Thursday, October 28, 2004
by Wayne Besen
The Democratic convention is over and I absolutely, positively love John Kerry. Sure, in the latest polls he got the convention bounce of a medicine ball on a concrete sidewalk, but I still adore him. To be honest; I'd rather vote for Tony Soprano or Tony the Tiger or anyone that isn't George W. Bush.
I'm one of those folks who doesn't like the way Bush walks or talks. I despise his policies and I loathe his politics. I know this is irrational, but I'd rather French kiss a piranha than hear Bush pronounce "nuclear" one more time.
Most Democrats - especially gay ones - feel exactly as I do. So, to win over the base at the convention, all Kerry had to do was be able to walk and chew gum - not necessarily at the same time. Fortunately, he delivered a powerful speech that exceeded expectations.
For most gay Americans, choosing Kerry over Bush for president is as easy as choosing Matt Damon over Don Knots for a prom date.
Kerry is a co-sponsor of legislation banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation. Bush is against such a law.
Kerry is for hate crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation. Bush is not.
Kerry is for civil unions and domestic partnerships. Bush is against such unions, and led a failed effort to pass a federal Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.
Kerry, a war hero, is in favor of openly gay and lesbian people serving in our military. Bush is against allowing openly gay service members.
The list of differences is long and the further one goes down the list the worse Bush fares. And this doesn't even take into consideration that if Bush is reelected he will try to stack the federal courts with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas clones. A Bush reelection is an unmitigated disaster for gay and lesbian Americans.
Kerry, of course, doesn't favor same-sex marriage. In normal times this would lead gay activists to mount sizable protests. But these aren't normal times and gay leaders are rightfully, albeit painfully, allowing Kerry a pass for the sake of unity.
In fact, the most notable gay protest in Boston was not directed at the nominee. It came when the largest gay rights group, The Human Rights Campaign, rescinded an invitation for comedian Margaret Cho to perform after she said she would tell off-color jokes about Bush. But even the jilted jester Cho displayed comity for her cancelled comedy and forgave HRC.
As an activist it is not easy to let the Democrats dissemble on gay marriage and treat us as second-class citizens. However, let's be real - same-sex marriage will not be won or lost between now and November.
So let's take a much needed break and focus on the positive. For example, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender delegation featured a record of 236 delegates at the convention. HRC's articulate Executive Director, Cheryl Jacques, addressed the Beantown crowd on gay issues. Another speaker, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., served as the first openly gay Vice Chair of any major political convention.
Politics aside, the Democrats just look good. On the campaign trail they have John Edwards, the candidate with the movie star looks, campaigning with Ben Affleck, an actual movie star. Perhaps Edwards is against gay marriage because he would get too many proposals!
John Kerry isn't perfect on gay issues, but he's not W., and that's good enough.
The lesson from Boston is that gay activists are not going to obsess about Kerry's relatively minor flaws. Instead they are going to relax, go to the beach and catch the Kerry wave. Sure, they have no illusions it will take us all the way to the shores of equality. But it sure beats the dangerous and exhausting undertow of the Bush administration that has been dragging us down for the last four year.
by Wayne Besen
With less than one week to go before Election Day, things have gone Stir Crazy. Both tickets are impersonating the famous jail scene with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder where the two terrified wimps strut to look tough on their first day in prison.
"That's right, we bad. Uh huh, that's right, we bad."
It's all-tough, all-terror, all the time. We have Kerry as Rambo without the biceps, taking on Bush as a homely, dim-witted Tom Cruise. It's fatigues vs. the flight suit. It's a testosterone tug-of-war where the winner claims the prize of America and her new, sunny province - Iraq!
Team Bush struck first with a television ad showing ferocious wolves - metaphors for Al-Qaeda - advancing towards viewers. "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm," warns a menacing voice.
Team Kerry responded with an aviary attack ad showing a soaring Eagle, representing Kerry, and contrasted it by depicting Bush as an ostrich with his head in the sand. We can only image what zoological zingers both campaigns have in store for us in the final desperate days. Will it be Kerry as a slithering snake and Bush as a slippery silverfish?
"Deferment Dick Cheney" chimed in warning that a win for Kerry, a Vietnam War hero, is a win for the terrorists. But as insurgents savagely executed 50 Iraqi soldiers this weekend, one would think that the bad guys are pretty happy with Bush.
Indeed, one of the precious few jobs Bush created this month was for Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who Osama bin Laden promoted to run his new franchise, "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia." Bush likes to claim success on the war on terror, but of late our military has had more trouble meeting its recruitment goals than Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Bush's spurious hillbilly routine has forced Kerry to convince Joe Average that he's an Average Joe. Desperate to get a gun in his hand, Kerry went goose hunting. He then went to Ohio, stomping through patches of pumpkins to lure batches of fence-sitting bumpkins.
