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2008
 

Menstuff® has compiled information and books on Gay, Bi, and Transgender issues. This section is Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail.

2006, 2005, 2004

Are You Excited About Connecticut?
I’m Sorry You Reacted the Way You Did
Is Huckabee the Right-Wing’s Savior?
Let’s Talk About the Religious Addicts in McCain’s Life
Marriage Equality and Everything Else
Mavericks, Gamblers, and Good Ol’ Boys
More Faithless-Based Initiatives
Now We Know, But Do We Want To?
Stop Supporting Religious Prejudice
Target Michelle Obama
We All Have Histories and More
Who’s Responsible for What they Say?
Why Would a Nice Boy Shoot Up His School?

Stop Supporting Religious Prejudice


I hope by the time this appears, everyone in the LGBT community will have taken enough deep, cleansing breaths to realize that the blame for the success of California's Proposition 8 does not belong to the African American community.

I hope they've paid attention to the Black leaders who continue fighting to end all discrimination against LGBT people, such as Rev. Kenneth Samuel, Chair of the People for the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership League, or Rev. Gerald Johnson, the Individual Rights and Advocacy Vice Chair of California's NAACP.

I hope they realize that criticism of a community that’s also been discriminated against is an easy fallback on prejudice that scapegoats a whole community while empowering right-wing enemies of LGBT people. More white people and Republicans actually voted for Prop 8 than African Americans.

It also impedes, if not reverses, the ongoing, difficult work of those leaders within that community who support LGBT people.

It reinforces the standard argument used in every community by scared, prejudiced people -- that homosexuality is an outsiders' problem being forced on us. Even among white people, white privilege gives LGBT people outside status by saying grandly that homosexuality is non- or anti-American.

I hope they've realized that escaping to some ghetto only cut them off from the real world. If they thought that living only with people like them would result in support from people who don't know them, I hope they realize they need to change their lifestyles and get to know people who aren't white and LGBT.

If they thought that living in California, as opposed to Kansas, Indiana, or Alabama, would mean they'd get their way, I hope they now see that our country outside the ghettos isn't ready to vote marriage equality in place. California is no exception. Neither was Oregon.

We're getting closer to changing our society, but as I've said before, we're not there yet. A generation of scared and confused babyboomers, frankly, is probably going to have to die of old age first.

The courts that approved marriage equality in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California have done what courts did with other marriage equality issues in the past against popular opinion. The Bill of Rights tells us that the human rights of minorities should not be up to popular vote. This is what happens when they are -- the tyranny of the majority.

So, let's turn our attention back to the real force behind anti-LGBT prejudice -- addictive, right-wing, institutional religion. Our own issues with religion will make this harder to fight. So it's easy to look elsewhere for blame.

We know that the leadership and funding of Prop 8 was in the hands of white people and their regressive churches. The top funders included the Mormon Church and the Catholic Knights of Columbus. White, right-wing leaders even strategized to target communities of color, once again using them for white, right-wing purposes.

Let's stop treating religious institutions, beliefs, and attitudes that promote people's prejudices as if they are sacred and beyond protest. Let's stop letting people wield crosses, books, and other religious symbols to silence our voices.

Let's stop letting them use religious language to intimidate us. Let's stop letting them bully us by protective masks of righteousness that are meant to stifle criticism of their beliefs and actions.

They know how to play the game -- to intimidate you by saying you're discriminating against them if you object to their dogmas, while the people who suffer are LGBT people whose rights the right-wing would prefer to whittle down to nothing. And they're scheming and planning obsessively every day to do all they can to take away as many as possible.

Let's stop being in denial about this. Their words and actions are mean, cruel, and viciously self-serving.

They portray LGBT people as less than fully human. And they've worked very hard to defend their bigotry with devilish smiles.

They try to use "compassionate" language to woo others and even seduce LGBT people and their sympathizers, but they haven't changed a word about homosexuality being an "objective disorder" or a pernicious, anti-family choice.

These are the people who believe LGBT people deserve eternal, unspeakable, torture. And they're willing to participate in making that hell begin even before we're dead, if we let them.

