05 November 2008

Proving Me Wrong

Barack Obama

I underestimated Barack Obama. I admit it! When he announced his intention to run for President, I predicted he would drop out of the Democratic primaries for lack of support. Instead, he emerged victorious with a groundswell of support. I didn’t believe that the Democrats would nominate a Black man for President. A few weeks ago, I watched them nominate one with wild enthusiasm and unprecedented fanfare. I was certain that a candidate named Barack Hussein Obama could never win a national election in the same country that voted twice for both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Nobody could’ve been more surprised last night when he swept the electoral college and edged out John McCain for the popular vote!

So obviously, I had no confidence in the candidacy of Barack Obama, and I didn’t vote for him on 4 November 2008. My vote went to independent candidate Ralph Nader.

I don't regret that decision, but of course, I'm relieved that a Right Wing Republican administration won’t control our Executive Branch for the next four years. Now, as Mr. Obama assembles his staff and prepares for his gala inauguration ceremony in January, I share the elation most Americans feel at the knowledge that we've shattered our highest glass ceiling. It thrills me to see and hear the euphoria now blanketing the African and African-American communities.

That said, my reservations about Mr. Obama remain intact. I am still unmoved by his lofty "change" rhetoric! That's what it has always sounded like to me: Pure rhetoric, some of it blatantly swiped from Martin Luther King, Jr, bathed in political expediency, and totally lacking in substance.

Every other word out of Barack Obama's mouth is “change”, but his actions don’t jibe with his words. His actions reinforce the status quo! Fresh in my mind is his vote to retroactively exempt telecommunications companies from warrantless wiretapping litigation. Fresh in my mind is his lip service in support of public campaign financing, a principle he soon abandoned in favor of unprecedented through-the-roof campaign expenditures. Fresh in my mind are his "liberal" policy positions on immigration, the death penalty, the military, the economy and the environment, which, to my ears, aren't all that different from those of John McCain.

Particularly fresh in my mind is the way he parroted George W. Bush's Chicken Little warnings of economic doom during the all-too-brief Wall Street bailout debate, and his subsequent vote for the bailout! This is what really sealed my decision to withhold my vote from him (see my post titled "Lipstick On A Fascist Pig", found under the Testimony sidebar label).

I was inclined in that direction already, though, once I saw how he and his handlers turned a freezing cold shoulder on Senator Hillary Clinton during his search for a running mate. In light of the tireless way she campaigned for him these last few weeks, that vicious snub stands out most starkly! With so much at stake, Mr. Obama needed somebody on the ticket who could draw crucial votes like those of the White working-class Americans Senator Clinton won over during the primaries. He flipped off both Hillary and her constituency, choosing instead to take a huge risk.

He went with another rival candidate whose lack of appeal to the electorate had been affirmed by not one, but two unsuccessful bids for the Democratic presidential nomination. Joseph Biden, Jr. was a non-entity during the Democratic primaries, and pundits weren’t even sure he could help Obama win his home state of Delaware. (Sure, he bested Gov. Sarah Palin in debate, but how much skill did he need to do that? Barney the Purple Dinosaur could’ve taken Miss Alaska out!)

Our Vice-President-elect isn’t a proven vote-getter, but he is an Old Guard Democrat and an established member of the Washington White male political elite. Change? I don't think so, sugar. It looks to me like the same old political back-scratching and entrenched sexism! Knowing how closely sexism is linked to heterosexism, I’m not hopeful that an Obama presidency will respect my status as a Gay American citizen. His treatment of Hillary Clinton is hardly my only reason for apprehension.

I can't forget how, during his campaign, Barack Obama aggressively courted Rev. Donnie McClurkin and some of the most reactionary figures in the Black religious community. I can't forget the swaggering, macho response he had to the suggestion that he might be vulnerable to HIV infection at one of the early debates (how well I know that crowing rooster stance! I've seen countless Black men adopt it, and I've come to hate it profoundly)! I can't forget his recent backpedaling on a promise to repeal the US military's draconian "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" prohibition on openly Gay service persons (he'll defer to the "wisdom" of Defense department officials).

I especially can't forget his pompous and despicable statements against legalized Lesbian and Gay marriage, and I’m convinced that his bigoted words helped add Jim Crow-style “marriage protection” amendments to the State constitutions of Arizona, Florida and California yesterday! They may also have contributed to Arkansas adopting a horrendous ban on Gay adoption and foster parenting.

It always enrages me to hear such talk from any politician, but hearing it come from Black candidates fills me with revulsion. How dare they advocate legal segregation? Mr. Obama isn't a descendant of African slaves, but he shouldn’t have to be one in order to comprehend basic Civil Rights! The fact that he doesn’t comprehend ought to have called into question for many Americans his suitability to lead our nation.