Ironically, in a bitterly divided election with weighty security issues, the contest might be decided on peripheral, yet easily exploitable concerns - gays, guns and God.
Bush's entire election seems to rest on exploiting gullible evangelicals with a campaign of scare and prayer. Unfortunately, the dopes are easily roped. As reported by Ron Suskind in the New York Times Magazine, George Bush told some farmers, "I trust God speaks through me." It seems God needs a new human resources director, if the most eloquent spokesperson He can find is Bush.
Amazingly, the president was able to out-God Pat Robertson. The slick televangelist told Bush that God said Iraq would be a messy disaster. "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties," Bush, the wannabe Messiah, replied to Preachy Pat.
George play-acting as Jesus, combined with Republican political operatives posing as Catholic Bishops, have forced Kerry to the pulpit. I saw John Kerry speak on Sunday and I wasn't sure which booth he was trying to get me into - voting or confessional.
In the end, if there is one glaring reason Bush must lose is that he is singularly unable to protect America from terrorism. As long as he is president, I submit that we are uniquely vulnerable to attack. While he unveiled his new wolf ad, it is his crying wolf on weapons of mass destruction that has disqualified him as an effective Commander in Chief.
There are millions of people, like myself, who originally supported the war in Iraq. I even promoted it on a talk radio show. Unlike Bush, I can say I was dead wrong and that I'm sorry.
But I was duped because Dick Cheney told us Saddam and Osama were connected. Condi told us that we couldn't wait for the smoking gun to be in the shape of a mushroom cloud. She even showed us Iraqi aluminum tubes that were supposedly for nuclear centrifuges.
While I never respected W., I respected his office. I reasoned Team Bush must have Top Secret intelligence that we weren't privy to. Living only a half mile from the White House, I, like millions of Americans, was intentionally frightened into accepting their scam and rattled into buying their racket.
We now know the administration cynically hyped the war. The aluminum tubes used to justify the invasion have about as much to do with a nuclear bomb as aluminum foil and tubes of toothpaste. It turns out that the real threat was not Saddam leveling American cites, but a president who did not level with American people.
When America is united, we are a great superpower. But we are now vulnerable and bitterly divided because half-truths cost Bush the trust of half the nation. Bush squandered his post-9-11 mandate by choosing to secure his base over the security of our nation. With no credibility, he can't effectively lead us or warn us of the real wolves lurking in the shadows.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
by Wayne Besen
Artificial outrage is all the rage in the GOP. Each time the political fortunes of George W. Bush sink like the personal fortunes of middle class Americans under his presidency, Republicans gin up imitation indignation.
During the final debate, both John Kerry and George Bush were asked whether homosexuality is a choice. Kerry responded that, "If you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian…who would tell you she was being who she was."
Lynne Cheney went apoplectic, accusing Kerry of a "a cheap and tawdry trick." Dick Cheney grumbled that he was an "angry father." And, right wing political hacks are now disingenuously spinning Kerry's innocuous response as "Marygate".
Let's be clear. This is not a genuine controversy, but an entirely new Republican invention - the "contrived-versy". A contrived-versy is inventing and embracing a counterfeit cause designed to distract voters from the administration's miserably failed policies.
For example, this summer a prevaricating president refused to come clean on mysterious gaps in his military service. Compared to Kerry's distinguished record in Vietnam, Bush looked craven. To shift this unflattering focus, Republicans trotted out a sketchy group of resentful Kerry hating veterans to slime the war hero. Suddenly, news coverage shifted from questions of Bush's lack of service, to questioning of Kerry's honorable service.
This was Exhibit A of how the GOP elevates rogue issues to drown out real issues. The Mary Cheney saga is no more than an extension of this type of premeditated lowball, smoke and mirrors politics.
Intellectually honest people acknowledge the three debates were a trio of tragedy for the president. Even at his best, he looked like a pre-programmed pull-string doll, mindlessly regurgitating Karl Rove's greatest hits. At his worst, Bush looked like a bumbling bungler who was too arrogant to admit that he had made a single mistake in four years.
Indeed, Bush was aptly compared to a lost driver who refuses to ask for directions. Afraid Bush's stubborn-streak would scare off women, Republican honchos had to devise a way to make Kerry look as intransigent and pig-headed as Bush.
Their answer: "Marygate."
Having read copious commentary on this issue, I have concluded that there are two real goals behind this concocted charade: 1) To narrow the gender gap by portraying Kerry as a man, like Bush, who is unable to apologize. 2) To impugn Kerry as a politician with poor character who will say anything to win.
Even a cursory look reveals how Republican Party talking points have permeated the columns of supposedly independent conservative writers. It seems they are transparently singing from the same Bush song sheet, urging Kerry to say he's sorry.
** William Safire: "Kerry will, I hope, assert his essential decency by apologizing with sincerity."
** Robert Novak: "Instead of an apology, the [Democrats] rhetoric escalated."
** David Brooks: "You use somebody's daughter to attack the father and his running mate. The parents are upset. The only decent thing to do is apologize."
Political parrots with their poison pens want Americans to believe their synchronized screeds are mere coincidence. But we are informed by the striking uniformity of the columns that Marygate is probably not an organic reaction to what Kerry actually said. Instead, it is likely a revolting example of coordinated and calculated character assassination by conservative columnists shilling for the GOP.
Sadly, the GOP's talking points have been repeated so often that even fair-minded journalists are now portraying Kerry's answer as a gaffe, and suggest it might help if he apologizes.
Buried in the GOP's snow job is the cold truth: The Cheney family has consistently humiliated and betrayed Mary. They have been dishonorably derelict in their primary parental duty, which is to protect a child from harm.
When Bush announced support for a Constitutional Amendment that would deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry, making Mary a second-class citizen, where was Dick and Lynne's moral outrage?
When Bush expressed his support for sodomy laws that could imprison their daughter, where was the "angry father"?
When hapless Illinois Senate hopeful Alan Keyes called Mary a "selfish hedonist" at the GOP Convention, where were her parents when her honor truly needed defending?
Of course, Mary has given us a lot of insight on these questions.
"...............", said Mary.
That's right, Mary was mum as she has been for four long years. She didn't even have the nerve to show up this week at her own "contrived-versy"!
Marygate is political arson that Republican spinners are trying to pass off as a legitimate firestorm. And the Cheney family has shamefully fanned the flames of bigotry to keep the base happy. The only person who can stop this madness is Mary Cheney. But instead of Proud Mary we've got Cowed Mary, and we keep getting rolled and sold down the river. Lynne Cheney is right. I've never seen anything so tawdry in my life.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
by Wayne Besen
A black comedian once half jokingly quipped that America's drug "problem" only became an "epidemic" when suburban white kids started getting high. Sadly, the same shortsighted principle can be applied to AIDS. The African-American community is in the throes of a devastating epidemic, while the white majority has dangerously compartmentalized it as a minority "problem".
This alarming racial disconnect was no more apparent than during the vice presidential debate. Moderator Gwen Ifill asked Dick Cheney about AIDS and minorities in America:
"I want to talk to you about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts," said Ifill.
Perhaps Cheney thought he was running for VP in Botswana, because he blatantly ignored Ifill's clear instructions and immediately invoked Africa. When it was clear he couldn't run out the clock, Cheney finally dealt with the mushrooming crisis at home.
"Here in the United States, we've made significant progress. I have not heard those numbers with respect to African-American women. I was not aware that it was - that they're in epidemic there."
Hasn't heard the numbers? Not aware that "they're in epidemic there"?
Dick, "there" happens to be right outside your window in Washington, DC, if you'd care to open the rose-colored shades and take a gander at reality. Where has this man been hiding out, a bunker? Oh yeah, it's Dick Cheney.
The truth is that Cheney is not aware because he does not care. His ignorance is born out of studied indifference. Was he so off base, because African-Americans aren't part of the Republican base? There is really no other logical way to explain an intellectual emptiness from Cheney that is usually reserved for his boss.
Cheney has never been a luminary on African-American issues. As a Congressman, he voted against a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. He voted against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
Nonetheless, one assumed Cheney had a rudimentary knowledge of the impact of AIDS in minority communities. The only thing more shocking than Cheney's cluelessness is the shocking statistics themselves.
- African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population. But according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, they account for 54-percent of the 40,000 new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS in 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
- Of the estimated 385,000 people living with AIDS, 42 percent were African-American.
Cheney should also know that when it comes to AIDS, America's health system is mirroring our judicial system: Blacks get the death penalty at a much greater rate than whites.
- Among black men ages 25 to 44, the HIV/AIDS mortality rate was more than six times greater than for whites. And, as Ifill pointed out, the death rate is even more staggering for black women.
"The area my clinic's in is essentially a suburb of the third world," Dr. Joseph C. Gathe, Jr., an infectious disease physician in Houston and director of a nonprofit AIDS clinic told the New York Times. "It's a shame no one seems to know that the problem in Africa looks like the problem in inner-city Houston, Chicago and New York."
There are myriad causes for this appalling discrepancy in life expectancy. Many African-Americans don't get diagnosed until they have full-blown AIDS. Often this is because they lack health insurance or the financial means to obtain medication.