So, let's reevaluate our participation. Let's examine the ways we're enablers of the religious addiction that covers prejudice in every community no matter what the skin color of its believers, including the hues we call white.

Let's make sure we're not the ones giving them the power they have by the choices we make. Even if we reject religion, are our arguments exactly what they want us to get caught in?

If we are a member and financial contributor to these institutions, it's time to examine whether we're part of the problem. As we speak of working inside an institution to change it, are we actually slowing down the progress of the country by continuing an allegiance to institutions that promote anti-LGBT initiatives?

Will we have to face the fact that we might have to say goodbye to the religion of our youth, our family, and our past hopes to let them know that our money and time will not be invested in abusive religion?

Soul-force founder Mel White is clear: "Love demands that we refuse to participate in church studies and debates any longer…. To play along with this game of studying, debating, and discussing if we are worthy of our civil rights is to help postpone justice and support the structures of religion-based bigotry." (Religion Gone Bad, 2006)

Just as we need to support leaders in communities of people of color who are working against all odds to fight for LGBT rights, religious LGBT people and their supporters need to throw their allegiance behind those religious leaders and institutions that are taking the heat from religious addicts because they're standing up for LGBT spirituality.

Marriage Equality and Everything Else


“Are you excited about Connecticut?”

While waiting to enter a radio studio for an hour of give-and-take on hot political issues affecting the LGBT community, it was a question another panelist found central. It was certainly of interest to the program’s listeners. But, surprisingly, I hadn’t given it a second thought.

On October 10, the Connecticut Supreme Court had voted by a mere 4-3 margin that “civil unions” are no substitute for marriage. As the majority opinion put it: “Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice.”

Good news. Connecticut had joined Massachusetts and California as states where the highest courts had chosen marriage equality over past prejudice. For the majority of those justices, there was no middle, separate-but-equal, “civil unions,” ground on the issue.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country the vicious campaign to eliminate the right of same-gender marriage in California was gaining ground. Polls were moving in favor of its goal -- to amend the state’s constitution to add discrimination by eliminating the right of two people of the same gender to marry.

In May, the California Supreme Court had ruled by the same narrow 4-3 margin as the Connecticut Court: "that the California legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples and may not be used to preclude same-sex couples from marrying." Then it turned down legal challenges of right-wingers to its ruling.

So in California Proposition 8 was the right-wing’s counterattack. It was supported by money from all over the US, the usual right-wing religious advocacy groups, the Roman Catholic Church, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the Mormon Church -- which publicly endorsed the proposition and encouraged its membership to support it by asking them to donate money and volunteer time.

Declaring that traditional marriage is between one man and one woman, Mormon Church politics and prejudices kept its hierarchy defying its own tradition and resulting persecution. That’s how oppression works – if you still expect prejudice to be logical, where have you been?

In Arizona, Proposition 102 would ban marriage equality even though in 2006 voters rejected a gay marriage ban. Mormon contributors were its biggest funders as were Catholics and other right-wing Christian and business advocates.

In Florida it was Amendment 2 to the state constitution. It was funded by state Republicans and sponsored by an extreme right coalition that included representatives of the Florida Catholic Conference and Florida Baptist Convention.

Activity around marriage equality was happening, but taking place in the middle of so many issues that affect everyone including LGBT people. Of course, that’s a right-wing strategy – to divide progressives fighting multiple issues all at once.

There was a presidential campaign that wore us all out. The Republicans continued to out-nasty the worst Rovian politics of the past.

There were state campaigns to wrest the Senate and House from the Republicans who got us into the current messes. We were holding our noses at times, because the best vote we could cast was for the least bad candidate.

There was an economy failing because of unregulated investment instruments that few people, even economists, seemed to know how to correct, but being bailed out with 700 million taxpayer dollars. There was an out-of-control healthcare crisis that will need radical reform to end the bankruptcies of people just trying to keep their families healthy.

There continued two occupations of countries who are learning to hate us more and more. And a world that has come to think of us as a disruptive force in their lives.

