It seems, when you need to feel big and popular, school kids aren't the only ones who turn to picking on gays.
Carl Paladino's ratings have been falling. The uber-right wing candidate for New York governor started strong with a terrifying six point gap between him and Cuomo, but now has slipped to just over 30% support. Yesterday, in a classy reach for higher ratings, Paladino called homosexuals dysfunctional and chastised Cuomo for marching in the gay pride parade.
The scary thing is, Paladino's move might work.
Just like popular blogger Pamela Geller, the Tea Party makes its mark by finding an underdog and attacking them mercilessly. They employ the same tactics as the school children responsible for the deaths of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh and the countless other kids tormented for their perceived sexuality. When we are young, this kind of bullying, picking on the weak, earns popularity. Turns out, it earns the same when we grow up.
The Tea Party refrain, "Take Back America" has been widely associated with an anti-immigration sentiment, homophobia and racism. Its popularity, however, is only growing. With the recent upsets in a number of Republican primaries, the bullying tactics of the Tea Party are garnering increased attention from both established American political parties and independent voters looking for a place to land.
The natural draw we feel towards the powerful, the bully, the one who chooses the scapegoat and acts against them, is an instinct cultivated when young. Because John Doe -- tea party protestor -- heard the unpopular kid in his class called a fa**ot right before he was beat up on his way home from school, he hurls the same slur at Barney Frank in his anger over illegal immigration and taxation for social programs. It is not surprising that Mr. Doe also feels more comfortable with and more supportive of a candidate who turns on gays in the lead up to a heated gubernatorial election battle.
The similarities between Paladino's political posturing and school yard bullying cannot be ignored.
Valerie Jarrett recently addressed a crowd of HRC supporters and emphasized the White House's commitment to ending homophobic bullying in America's schools. Still, many schools have an outright ban on discussions about bullying aimed at gay kids in particular. If we are going to change the direction of American politics, we need to start by teaching the younger generation a new way of interacting -- one not predicated on social hierarchy and power plays. We need to address the prevalence of homophobia in our schools. We need to undermine the bully where he or she is born.
Paladino will likely remain a bully for the rest of his life. The Tea Party will continue to recruit bullies and those attracted to that kind of power play.
Obama can break from this trend. He can act decisively to end bullying in schools by empowering teachers across the country to talk openly about homophobia and LGBT issues. Preventing the loss of more American children to suicide certainly depends on this. Interestingly, the survival of Obama's own brand of politics might depend on this, too.