and not one presidential candidate challenged such a reaction? Why is it that audiences cheer executions in a time when evidence is not always so clear and sure in the age of DNA testing? Why is it that itâ€™s okay to ignore the science on climate change and evolution? Why is it that it seems we canâ€™t even agree on what is the problem, let alone any solutions?
While Hank Williams Jr. was not the first to ever suggest an American president was like Hitler, it seemed quite over the top. He complained that ESPN did not respect his First Amendment right to free speech. He seems to forget the other aspects of that amendment, such as freedom of association. People are free to associate with whom they choose. ESPN does not want to associate with a jerk. I just wish MSNBCâ€™s Morning Joe would stop associating with Patrick Buchanan, who just a few years ago told Chris Matthews the absolute lie that half of all gay men are sexual predators.
Why are such extremists, along with Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman, dominating the national conversation? I would suggest it is because more and more moderate and mainstream people are leaving the national discourse. More people are beginning to describe themselves as independents. In Maryland, this group is more technically referred to as the Unaffiliated when it comes to voter registration. Over the years, people have been choosing not to associate with the two national parties. The number of the â€˜disaffected unaffiliatedâ€™ has dramatically increased.
The result is that both political parties are being left with their more extreme and less compromising members. The so-called true believers are left to make policy decisions and choose candidates. It is no big surprise that that such people end up nominating the bomb-thrower type politicians. As a result, we get men and women who no longer politely disagree but are so dogmatic that they are willing to damage their country before they will compromise their beliefs. Their lack of agreement and harsh political rhetoric leads to more people being disgusted with the political parties and so they leave. Then they are left to choose between the devil and his spawn on Election Day, having abdicated their choice in who gets on the ticket. That is what I have called, in the past, the mistake of independents.
If you find that politics have gotten too harsh for you, you better brace yourself. If Martin Oâ€™Malley and other political allies of the gay community follow through and get gay marriage passed and legalized in this upcoming legislative session, you can expect a nasty political ballot fight next summer and fall. If the reaction to the Maryland version of the DREAM Act, which grants in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants, is any indication, we need to prepare ourselves. Due to helpful software that permitted them to efficiently confirm the voter registration of petition signers to repeal the law, they were able to get their repeal on the next election ballot. We can see that a petition to repeal gay marriage can easily get on that November 2012 ballot. Money from conservative and right-wing organizations will pour into political ads over the air and we will have the national spotlight on our civil rights struggles. Do not be surprised that you may have to get into passionate arguments with your neighbors and coworkers.
We are left with the powerful option to stop being unaffiliated. We need to choose a political party. By increasing the participation of more moderate and ordinary people in the partisan politics of the day, the messages of both political parties can be made saner and less extreme. Yes, we need to be choosing who lands on the ballots and not merely showing up on Election Day, closing our eyes, and pushing the buttons, hoping for the best. We need to push both parties toward more rational positions or, at the very least, push for political leaders who are willing to listen and even compromise.
Now, I know my audience of this column. You are thinking I am merely pushing for more people to get involved with the Democratic Party. Sure, that would be nice. But I am also suggesting that many people join the Republican Party as well, and also get involved in their party apparatus. Why? Here is where that experience in reading gay media for 25 years comes in.
Did you ever wonder just how the neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalists took over the power position within the Republican Party? They changed the so-called Party of Reagan by getting involved in the party at the lowest and local levels and worked their way up. People who now participate in the Tea Party movement, fairly described as spoiled-sport Republicans, got involved in that Party back in the 1980s.
All through my college and post-college years, I read The Washington Blade, the gay community paper of record for Washington, D.C. Throughout the late â€™80s and â€™90s, there were articles about how local Republican Party committees were being filled up with Christian Evangelicals. It was such a notable effort that the Blade reported the phenomenon at the time. These same people eventually got elected to local and state party chairmanships. They participated in every primary they could. They were vocal at political gatherings and conventions. Soon, any political candidate who wanted the nomination had to respond to their point of view. These were the people who would eventually push for state amendments that would forbid the legislatures from passing laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Such efforts continued until the Colorado Amendment 2 case, in which such efforts were ruled as unconstitutional as they disenfranchised supporters of bans of discrimination.
These are the same political factions that have pushed, successfully, for constitutional amendments in more than two-thirds of the states banning legalized same-sex marriage. If a conservative faction can push the Republican Party so far to the right, why canâ€™t an influx of moderate, openly gay people join the party and push it back towards the center?
While it seems a bit ridiculous to suggest that the present Republican Party could ever be pro-gay, there are aspects of its philosophy that make it possible. That small government mantra? Not such a bad idea when you do not want the government making decisions about who you will marry, what you do in the bedroom, and whether women can make decisions about their own medical choices? So there is room for a moderate to argue that it is good for business to ensure a level playing field for all citizens, which means that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity should be banned. Firm believer in a strict interpretation of the constitution? Well, then, standing up for gay rights means standing up for the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection and due process for all. That means supporting treating everyone fairly and so permitting gay marriage.
If the politics of extreme rhetoric are stressing you out, you need to stop sitting on the sidelines and letting the more politically narrow-minded to dominate the parties. We all need to get involved, not just on Election Day, but before then. We need to participate in party activities and help nominate more reasonable, educated, rationale candidates, in both political parties.
March 13, 2012, is the deadline to register to vote in the political primaries. If you are already a registered voter but are listed as unaffiliated, you need to change that. Pick a side by March 13 and participate in party meetings and debates. Ask tough questions. Be that lone voice in the room. But if you help to weed out the crazies, you may just leave behind a more reasonable choice that we all can make.
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