There was the lamest of lame duck administrations still ensuring that it has skewed government to favor the upper one percent of the class system as much as possible before it takes its money and runs. And, of course, there were the ongoing classism, sexism, racism, and heterosexism underlying our cultural institutions, sometimes, at best, covertly.

All of these issues are important to everyone including LGBT people, and they’re all related. More basic than whether LGBT people can marry is the fact that discrimination in hiring, firing, housing, accommodations, and basic rights is still the country’s norm.

Marriage equality has been thrust upon us and is an important part of the mix. And it’s only one issue in the midst of so many others that are even more bread and butter.

We recognize that we live in a society that is desperately sick with plenty of complications. As a patient, our culture is systemically ill. So what we’re attempting do is heal it of many inter-related diseases. And, as in all healing, that means there are bound to be setbacks as well as rallies.

The diagnosis is complicated. The healing proceeds by fits and starts. We know that there are many issues to take on. We see how one condition reinforces the others by weakening the whole system.

This past election was merely a stage in our struggle for health. No matter how tired, our most important tasks lie ahead. Certainly even healers need their rest -- but that’s only to gather the strength for further treatments that follow up both on the progress and relapses.

So, that’s where we are now. We haven’t won or lost some battle in a great war, no matter how the regressives among us love war metaphors.

We’re part of a healing process for a sick, sick society. We’ve made real progress, painful at times. We’ve seen setbacks on many issues.

But the call is still to you true healers -- you who have long-term goals, who don’t just do rounds at the patient’s bedside when there’s an election, you who will keep the treatment going.

Mavericks, Gamblers, and Good Ol’ Boys


There’s a rough and tumble game of high-stakes poker being played again this election cycle. We saw the moves as we looked over that vast crowd of white faces in St. Paul last month.

It’s not new at all -- the Republicans saw the Democrats’ play at their convention and raised the ante. Republicans are better at the game because they’ve been playing it for years with a cowboy president shuffling the deck.

Progressives and liberals don’t play it well because they’re not into games. They want authenticity, community, and shared wealth instead, and don’t even want to believe anyone would play so ruthlessly.

But it is ruthless -- a “man’s” game. Those who won’t play it? Be prepared to have your masculinity questioned.

It’s a game of the good ol’ white boys club. It lays down race, gender, class, and power cards.

And it’s a game that those working class people who admire such manliness aspire to play. They’ll cheer and vote for its winners in spite of losses these admirers have already suffered.

It’s a game played in the boardrooms and stock exchanges, a game that admires CEOs who personally win when their companies lose. It’s a game of wheelers and dealers who outsmart, outplay, and out-power.

It’s a game that values rogues like playboy, frat boy, sowed-his-wild-oats, strutting George W. Bush. And it idolizes them as “mavericks.”

Yeah, they’re womanizers who knew how to play, and they treated women the way good ol’ boys do. Women must play their game. So pointing out how they use women only furthers their hero status in the locker-room stories of the other boys.

Think of Bret Maverick, the gambler of the 1957-1962 TV series. He never settled down, knew how to take other men for their holdings, flimflammed adversaries, charmed women and left ‘em.

Think of Tom Cruise in Top Gun, who’s handle was Maverick because he was a “hot shot.” He knew how to be a player, valued the play over the consequences, and was admired not for his integrity or compassion but as a “man’s man.”

Now it’s John McCain, who clings to the maverick image and gambles among the good ol’ white boys. You’d think that wouldn’t be the president we’d want, but it’s the kind of man that the on-going good ol’ boys’ game crowns its winner.

They admire the man who makes a killing in the stock market while others suffer, works the system to come out on top, lets the rest eat his dust, wins while others lose. Usually others lose so that he can win the whole pot. Their destruction makes it all the sweeter.

They admire the man who knows what the game is, knows it’s a game, and gets his kicks by playing. He keeps a poker face. He lets people know only what he wants them to know, not what they need to know.

He knows “when to hold em” and “when to fold em.” He’s good at reading other people’s faces -- not to empathize with them and their plight, but to use their weaknesses, misplays, fears, and insecurities for his own victory.

