Friday, October 27, 2006

Keeping Religion Out of Politics

HBO ran a documentary on Barry Goldwater the other night and the heroic sense of seeing and hearing once again a great man articulate so many of the things I believe felt like drinking cool water at an oasis after having spent so many days in the desert.

The big thing about Barry, apart from his independent spirit and his obvious love for Arizona and this country, was his principled stand against the amassing of greater power by the federal government, and, by extension, his brief against government intervention into the economy and into people's lives.

He was a consistent conservative.

During the later years of his senatorial service, Barry was accused of becoming senile, of becoming liberal. He was neither. He simply applied the same conservative principles (what I would call libertarian principles) to the context and issues of the time.

He favored gays in the military, to take one example. He thought women should have their rights over their own bodies protected by government, to take another.

Barry supported the choice of his granddaughter to have an abortion and did not presume to lecture her or make her feel bad or guilty. He respected her and he, therefore, respected her decision.

One of his grandchildren, one of his favorites, announced to the family that he was gay. There was no recrimination, no disrespect--in fact, there was nothing but the sort of moral support a family member has a right to expect from a family that professes its love of him.

These acts of Barry's, acts of which I had been unaware until this movie, raises my respect, admiration, and affection for this great man.

How far the Republican Party has fallen! These days the folks who run the Republican Party appear to advocate the theory that government should be intimately involved in people's lives: government's purpose, according to these Republicans, is to punish gay people for no better reason than that they are gay, and to force women needing abortions to the proverbial "back-alley" solution, placing their health and even their lives in danger.

Don Wildmon of the American Family Association accused gays of being "subversives" and that Congress "ought to fire every one of them," referring to gay Republican staffers. The Traditional Values Coalition issued an ultimatum to their party: "Republicans need to make a simple choice between the innocent children and radical homosexuals who prey on them."

Barry, to his great and everlasting credit, opposed this intrusion of religion into the politics of the country.

Where is the Goldwater voter supposed to make his political home these days? I am a Goldwater Republican. I am also gay. I favor limited government and I especially favor keeping religion out of politics.

I have argued that gays should simply hold their noses and vote Republican anyway since there are issues related to the economy and to foreign affairs that cannot be safely left in the hands of the Democrats as currently constituted.

But when I read the comments of the religious zealots who seem to have so much influence these days in the Party, how they demonize gays, in opposition to their professed Christian beliefs in Jesus Christ and all his works, it is very difficult to make the case that an ordinary American citizen, who is not a religious zealot, who favors limited government, might find a home in the Republican Party.

My principles and beliefs about the role of government have not changed essentially since I first worked on that wonderful 1964 Presidential campaign. But the Republican Party has become unrecognizable to me.

The great danger to the Republic lay in the fact the one's religious views have become the litmus test for inclusion into one of the two major parties, while the other party, intellectually and morally bankrupt, professes no unifying belief other than its undying hatred of George Bush.

When Goldwater, and even Ronald Reagan, spoke of "big government," they were speaking not so much about the size (I.e. the number of employees) but the cost and number of functions of government, specifically about government's tendency to intervene into the economic, political, social and religious affairs of the American people, either indirectly through taxes, or directly, in the form of laws and regulations. They believed, as do I, that government should be strictly limited to protecting the lives and rights of the American people, but within that limitation, it should be sufficiently powerful to do what it must to get the job done.

Because I am a Goldwater conservative, I have most reluctantly concluded that the Republican Party, now filled with religious people who have expressed a truly breathtaking hatred for gays, or with operatives such as Karl Rove, who welcome the opportunity to demonize gays in order to arouse the Christian Right to vote its prejudices, no longer represents my beliefs about the role of government.

I have, accordingly, changed my registration from Republican to Independent. The Republicans are simply too much of an intellectual and moral embarrassment.

President Bush is no conservative. Historically, I think he has to be compared more to LBJ, another Texan liberals couldn't tolerate very well. Bush spends without limit, regulates like the best New Dealer or New Frontiersman, and his vision of a Great Society looks uncomfortably close to LBJ's, except we, the American people, are supposed to worship the same God and have our behavior and thoughts coerced upon us by phony Christians who presume to speak for God, if their biblical quotations against homosexuality are any measure of the intensity of their devotion.