The Bush administration has exacerbated the problem by woefully underfunding the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which helps provide life-saving drugs to low income Americans. In fairness, the Democrats have not resolutely addressed the AIDS epidemic with immediacy either.
The depressing truth is that if heterosexual white Americans were dying from AIDS at the same alarming rate as African Americans, the vice president would be fully engaged. Bush would launch a "war on AIDS" that rivaled his professed "war on terror". Unfortunately, we have an administration so determined to divide the world into black and white, they can no longer see wrong from right.
America first ignored AIDS because it primarily affected homosexuals. Some religious fanatics used Biblical injunctions to say gays "earned their AIDS." Now America is in denial about how the plague is ravaging African-Americans.
In the end, conservatives may find a biblical message, but not the one expected. The Bible commands believers to love thy neighbor. But the antithesis of loving thy neighbor is burying your head in the sands of indifference, as thousands of Americans bury loved ones.
The great moral lesson of AIDS may be that treating others as doormats is the quickest way to bring the disease to your doorstep. History may record today's solipsistic, pious narcissism as the great sin that fueled America's AIDS epidemic.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
by Wayne Besen
There is new speculation of America resurrecting the draft thanks to President Bush stretching our troops too thin. In the deadly shadow of Iraq, I don't believe a military draft can succeed unless Don't Ask/Don't Tell is rescinded. It is simply too big a loophole. It is an "escape clause," likely to be used by thousands of heterosexuals who would rather camp it up, than be sent to Camp Baghdad.
Americans are a famously brave people who will fight vigorously to defend their country. Following September 11, most Americans would have enthusiastically gone to Afghanistan to seek revenge against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.
But Iraq is different. If you ask 10 people why we are fighting this war, you are likely to get ten different answers. That's not clarity, but a chaotic calamity. As President Bush's ever-shifting rationale for war evaporates, so does the rationale for parents to send their children to possibly die in the sandy killing fields.
I believe that a significant number of men and women would break the draft monopoly by using Don't Ask/Don't Tell as a "get out of war free" card. According to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), more than 80 percent of discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are "statement cases" - gay and lesbian service members who come out to their commanders.
The SLDN statistic makes it clear: Just say it's so, and you don't have to go. Claim you're gay and they won't ship you away.
I would imagine critics would downplay my conclusion by pointing to the current situation, where few soldiers have exercised the gay loophole. Indeed, SLDN shows that discharges have dropped precipitously during the current Iraqi conflict. In 2003 there were only 787 discharges of gay Servicemembers, down from a high of 1,273 in 2001.
This mainly has to do with the fact that gay people already serving are volunteers who conceal their sexual orientation to save their military careers. It also has to do with the ignoble hypocrisy of a nation that uses skilled gay Servicemembers in times of war, but discards them like trash in times of peace, when their services aren't as desperately needed.
Further, the heterosexuals now serving are part of a deeply conservative military culture and don't want to be viewed as homosexual. Many would rather go to Iraq than be thought of as gay.
A draft, however, changes the equation because it would greatly broaden the ideological spectrum of those serving. This would be the first gay-friendly heterosexual majority draft class in military history. Many of the people in this new demographic could care less if others thought they were gay if it could spare them a tour in Fallujah. It would be something they would joke about with their friends in the safety of their college dorms.
Let's face it, times have changed since the 1969 movie, "The Gay Deceivers", where two men pretend to be gay to avoid Vietnam. Their plan succeeds, but at the peril of their personal and professional lives. They are made into pariahs, discriminated against and their families virtually disown them.
Without this type of pervasive societal backlash, what will dissuade many heterosexuals who want to skip Iraq from becoming "Gay Deceivers"?
With conscription, I suspect many young straight Americans will show up in drag instead of uniform. If coming out means getting out of hellish Iraq, some platoons may play show tunes. "Taps" could be replaced by tap dancers. There will be American soldiers marching in gay pride parades so they won't have to march in Baghdad. To some, wearing a pink triangle will be preferable to wearing a targeted uniform in the Sunni Triangle.
A much wiser solution would be to allow gay people to serve openly, with the patriotic dignity and respect they deserve. This would close an absurd loophole that threatens the ability to have a draft during a grossly mismanaged and increasingly unpopular war. And it would mercifully stop bad imitations of Richard Simmons in the barracks.
Conservatives might object, saying that allowing gay Servicemembers would undermine unit cohesion. But polls show today's young Americans are much more accepting of gay people, including their right to honorably serve their country. If anything, in a conscripted military, bigoted homophobes will be a minority and seen as threats to maintaining stable, well-functioning units.
America can have Don't Ask/Don't Tell or a draft, but I doubt both. Sure, it could be done in a time of unifying national crisis, but not now. Coming out is just too easy an out for the many straight Americans who would rather skip what they consider a divisive, unnecessary war.