And they like women who know what the game played by good ol’ boys’ rules is; women who are willing to take a woman’s place at the table. When the maverick finally settles down, it’s with a “looker,” not just any woman: like a beauty pageant contestant who knows how to play by, not question, the rules.

Sarah Palin is a player. She not only knows the game but plays it well enough to be the ol’ boys’ vice president.

So, on top of the fact that she rallies the religious right-wing base and its ol’ boy leaders to the ol’ boy ticket, on top of the fact that she’s the perfect move to distract a media that pretends to be news-oriented, Palin plays the woman’s part in the game.

She is more than just a trophy. She’s plays Annie Oakley style without disrupting the boys.

She fits the motherhood images, fusing the old right-wing idealism of a mom who appears to put family first with the reality most right-wing families face – the mother juggling this ideal with work outside the home to make it financially.

She’s on display – most importantly – as winning the ol’ white boys’ game. She out-maneuvered the good ol’ boys of Alaska. She called their bluff.

Palin’s earned their highest compliment -- “she’s as good as any man” -- because she knows how to lie, demean, and destroy her opponents at all costs, and she’s willing to do the ol’ boys’ dirty work. Fighting for her men and cleaning up after him are crucial.

And she “knows how to field dress a moose,” to actively participate in the National Rifle Association, and to cut, filet, and dress an enemy. How much more useful could a woman be?

The good ol’ boys have found a way to protect their woman while still reminding us she’s a woman. They’ve discovered a new word to bandy about at every criticism of her: “sexism.”

They know how all of this gamesmanship can appeal to those white working class voters. “This election,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said, “is not about issues so much as the candidates’ images.”

It’s about that hope in many men that they can rise to become a player like McCain, Bart Maverick, or Cruise’s flyboy. It’s a version of the American dream applied to politics by Karl Rove and his disciples.

It’s tied to a ruthless, kill-or-be-killed image of manhood that feminists of all genders have questioned.

Some do expose the gamesmanship it is – John Stewart and Steven Colbert of Comedy Central or the late comedian George Carlin.

The rest of us, including the Obama campaign, need to recognize this game, face the fact (against all our liberal fantasies) that it’s ruthless and heartless, never miss an opportunity to expose it, and, most importantly, stay on task by speaking from the real values we take too seriously to play games about.

Who’s Responsible for What they Say?


When 59-year-old Jim Adkisson stormed into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church on July 27 as an angry unemployed engineer, fatally shooting two adults, most of us were shocked.

When 51-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson, fearing he’d been canned by Target, barged into the Arkansas Democratic Headquarters on August 13, asked to speak personally to the state party chairman, and shot him three times fatally, we were shocked.

When 47-year-old Leeland Eisenberg facing a divorce, took over Hillary Clinton's campaign office in the state of New Hampshire last November armed with a bomb and held five hostage for over five hours before surrendering, we were shocked.

But are we surprised? Are we surprised that distraught males in the midst of a culture that defines masculinity in warrior, a-gun-is-my-security terms become violent and take their frustrations and mental disturbances out on anyone they consider a liberal: some by word, others by deed?

How did we react when we heard that Adkisson left a lengthy note explaining his attack by his media-fueled “hatred for the liberal movement” and telling investigators that all liberals should be killed?

Are we surprised that what the right-wing dubbed culture “wars” might become warlike? Surprised that bigoted hate speech that’s thoroughly acceptable on right-wing radio would be quoted by shooters to justify violence?

Are we surprised when the anonymity even respectable websites promote on the internet enables people to flaunt such bigotry and hate without signing their own names to what they say? Would these same people be courageous enough to write their nasty comments if they had to take responsibility for them?

Both have made hate speech acceptable – right-wing talk shows and the equivalent on Fox News, and the mainstreaming of anonymous posts and comments all over the web where people can spew lies, hatred, and violence irresponsibly.

These aren’t the causes of the anger, bigotry, and fear that lie behind them, but they legitimize, they accept – thus declaring “acceptable” – threats and bigotry. They say that society believes it’s okay to express, believe, and act on such anger.