A true conservative, no matter what his religious views, recognizes that there is great value in keeping religion out of politics. Why do you suppose that Baptists, of all sectarian groups, during the Colonial Period, favored separation of church and state? They had bitter experience of what happens when another sectarian group, the Anglicans, had the power to extract taxes from them to support what the Anglicans considered to be the religious interests of the colony.

Wars have been fought over such issues.

It is true, there is a "cultural war" going on. But a cultural and intellectual conflict should be fought on the basis of reason and discourse, not force and fraud, the province (unfortunately) of our politics.

Let Christians be Christians, and let the rest of us be what we have a right to be: ourselves. It is not good for the country and it is not good for Republicans to have one party whose unseemly enthusiasm for doing personal, economic and political damage to gay people masks its real agenda of expanding government until no private sphere remains, and the other party whose disparate pressure groups are united only in reaction to what the government is doing to them, or what they perceive the government is doing to them.

This is what happens when one party becomes the theocratic party and assumes political power. Liberals actually do believe, for example, that the US government tortured detainees at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is easy to believe this, since Bush Administration is on record for opposing gay rights and women's rights. Even if Bush does not favor gay marriage, why hasn't he criticized those Christians in his own party who have not made a distinction between their opposition to gay marriage and their support of gays in the military, or the right to seek employment and housing without discrimination?

Gays make up only a tiny proportion of the American electorate; yet they are the proverbial canaries in the cave, testing whether there exists enough oxygen for human life. In this case, is there enough oxygen for a healthy political life?

I suggest to you that when Christians get what they seem to want, the extermination of all gay people, who will be left to tell the rest of the straight world that their liberties are not only at risk, but have already been abolished?

Strange as it may seem, Goldwater himself had to be talked into running for President in 1964. He would have relished a contest with Kennedy, since both of those politicians had some real class and understood that politicians could also be statesmen. Goldwater simply wasn't prepared for and had no desire to enter a hard-ball political contest with LBJ, a low-brow politician whose lies about the Viet Nam War contrasted so sharply with Barry's honesty, intelligence and respect for the American people.

We shall never see his like again, I suspect, but it would be nice, for a change, to have as President a man or woman who did not go out of his way to show his disrespect and hatred for gays, and thence by extrapolation, his disrespect and hatred for the liberty of the American people in its full measure.

I'd love to hear the likes of Rush Limbaugh explain to his radio audience that while some Christians may favor the stoning of gay people, gays also have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the United States, and that one of the best ways to protect the victims and potential victims of religiously inspired violence against gays is to explain why religion should not assume political power, as it apparently has in the current Bush Administration.

Tom Anderson
October 2006

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Gay Republicans?

Or, Why Gays Should Hold Their Noses and Vote Republican Anyway

Far be it from me to suggest that gay men and women differ so little in their political views that it makes sense to talk about a specifically “gay” political ideology.

Yet gays do seem to have some common political objectives, mostly having to do with the right to be left alone.

Unfortunately, the desire of gays to live their lives without being discriminated against in employment and to be able to form close personal and sexual relationships in the same manner and with the same legal protections as heterosexuals, outrages the Christian fundamentalists in our midst, causing them to express their hostility to gays politically by supporting Republican politicians who mouth anti-gay slogans at election time, but who, at other times and places, employ gays, have gay friends, and may even engage in homosexual activity themselves, as “closet homosexuals.”

As seen in the recent Foley scandal, some gays seek to “out” closeted gays, arguing that honesty is better than hypocrisy.

I argue that gays do have a common politics, and it is a very old political viewpoint–-the French have a wonderful phrase for it: laissez-faire capitalism.

What the phrase basically means is that the purpose of law should be to secure the rights of the individual against those exercising through law disproportionate economic and political power. It means, simply, “Leave us alone!”

What gives those exercising greater power the right to do so? What gives government the right to deny to gay couples, what is offered to heterosexual couples upon payment of a small legal fee?

Any group in society secures its power to abridge the rights of others by getting laws enacted that are generally justified at the time of their enactment by appeals to “the public interest” or to some similar political abstraction that can be twisted and turned to serve whatever political goals the group has in mind.

At present the varied political interests that make up the American electorate are broadly arrayed into “conservatives” and “liberals”. We also have two major political parties: the dominant party, the Republicans, consist of a very broad coalition of interests, and the Democrats, the party “in the wilderness”, seems far less broad, apparently consisting of Neanderthal Leftists, such as those whose views are best represented by The Nation magazine, and other self-styled “progressive” groups each of which seems to have a favored hobby-horse to ride.

What until fairly recently distinguished the two parties was the willingness of the Republicans to champion “limited government.” Ronald Reagan welcomed the Christian Right into his crusade to “get the government off the backs of the American people”, but he never let the Christians rule the roost. While his administration was not particularly helpful to gays with the explosion of HIV-related deaths in the 1980’s, indifference and incomprehension are not the same as hatred and the desire to do injury.

Even today, as the Foley scandal highlights Republican attitudes towards gays, what emerges is more an attitude of opportunism–the desire to play the “gay card” in order to motivate homophobic Christians to vote for Republican candidates–than any outright hatred or desire to inflict injury upon gays.

As much as homophobic Christians might wish to harm gays, the most significant anti-gay legislation since the election of Bill Clinton to the Presidency in 1992 has been the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by Clinton. The other significant bit of law to harm gay people was the Clinton military policy of “Don’t Ask–-Don’t Tell”. Justified in the name of making it possible for gays to serve honorably in the military, the policy has become a shameful blot upon the military by a civilian government that seeks to keep its anti-gay credentials well burnished for election-day politics, despite the positive harm the policy does to our military–-depriving it of skilled and expensively trained personnel by cashiering gay soldiers and officers–-and to gay self-esteem, by treating gays as second-class citizens, unworthy and unneeded in the defense of the country against foreign enemies.

Any hope that the long-suffering American people might be done with “Big Brother” type government was dashed in the 1988 election of the first Bush Presidency. Reagan rose politically with the first conservative revolution, the taking over of the Republican Party in 1964 with the nomination of Barry Goldwater. “Goldwater Republicans” considered themselves “movement conservatives” and typically believed in a very libertarian-oriented society where government, particularly the federal government, would have its many functions substantially reduced or eliminated.

Why democratic government tends to expand in its functions despite the best efforts of people like Goldwater or Reagan to restrain it, is a conversation for another time. But there is a lesson for gays to heed.

Gays need to look to the history of a party and not just its current crop of politicians to see where specific gay interests are more likely to find political defense.

Are not gays interested in a prosperous economy where their hard work and intelligence are rewarded? Do not gays enjoy keeping most of their earnings for their own use and disposal rather than have increasingly larger portions of their earned income siphoned off to support tax breaks, subsidies, and special legislation for Big Business, otherwise known as Crony Capitalism?

Do not gays have an interest in protecting our borders against illegal immigrants? Are we not interested in preventing further attacks on our cities from Islamo-Fascists? Do we not enjoy tax cuts? Are not our economic interests enhanced by laws that reduce government intervention into the economy?

I don’t like to quote statistics, but isn’t it true that gays have more disposable income than non-gays?

Gays don’t seem to fit the profile generally used to describe the left-wing “nut-cases” that control the Democratic Party at present, for the simple reason that gays want respect and freedom to be left alone. They don’t want what the Democratic Party normally promises: more subsidies, more taxes, more regulation, more intrusion of the Nanny State into every aspect of their lives.

The Republican Party today is up for grabs. George Bush is not a movement conservative. I believe gays should not leave the Party but reclaim it by holding it up to its professed libertarian origins. What will become clear, if the proper arguments are made, is that homophobic Christians in the Party express beliefs difficult to square with limited-government rhetoric. And while there may be more homophobes than gays in the GOP, clearly gays can have a significant impact intellectually by making the arguments that Republicans really can’t ignore.

To some extent, I must confess, either party has some libertarian origins gays could draw upon; but which image is more likely to be gay? A ward of the state, or a businessman? A ward of the state, or a creative artist? A ward of the state, or a leatherman seeking to find his bliss in consensual erotic adventures?

The Republican Party, whether the current crop of politicians understands this or not, is the “natural” home for gays and lesbians. Our nemesis is not the Party, but the homophobes within it who would replace politicians with priests.

Tom Anderson
October 2006