Some Gay activists have counseled me to give Barack Obama the benefit of doubt. They say: He's a Democrat, after all. (So is former Senator Sam Nunn, a Gay Rights enemy who reportedly was on his shortlist of Vice-President picks!) They say: He's a Liberal, after all. (So is the unrepentantly transphobic Senator Barney Frank, one of his supporters!) They say: He's a person of color, after all. (So is Rev. Donnie McClurkin! Duh!) However, I can't believe that a President with his eyes fixed on re-election and bipartisan consensus-building (not to mention the huge, steaming pile of Bush administration messes he's obliged to clean up) will place Gay Rights anywhere but at the very bottom of his agenda, even if he is all those things!

Sad to say, I suspect Barack Obama being of African descent will make it even more likely that he'll snub us! It pains me to say so, but it’s true. Just look at how LGBT folk suffer under homophobic and often genocidal cultural norms in Africa and the Caribbean. Look at how hostile most self-identified African-American Christians are to Gay identity (and don’t forget, Mr. Obama is one of those, too)! Nobody knows the deep-seated heterosexism of Black males better than I do. Growing up, it was a daily fact of my life, and a constant challenge to my sanity, my safety, and my self-esteem. I almost didn't reach adulthood because of it! Even today, when I visit the Black community I grew up in, I can expect hateful looks and vituperative comments from my heterosexual "brothers" . . . and some of my "sisters" aren't very friendly, either!

Simply put, then, I don't trust Mr. Obama. Given his behavior thus far, why should I? His views on marriage equality alone signals that his value system is much different from mine. Since I’m definitely a values voter, the Democrats weren’t an option for me this election. If I was going to vote for President (and I always do), I had to choose another ticket. McCain-Palin? I may be a little eccentric, but I’m not crazy! Barr-Root? I’m not a masochist, either. McKinney-Clemente? The Green Party ticket wasn’t even on the ballot in Missouri. Neither were tickets for any of the other Left or Right-of-Center political parties, most of which are too extreme for me, anyway. Nader-González was my real only alternative, but fortunately, it was an alternative that satisfied me.

I knew going in that Ralph Nader would lose; I harbored no illusions about that. I decided, though, that I didn't want to treat the polling place as if it were a casino or a stock market where I gambled on odds! I walked in there, and I voted for my issues: Loosening corporate control of government. Breaking the stranglehold of the two-party political system. Protecting the natural environment. Tapping sustainable energy resources. Holding elected officials accountable. Instituting sound fiscal policy. Ending economic class warfare. Changing the warmongering course of our military policy. Last but not least, extending equality to American citizens regardless of race, class, gender or sexual orientation. Nader articulated these issues in an unvarnished, down-to-Earth way that outshone all of Barack Obama's spit-polished speechifying!

I voted for him because I believe that he shares my values. Of course, I know that Ralph Nader is reputed to be a Gay man. The knowledge that I probably voted for a Gay presidential candidate pleases me no end. The fact that he remains stubbornly in the closet does not! However, given the choice of voting for a closeted Gay man and voting for a man I suspect of being a closet homophobe, there was no question what my choice would be!

Please don't misunderstand: I don't wish any ill on Barack Obama. I’m not predicting that his administration will fail, either. I don't want it to fail. God forbid that should happen! We certainly don't need another failed presidency after having suffered through the worst one imaginable; but I'm not going to fake an optimism I don't feel.

I count myself among millions of Americans who are waiting for Mr. Obama to prove himself worthy of the office he's won. Like most other Black people, I hope he succeeds in doing that. Even so, what may prove him worthy in the eyes of most other folks won't be enough for me! I want to see an evocation of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. that isn't just rhetorical. Is President-Elect Barack Obama capable of that?

It will require more of him than just meeting mainstream America’s expectations. It will require sufficient courage to sometimes open rifts between constituencies in the pursuit of justice. It will require the good sense to know why a sharp dividing line between Church and State is necessary. It will require sufficient leadership skills to buck public opinion and political wisdom on principle!

Unfortunately, such skills aren't considered essential to a successful presidency, at least, not from an historical perspective. The painful truth is that history could judge Mr. Obama a successful President even if he never lifts a finger to advance LGBT equality. That has certainly happened before! Today, the morning after the historic election of 2008, I'm afraid that's exactly what will happen again. I’m afraid that a Black man occupying the Oval Office is the only history that will end up being made, and we need so much more history-making than that!

I wish I didn't feel afraid. I want to feel part of this great wave of enthusiasm for our new leader, and despite my strong misgivings, I think it may be possible that I can. I'll need Mr. Obama's help, though, and he'd better not wait too long to offer it! Will he? Was LesBiGay support just a stepping stone to power for him, or does he intend to include LGBT America and its citizenship rights within the scope of his national vision? I desperately want Barack Hussein Obama II, the 44th President of the United States, to prove me wrong once again.