Both encourage the practice of not taking responsibility for what someone says. Talkers, pundits, or posters don’t have to face the consequences of their words.

Right-wing pundits and bloggers also know they can simply bully liberal critics who try to call them to responsibility for their bigoted and hate-filled speech. And they can easily coerce mainstream media into “balancing” this as a problem fueled by the left as well.

Rush Limbaugh can say: “I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils – so we will never forget what these people stand for.” And that is now acceptable on mainstream media.

But the right-wing knows there are ways to duck responsibility for the hate, bigotry, and fear they speak and preach. And the rest of us let them work.

The first ploy to bully liberals is to claim that any complaints about right-wing talk show hatred threatens free speech. It’s not about them; it’s about freedom.

So, we must be clear.

Free speech is anyone’s ability to state their opinions on a soapbox in the town square. Everyone should have the right to do that without government interference.

But this isn’t a free speech issue at all. Talk show speech isn’t “free” and equal – it’s bought and paid for speech. It’s sponsored and hired speech. It’s a privileged speech that exists on the radio or TV because it makes money.

This right-wing hate is on corporate or public television or radio because it delivers people to sponsors or underwriters, not because it expresses a freedom of speech that reflects the diversity of American pubic opinion. And the dominant speech will be the one the corporations who run the show believe will make them money or otherwise promote their corporate agenda.

These are people taking advantage of the publicly owned airwaves to enhance their hate. They are not speaking in the equal market place of ideas available to the rest of us.

The second bullying ploy is confrontational denial of any connection between their hate speech and the violence. It’s easy -- just say in your most righteous sounding voice: “You’re not accusing me of responsibility for these acts!!!”

Or, “You’re not accusing me of hate speech!” That’s the bullying response that got people to peel off those effective bumper stickers that said: “Hate is not a family value.”

Since we want people to be responsible for their words, the most effective response is: “Yes, I am saying that. What have you said or done lately to end the violence? When have you marched with gay people to stop violence against them?”

The third ploy is to deny responsibility by blaming the victim. Blame liberals, LGBT people, people of color, the poor, women, and on and on.

Too much gun violence against liberals? It’s those liberals wanting to take away our firearms. If liberals weren’t preventing everyone from packing heat, this wouldn’t happen.

People shooting liberals? It’s their fault. Our country is being ruined by not having right-wing morality imposed on everyone.

People of color, women, or LGBT people targeted by right-wing violence? It’s their own fault for flaunting their culture, bodies, loves, freedom, or their other differences from white, middle class, U.S. of A. males.

We can’t afford, for the sake of our own lives, to sit around waiting for the right-wing to get it. We must talk in the clear terms, letting people know we hold right-wing hate-mongers responsible for violence being acted out on anyone dubbed liberal.

We must take responsibility for our own beliefs, posts, and comments. If we aren’t willing to do so, we don’t have the courage to stand behind our convictions.

Liberals who write comments on progressive websites often take potshots at each other behind anonymity while the authors sign the articles upon which critics are commenting.

Target: Michelle Obama


Even those of us who were disappointed with Hillary Clinton’s campaign can agree with CBS News anchor, Katie Courick: “Like her or not, one of the great lessons of that campaign is the continued – and accepted – role of sexism in American life, particularly in the media.”

But getting into arguments as to whether sexism or racism is worse in this country is, frankly, tacky. It colludes with those who deny, but benefit from, the existence of either.

We all have a chance to assess the subtle and not-so-subtle expression of the state of both sexism and racism in the USA in 2008 by paying attention to how media pundits and editors who choose the slant they take treat Michelle Obama. Get ready to observe a woman of color treated in ways that no man and no white person in the political arena will be treated.

Maureen Dowd in her June 11 column predicts: “Now Republicans can turn their full attention to demonizing Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is the new, unwilling contestant in Round Two of the sulfurous national game of “Kill the witch.”

While the GOP has begun to play this game, watch the mainstream media enable them, repeating and analyzing it as if sexism and racism represent another valid viewpoint in fair and balanced coverage.

