At the Crossroads

At the Crossroads

I doubt I am alone in thinking that the easiest way to get through the next five days might just be to hold my breath.

I suspect that I just may have wrung the last ounce of genuine political information out of cable news programming, blog sites and online polling data.

Wednesday morning, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC were all rotating among the same triad of big swing states—Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. The candidates were also bouncing among Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico and Nevada. Desperate for new angles, correspondents scrambled to discuss states that seemed to have popped unexpectedly back into the swing category—New Jersey, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Hawaii. The appearances of Al Gore, then Bill Clinton and finally Arnold Schwarzenegger on the campaign trail in the final week were heralded as if state visits from exalted potentates occurred. Polling data suggesting that Bush might improve on his anemic showing in the African-American community in 2000 was pored over for its predictive value.

For voters interested in gay issues, the discussion finally moved off of the silliness about Mary Cheney. The Republicans lost interest in that tempest when reporters finally starting pressing them to explain exactly what was so wrong in what John Kerry had said about her. In place of Marygate, we witnessed the curious and nearly simultaneous efforts by George W. Bush and Kerry to move closer together on a hot-button issue, one of the few examples of centrism in the campaign’s denouement.

The president told Charlie Gibson on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he had no problem with states enacting civil union legislation for same-sex couples. This was not completely a new position for Bush—he has made a states rights argument in this regard before—but it was the first time he specifically repudiated the Republican Party’s draconian platform statement on the question.

Similarly, Kerry broke no new ground this week on gay partnerships, but flush from his boisterous Philadelphia rally with Clinton, he got on the phone with 1,200 African-American ministers, during which the former president vouched for his bona fides and the would-be president reminded the religious leaders of his opposition to same-sex marriage. News reports attributed that move to the aforementioned uptick in Bush’s polling among African-American voters.

In the end, all of the frantic, last-minute outreach and repositioning for every last vote in what could be a razor close finish signifies not a great deal.

The choice this year—for voters in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and anyone who believes that the battle for a safe world must also be an uncompromising determination to build a just world—could not be more clear.

George W. Bush took the nation to war in Iraq because of the philosophical predisposition that powerful foreign policy conservatives in his government—most prominently his vice president, Dick Cheney—had for making regime change in that nation a hallmark of the president’s tenure. September 11 offered hawks in the government the perfect opportunity to right a wrong they felt George H.W. Bush had committed—allowing the unrepentant dictator Saddam Hussein to remain in power.

Under the arrogant leadership of Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, this nation entered Iraq without the force necessary for the enormous task of nation-building (if any-sized military force could prove sufficient) that Bush had taken on.

The obvious failure of the president’s policy is evident everyday in the continued killing, the failure to restore a productive civil society, and the clear signs that things will only continue to get worse. The administration’s response has been to obfuscate on the rationale for why we are there—changing its tune when facts don’t fit earlier alibis, even as it lashes out at anyone who dares raise criticism—and lying outright about how the effort is going, the president on the stump with oddly rosy optimism.

At home, Bush’s only response to a limping economy has been the tired nostrum that enormous tax cuts for the most prosperous Americans will somehow trickle down to a middle class and those in poverty struggling to juggle several jumps hold onto basic health protections.

And, of course, it is no secret that under the tutelage of Karl Rove, Bush decided that same-sex marriage, triumphant in spectacular fashion last fall in Massachusetts, provided a perfect wedge to ensure that the turnout of Christian conservatives across the battleground states is maximized. Even the Log Cabin Republicans, who long lit candles rather than curse the darkness, threw in the towel, denying Bush their endorsement. Should the president be re-elected, it is likely that there will be no organized gay voice welcomed in the nation’s executive branch for the next four years.

John Kerry is not a perfect candidate, but his election is essential.

As other Democrats, most courageously Howard Dean, spoke uncompromisingly about the administration’s mistakes in Iraq, Kerry equivocated for too long, which made it a tall order for him to establish the credibility and integrity of his critique now.

Still, Kerry is a seasoned foreign policy expert, and his stance against the first Pres. Bush’s rush to war in 1991 and, more tellingly, his critical voice as a Vietnam veteran in opposing that war when he returned after his service there afford solid hope that he will endeavor to build a credible, strong and respected posture for the U.S. in the years to come.

Like nearly every other Democrat of national stature, John Kerry fumbles noticeably when the topic turns to same-sex marriage, but our community fools itself if it thinks that the only, or even the most important, battle we have to win is having a president that will say “I do.” Religious conservatives have set state constitutional traps in what could end up being, after November 2, more than a dozen states preventing the emergence of marriage rights across the nation. Our community has plenty of work to do, state by state, over the next four years, indeed likely over the next decade.

Kerry’s strong support for our community across a range of other issues should not go unnoted. An early supporter of our civil rights when he arrived in Washington in 1985, he was one of the few Democrats in Congress who pressed Pres. Bill Clinton to hang tough on his pledge to open up military service for gay and lesbian soldiers, rather than adopt a compromise that has proved more odious than what went before. When Republicans rushed through the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 in response to the unfounded fear of impending Hawaiian gay marriage, Kerry was one of only 14 senators who stood up to say I don’t.

Like Bill Clinton, John Kerry is certain to disappoint many of us on one occasion, or perhaps on many. He will not always be the young veteran who appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 to say that it was wrong to ask a man to be the last man to die in an unjust war.

But, Kerry will likely be someone with whom our community can talk, someone who will be interested in building an internationalist foreign policy and someone who will be responsive to the demands for social justice in this nation.

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