I’m bleary-eyed from watching two weeks of political conventions. I swear that if I never hear another speech, it will be too soon. But there are lessons to be learned from the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. As LGBT Americans, we would do well to pay attention. Counting down from No. 5 to No. 1, here is what I learned from the political gatherings.
#5 – The politics of ridicule are alive and well; or, Karl Rove rides again.
My 81-year-old mother summed it up perfectly. Moments after vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin electrified GOP delegates by ridiculing, among many others, city dwellers, reporters, Democrats, and perhaps most oddly, community organizers, my mother sat back in her chair. “It’s the same old Republican crap,” she said.
And so it is.
In a time when the Republican brand is so tarnished that the party in power spent three days pretending it wasn’t, the GOP convention unveiled the same old Karl Rove playbook. LGBT Americans know it well because we have lived for years in the crosshairs of George W. Bush’s former political director. In St. Paul, this approach came complete with nifty hand gestures (a zero made with thumb and forefinger), chants of “zero, zero” (apparently used as either a moniker for Barack Obama or an expression of Republicans’ opinion of his experience), and gales of derisive laughter.
These are junior high antics, but Rove and Bush proved these tactics work. This year Republicans bolstered their chances of ridiculing their way into the White House by putting Palin on the ticket. She is the perfect assassin, camouflaging nastiness with a smile and a quip.
#4 – Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain.
The day after Republicans wallowed in partisan attacks, John McCain took the stage vowing to end “partisan rancor.” That’s just one way the conventions, particularly the GOP fete, highlighted the smoke-and-mirrors nature of politics. What is the truth behind the curtain?
Both parties claim to represent average Americans. But in a nation that is 66 percent white, 93 percent of the Republican delegates were Caucasian. In Denver, nearly 57 percent of the delegates were white. Republican men outnumbered women two to one, while Democratic women made up half of the Denver convention. Only about 24 Republican delegates were LGBT. More than 370 LGBT delegates participated in the Democratic convention.
Both the McCain and Obama campaigns say they embrace us. On the not very cuddly end of things, though, both candidates oppose same-sex marriage. Both also oppose a federal marriage ban, but that’s where the similarities end.
Obama supports civil unions with full benefits, and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He supports hate-crimes and employment-nondiscrimination legislation, among many other pro-gay measures. McCain supports none of these. Instead, he wants voters to ban marriage equality in California and Arizona. In 2006, McCain even appeared in a commercial supporting a marriage ban in his home state.
Like Dorothy and her friends confronting the Wizard of Oz, we have to know the truth behind the stagecraft. Unlike Dorothy, though, we don’t have Toto to pull open the curtain for us. We’ll have to do it ourselves.
#3 – The Log Cabin Republicans made a bold, but costly move.
In politics and chess, a player often has to sacrifice a piece to win. That may have been the rationale behind the Log Cabin Republicans’ (LCR) endorsement of the McCain-Palin ticket.
On the surface, the endorsement looks insane. If, however, the group wanted to gain access to McCain and party leaders, the decision makes sense.
Signs of that were apparent in St. Paul, where, for the first time, Log Cabin members were credentialed and allowed a booth in the exhibit hall. Two of McCain’s top advisors came to their events. Even the ultimate GOP insider, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, showed up.
LCR’s sacrifice, though, was huge. At the least, they decided that access alone trumped support for pro-gay legislation. The endorsement also opened a public rift between LCR and the Human Rights Campaign.
#2 – At long last, LGBT votes count.
Before the conventions, politicos opined that our vote was too tiny to matter in the general election. With the tightening of the race, our vote is more important now than ever, particularly in swing states. Out Obama deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, told The Advocate that the election is so close, LGBT voters could affect the outcome in 12 to 14 states.
The signs of this new math were everywhere. In St. Paul, McCain’s national political director, Mike DuHaime, accepted the LCR endorsement in person before cheering Log Cabin Republicans. In Denver, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy supported LGBT rights in prime-time speeches. Michelle Obama spoke for 30 minutes to an LGBT Democratic luncheon. Most importantly, Obama made history by giving what well may be the strongest endorsement of our rights in an acceptance speech.
#1 – This race is far from over.
No pundit or poll will decide this election. It’s up to us as individuals to volunteer, give money, and most importantly, to get our neighbors and ourselves out to vote on Nov. 4.
Diane Silver is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, whose freelance writing has appeared in Ms. magazine, Salon.com, and other national publications. She can be reached at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.