Like Hillary, the issues Michelle will face will include criticisms of a woman who doesn’t know “her place” and, when she conforms, demeaning it as a “make-over.” The political panderers to right-wing people who know how to play the “uppity” woman, “feminist,” and worse epithet cards know that the way to do this isn’t only with words but through images and symbols.

Remember Hillary donning an apron to prove she could bake cookies like a good little housewife, or criticized for using Rodham in her professional life during Bill’s 1962 campaign. Remember the response to anything public she did to help Bill: “she’s out for her own good.”

The unpaid, doomed task of trying to lead healthcare reform in this country was one more example. The more she looked more competent than those white men challenging her, the more she was pictured as a man-hater or even (Horrors!) having lesbian affairs.

Any man would be praised for such leadership no matter how it furthered his career. Yet wouldn’t Hillary just be satisfied to stand by her man? Or at least keep her real power and financial influence hidden from the public like Nancy did, or multi-millionaire beer-distributor baroness Cindy McCain or Laura Bush do.

Everyone knows that Laura gave her husband an ultimatum years ago to sober up or get lost. But as a public helpmate she’s just a good librarian promoting children’s reading. There’s no discussion of Laura’s intelligence or shrewdness, no matter how we all suspect they exceed her husband’s.

Even when Hillary chose the role of the famous Tammy Wynette “Stand By Your Man” throughout Bill’s sexual shenanigans, there was little praise for her from the pro-family crowd for keeping her family together and practicing forgiveness. The assumption continued that Hillary was doing it for those reasons praised in men -- thinking primarily of self and career.

Why wouldn’t she just stand quietly behind her man like a beaten puppy in that now infamous pose where family-values politician husbands deny or explain affairs, prostitutes, and romps in the hay to the press? Doesn’t she realize that her true worth as a lady is as a publicly gushing, subordinate beneficiary of her man’s success?

Keep an eye out for all that. But Michelle has to face racism’s addition to the mix. And that means playing to white fears of angry, out-of-control black people.

It didn’t matter how many white, right-wing preachers damned America over and over again for Rove v. Wade, its growing acceptance of LGBT people, or women’s equality. It was the image of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s twenty-seconds of preacherly rhetoric that conservative racism knew played into fears of the angry black man in the same way that the GOP used the image of Willie Horton to scare white people into voting for George Bush I.

It’s already begun under the new guise of her own “racism” with downright lies about Michelle Obama. Right-wing websites picture her as an angry, threatening female version of Wright. Some even ask if she is “more black” than her husband.

Conservative blogs repeat the false rumor that a tape of Michelle denouncing “whitey” exists. But these are the same people who have no problem with white Trent Lott in 2002 congratulating white Strom Thurmond’s unsuccessful 1948 bid for president as a segregationist with only slightly coded words: “And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Then there was the celebrated fist pump between Michelle and Barrak on the night of his victory. Every young person knows it means no more than a high five or a victory hug. Fox News anchor E.D. Hill leaped in to play the scary black (Muslim?) card, calling it a “terrorist fist jab.” Someone made him apologize later.

Then conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg reached back to question Michelle’s 1985 college senior thesis, “Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community,” as if that too would scare us white people. “Why is Princeton restricting access to it?” The blogs went crazy with what they didn’t know.

Was any professor who listens to students shocked when she wrote in its introduction: “Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

How we react to this depends upon whether our goal is really to end sexism and racism.

Will everyone who complained about sexism during Hillary’s campaign continue their fight to end sexism by protesting every time it rears its ugly head toward Michelle Obama? Or was that just temporary politics?

Will we white people now recognize and stand against racism hidden or open in the treatment of Michelle as well as Barrak Obama?

For all our sake, I hope so.

I’m Sorry You Reacted the Way You Did


Among the leaders of our country there are, frankly, no good models of how to clean up the messes humans inevitably make. And that includes religious leaders, where you’d think concepts of repentance, sinfulness, and humility would have taken hold. It’s no wonder we don’t know how.

