Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Waking up Unhappy

I know this is a movie blog, but I'm gonna talk about politics a little. (Actually, this currently isn't so much a movie blog as a non-blog altogether, but that's a different matter that I'll address this weekend.)

I want to talk about politics because I haven't been able to think about much else lately, and although I've resisted the urge until now, I no longer can.

What I want to tell you is that, after waking up and checking the election results, I've fallen into a deep funk of pessimism. Anyone who knows me knows that this makes no sense - I've been a fan of Obama for a long time, and I consider his victory by far the most important political event in my lifetime. Not only that, I voted for him in North Carolina, and although the networks still aren't quite willing to call that state for Obama, the vote is in and, barring a recount, he won it. The knowledge that my vote actually counted, and was a positive force for moving this country into the 21st century, should be feeding the euphoria that I felt last night. But it's not.

You see, all the conservatives across the web are moaning their loss, and all the liberals hailing the dawn of a new progressive age. And I want to believe that that's the case. I want to believe that American has moved on from the neoconservative nightmare that produced two and a half presidents (Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and the more moderate George H.W. Bush) and dominated our domestic and foreign policy for almost 30 years. I want to believe that, last night, America grew up and moved past all of the silliness of the last thirty years: denying global warming, denying evolution, decrying a health care system that works as "socialism," embracing trickle-down (aka voodoo) economics, embracing preemptive real wars, embracing endless fake wars on abstract enemies ("drugs," "terror"), embracing torture, etc. And of course I understand that electing Obama won't magically render all of those issues moot, but I honestly believe that a country that sees what a progressive administration could do would move in a progressive direction for years (as the country did, even under Republican presidents, from roughly 1932 to 1980).

All my pessimism, I'm afraid, rests on the fact that - at the time of this writing - 86% of the vote is in on California's Proposition 8, and it appears certain to pass. If you don't know, Prop 8 is the ban on gay marriage that will amend the state's constitution. A previous ban on gay marriage was approved by voters as state law, but the California Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. The conservatives quickly got the law back on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, but it seemed destined to fail. In Massachusetts, people had gotten used to gay marriage and realized that it wasn't tearing the fabric of our society apart; in California, Ellen was on the cover of People magazine in her wedding dress, and America acted like that wasn't the sign of the apocalypse. And the California State Attorney General left the writing of the amendment the same as the state law but retitled it a "ban on gay marriage," ensuring that everyone who voted yes knew that they were voting for less rights for their friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.

Ironically (as several pundits pointed out) the same thing that gave Democrats this presidential election may have killed what would have been the biggest advance for gay rights ever. Whites and Asians were against the measure by 6 points; Latinos were for it by 2 points. Blacks, a group whose turnout was dramatically up across the nation because of the Obama candidacy, made up 10% of the electorate, even though they're only roughly 6% of the California population. But they opposed the measure by 40 points (70% yes, 30% no). The black voters that Obama got out to the poll were the deciding factor in this election; we have increased African-American turnout to thank for the fact that a new day may be dawning in America. But in California, black voters decided that gay people should not be treated like adults, and voted to take away their rights.

I imagine the despair I'm feeling right now will pass, as Obama leads this nation over the next few years. But right now, all of the hope I have in Obama remains just that - hope. I can foresee countless scenarios in which Obama is unable to achieve true progressive reform; I have no doubt he will be a better president than Bush II, and no doubt that, if given a free hand, the changes he would make in the economy, the Iraq War, health care, and our energy policy would be enormous. And I firmly believe that, without that last change, we could literally be facing the apocalypse, because if global warming isn't controlled, most of humanity will die.

But right now those future gains don't feel like much. California, unlike Massachusetts, is the progressive trend setter across the country. If Californians were ok with gay marriage, it would have been only a matter of time before most Americans realized that gay people aren't, in fact, demons bent on stealing their children. I would have expected gay marriage to be legal in Washington and Oregon in less than a decade, and for it to spread into blue state after blue state over the next few decades. I honestly believe that a victory here would have effectively ended the national debate on gay marriage, and it would have just been a matter of time. Now, with it blocked in California, I don't see gay marriage showing up in any state for decades. Sure, young people overwhelming supported gay marriage; when they get their chance to vote again in a generation or two, the outcome will probably be different. In the meantime, gay people will not be full adults. (I've been reading up and a number of pundits think this battle will be fought again in California within ten years. If that's the case, obviously this thing could be happening faster than I'm thinking it could)

My final point of pessimism is that, if gay marriage can't even win on the ballot in California, it's life as a wedge issue could be long. I was letting myself dream of a Republican "rump party," an increasingly irrelevant coalition of rural and elderly whites who would have to be content, over the next half a century, to dwindle from country runners to permanent minority party to mere gnats to be brushed aside. But if the Republicans can get their shit together, they can take anything Obama does to reform immigration and to push for "civil unions" and use them to leverage votes. The alternative is for an Obama presidency to be unwilling to touch contentious issues, which would be a victory for the conservatives right there, and would likely erode progressive support.

So there it is. Enjoy the Obama presidency, America - I intend to enjoy the first great political figure of my adult life, and possibly the first great one of my lifetime. But the sea change for gay rights that I saw in this country isn't coming, not any time soon.


Fox said...

Don't get sour. Change on issues such as gay marriage take time.

In 2000 a measure to ban it in California passed by 22%. Eight years later, it only passed by 4%. That's quite a shift.

I think this issue is a generational thing. As a person that is for gay marriage, I don't see most of the opposition to it as "hateful", as much as I see it as a conflict with a person's religious beliefs. Now, I know some people will qualify that as "hate"... that's up to each one of us, I guess.

EXAMPLE: The three women I work with (1 black, 2 hispanic) voted for Obama, yet they've told previously me that they are against gay marriage. One of them thinks homosexuality is flat out wrong, and the other two just think gay people shouldn't get married. All three of them came to this decision through their different faiths. All three of them are 45 years of age or older.

True, that is a small sampling, but it's the sense I get about the public in general. The change will happen, it will just take time.

MovieMan0283 said...

Good, though sobering, post. I generally agree with Fox and also think this might be more of an abberation than anything else. The overall trend seems to be towards acceptance of gay people, and even somewhat towards acceptance of gay marriage.

MovieMan0283 said...

Hey Graham, hope you have not quit the blogosphere. If you're still checking in here or get e-mail updates, wanted to let you know I've just put up a year-end post rounding up entries from all those on my blogroll. Not sure if the entries I chose were my favorites or the best - but this confusion is appropriate as the entry I chose from you tackles this very question!

You can check it out here: