There are political pundits a plenty who are dissecting the significant defeat of 30-year incumbent Arlen Specter to upstart Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak - though call a former Navy Admiral an "upstart" is quite amusing. Washington will also be all aflutter with how the Specter defeat reflects an "anti-Obama sentiment" as well as an anti-Washington anger, as Democratic pollster Doug Schoen pontificated to Fox News.
The question of President Obama's "loyalty" has already been raised - given the "deal' Specter struck with the Administration to provide the needed 60th vote on the Stimulus Bill. Specter subsequently switched from Republican to Democrat so he could get re-elected, as he infamously admitted. Just before Tuesday's primary, the White House said Specter came to them about switching parties - though NBC News political reporter Andrea Mitchell said she was "in the room" when Vice President Joe Biden approached Specter about switching - as he had done many times in the past. The Sestak ad showing Specter getting "love" from both President Bush and President Obama will go down in the annals of political ads as a real classic.
Other questions abound. Liberal Robert Scheer at The Hufffingont Post wonders if fiscal conservative Rand Paul might be a good check on government spending. Samuel Pr. Jacobs at The Daily Beast asks if Sestak and insurgent GOP/Tea Party winner Rand Paul will "sell out" their outsider political purity as they move into the general election. Pam Spaulding at Pam's House Blend suggests that Sestak will maintain his pro-gay bona fides. But former Democratic Party chair Howard Dean told MSNBC that Specter sometimes voted to the left of Sestak.
At first blush, it seems both Paul and Sestak want to quench that thirst for change that once was promised by Obama. Rand Paul, son of Texas libertarian Ron Paul, told the crowd: "I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We've come to take our government back." Paul's win against Secretary of State Trey Grayson (to replace GOP Sen. Jim Bunning) in Kentucky is supposed to be a blow to the Republican Establishment since Grayson was backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell while Paul was favored by Tea Party Queen Sarah Palin.
In his bubbly acceptance speech, Sestak said: "This is what democracy looks like -- a win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, victory over Washington D.C."
As I noted earlier in my critique of supposed LGBT White House liaison Brian Bond, "The Gays" are angry, too. There's a "Remember Stonewall" sense in the air. And "Remember AIDS" - how the government let the homophobia-fueled epidemic spread from a handful of people into a full-fledged global pandemic. And "Remember Matthew Shepard" and all the other victims of LGBT hate crimes, brutality and bullying. Yes, there's now a federal hate crimes law - after how many years and to what effect?
Law Professor Tobias Wolff once suggested that a "Gay Panic" grips Congress as one explanation for why some congressmembers might feel it's OK to postpone LGBT equality to yet another day. I agree, and I would include the White House. But in this window before the November elections when the Democratic President and a Democratically-controlled Congress face projected electoral setbacks - are LGBTs supposed to demurely accept a "gay panic" defense for inaction? Would Obama and Congress find official government-sponsored discrimination OK if it oppressed any other minority? Or would they find a way to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell if, say, Latinos en masse threatened to stay home and not vote in the mid-term elections?
Wednesday, the Courage Campaign, CREDO, OpenLeft and AMERICABlog launched an open "We Need to Talk" letter to the Democratic Party on behalf of "The Gays" addressing the boiling anger directed towards the White House and Congress over their fear, inaction and in some cases, downright opposition to passing equality bills for LGBT Americans. The letter is almost sweet - written in the fashion of a relationship in trouble, without threatening any "or else" scenarios. Here's an excerpt:
"You promised to change. I know that you can. But why should I stand by your side when you can't keep your promises to me?
I get that you're scared. But I'm scared too -- scared of losing you. You need to prove to me that you really care. You need to finally give me the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, like you promised.
I have enough disappointments in my life. I need you to not be one of them.
Courage, CREDO, Open Left and AMERICABlog need your help in pressing the point. Go here to read their letter and sign the petition, which will be presented to the Democratic leadership.
But while Courage, CREDO, Open Left and AMERICABlog are being politically sweet and clever in approaching relationship problems with the Democratic Party, others are fuming inside. And here's where I come back to Arlen Specter - and in particular his treatment of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings for then-Supreme Court Justice-nominee Clarence Thomas.
First of all - a refresher. Law Professor Anita Hill was called to testify at Thomas' 1991 confirmation hearing about how Thomas sexually harassed her when she was his attorney-advisor at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill, a very private person, endured agonizing humiliation during the live television broadcast, recounting what she alleged were Thomas' crude pornographic and sexually harassing comments. The men of the Senate abandoned her - including liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy - all apparently cowed by Thomas' crafty offensive-defense calling the allegations a "high-tech lynching."
But it was Specter-the-prosecutor who seemed to relish eviscerating Hill - to the horror of almost every woman watching. Thomas won confirmation and for years Hill had to hire a bodyguard because of serious death threats.
Every time I saw Arlen Specter on television after that, I got queasy. The man had no shame or even an understanding of how flat-out sexist he was. I confess that I was thrilled to see him defeated, especially with all the Democratic Establishment supposedly having his back.
I suggest that a similar disgust is stewing in the guts of gays watching straight Democrats - who give love when they want votes and money - fidget and squirm out of their promises. They may not even know they're being homophobic - much as Specter was infused with sexism. But the result is the same: LGBTs are humiliated and abandoned for straight political expediency. There are some notable exceptions, of course - Rep. Patrick Murphy and Sen. Carl Levin on repealing DADT, are extraordinary examples.
But in 2010, the silence and backtracking of cowardly Democrats is just as painful and nauseating to LGBTs as the prosecution of Anita Hill by Arlen Specter in 1991. That may seem over the top to some - but that's the reaction bred by festering rage. And it may take a long time for revenge, as it did with Specter - or it may just take until November.
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