We witnessed another non-example on May 12th when right-wing religio-political leader John Hagee, after discussions with what his letter (www.fairnessproject.org/Hagee_Letter_p1.html) says were Catholic “friends and leaders” (As in “I ‘m not prejudiced, I have many friends who are…”), wrote a 2 1/2 page letter to critic William Donohue, President of the Catholic League. In what is dubbed by the mainstream media as an “apology,” Hagee spoke of regret for his insensitivity to how Catholics would take his fairly regular negative comments about their Church – “apostate church,” “great whore.” These not so pleasant designations are based on his sectarian interpretation of the New Testament book of Revelation which, in addictive religious fashion, he believes are not his, but God’s, views.

Of course, writing this letter now is a politically-motivated move by Hagee, since John McCain sought out and cherishes Hagee’s endorsement. We remember McCain beaming on February 27 while standing alongside this pastor of an 18,000 member right-wing church in San Antonio with a nationwide TV audience and a pro-Israel lobbying organization courted by the Republicans -- “Christians United for Israel.”

We also remember McCain’s careful responses to Catholic criticism formulated so as never to admit that Hagee ever did say anything wrong, but, “if he did,” making sure it would not reflect on McCain’s campaign, while still bathing in Hagee’s endorsement.

And we again see the constant adoring media desire to save McCain from his flip-flops and pandering by framing this as an apology that for them settles all McCain’s problems. In the letter Hagee never uses the world “apology,” asks for forgiveness, or takes anything back.

One is, after all, reminded of the Latin root of “apology” in apologia. It means not an admission of wrong but “a defense of one’s opinions or actions.”

And that’s just what most so-called apologies have come to be. They aren’t admissions of wrong that require repentance, a word meaning personal change, literally turning oneself around. They are defenses of oneself and what one has said or done that project the blame for any problem on the feelings and reactions of the offended. They are slights of hand.

You know, it’s the “I’m sorry if that hurt you” pseudo-apology. Translated, that means: “I’m sorry that you reacted the way you did. Had I known that you were going to react that way, I would have done or said something differently. I didn’t actually do or say anything wrong. It’s your reaction that causes me to have to say this now. What I did or said would be okay if you weren’t so sensitive.”

We don’t apologize by admitting we have done something that is our problem because we’ve been taught to believe that people won’t like, love, respect, or think highly of us if we aren’t perfect. We’ve been taught to even be perfect in order to have friends and lovers.

So, imagine the pressure on religious leaders. They believe this too and so must maintain perfection before “followers” who they need in order to qualify as admired leaders. Otherwise they’d be nobody.

Note Pope Benedict’s response when Muslims reacted negatively in 2006 to his quoting of a Byzantine emperor in a University speech. Of all the quotations from Western history he could have used in his talk in Germany, and of all the religions --including his own -- he could have chosen to illustrate what in his response to the later criticism he called the “theme of the relationship of religion and violence,” he chose: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

When world reaction was negative, the Pope justified his choice of the quotation as appropriate, thus not admitting any error on his part (How could the Pope err?) and then blamed Muslim reactions by saying he “sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions.”

In the letter that the mainstream media wants to call Hagee’s apology, we must parse the words as if they came from the Bush administration, as if they were carefully chosen to not admit error and to blame the offended. The letter’s intention is clearly political.

He writes not to apologize but “to clarify my views.” He writes to “advance greater unity among Catholics and Evangelicals,” which is not about their doctrines and institutions.

How can it be? Hagee still believes the Catholic Church is wrong (He wouldn’t say that in this letter.), though he concedes some individual Catholics will be saved.

The unity he wants to advance, the letter says, is Catholics joining with the right-wing in the political causes of right-wing Protestants. This is consistent with how the Protestant right-wing has historically used Catholics to further their political agenda while still considering the Catholic Church somewhat of a cult.

So he writes that he wants to promote Catholic unity with Evangelicals in resisting “any tendency to treat religion as a private matter,” and in legally forcing the right-wing religious agenda on American (“our increasingly secular”) society. Hagee thus commends Catholics more than once for not only uniting with Evangelicals in the past “to defeat the evil of Communism,” but now uniting with them “to be a voice for life, the family, marriage, and Christian values to our nation.”

Donohue of the Catholic League has declared the problem solved. That’s wishful thinking. Only the people who want this to be an apology and to put this behind McCain think so.

Chris Korsen, executive director of Catholics United, recognizes this as only the beginning: “…he has yet to apologize for past remarks comparing women to dogs and terrorists, as well as his incredibly offensive comments blaming the residents of New Orleans for bringing the wrath of God upon themselves in the form of Hurricane Katrina."

Only when it’s politically expedient, will we see those non-apologies. Which means gay people better not expect even that.

We All Have Histories and More


We have accepted the dominant line if we believe that only when Barrack Obama talks is race an issue or that only when Hillary Clinton speaks is gender involved.

We’re not supposed to ask how whiteness is behind what Clinton or John McCain say or how masculinity is an important determinant in what Obama or McCain propose. It’s assumed that only people in non-dominant groups are affected by perspectives that society tells us set them apart from the upper-class, heterosexual white males.

Only when a gay person writes something is it assumed to be prejudiced by their sexual orientation. Only when a person of color speaks is it heard as if the history of their ancestors is a key interpreter. When women argue for a point, only their viewpoint should be seen through a lens related to their gender.

That’s how cultural systems like ours work when there are dominant groups in a society that consciously and unconsciously assume their dominance. The values, institutions, experiences, and outlooks of the dominant group are so taken for granted, so accepted as the only normal human characteristics, so justified by the institutions, so mainstreamed, that to point them out is to disturb the comfortable order and certainly the emotional comfort of those who accuse the pointer-outer of stirring up trouble.

This is a key part of what diversity trainers call unexamined privilege – white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, class privilege, able-body privilege. And each dominant group doesn’t feel privileged by its privilege.

I was reminded of this when I read writer Alice Walker’s April post on AlterNet bearing the title: “White People Have A Racial History Too”(www.alternet.org/story/80898/).

It seems hard to admit privilege on the basis of certain culturally defined categories. Yet, I know that as a middle-aged white man I don’t have to worry about someone following me around in a department store expecting me to steal something. I don’t thereby have to pay attention to the humiliation of people of color who know this happens everyday.

When I stand up with those who aren’t white males as if I share their experiences, I don’t have to pay attention to the fact that after doing so I can walk away from prejudice. I only have to live in it when I choose.

Such privileges seldom relate to reality. Instead, they actually create their own statistics to justify their existence.

I lead a diversity workshop for regional managers and employees of a chain store. When someone asked why it was mostly black people who stole, I inquired: “How do you know?"

Well, they pointed out, they followed black people around the store and would catch the shoplifters. Then they posted their pictures in the back above the timeclock.

So, I asked, “Do you catch most of the shoplifting?

“No, not at all,” they agreed.

“So, you follow one group around, but not us white people, and you still don’t catch most of the shoplifters. That’s funny, because when I worked in a drugstore most of the shoplifters we caught were white women who could easily afford the cosmetics they were stealing.

“What would happen if you followed them around? Whose pictures would dominate the backroom? That’s how prejudice and privilege create their own statistics.”

When I asked a pastor to read a book on the history of LGBT issues in Christianity before we discussed the topic, his response was one of privilege: “Is the author gay?”

“I know why you’re asking that,” I said. “Because you’re afraid that if he’s straight, the book will be prejudiced by the fact that he wants to maintain the advantage of being heterosexual.”

Of course, that was the opposite of what he was thinking and, in that case, the minister got my point. It’s only considered prejudice when someone from a nondominant group writes or says it as if members of dominant groups have no stake in maintaining their privileges. And even people in the nondominant communities come to believe that.

Accepting that I have unearned privilege because I am white, male, professional, and middle-aged, is difficult.

That’s so, first, because we’ve been taught to fear by our culture that if I let others share in my privilege, I’ll be worse off. We’ve so absorbed the zero-sum commodity viewpoint of capitalism and the masculine competition model of seeing things that we apply it to everything.

If someone else wins, I must lose. There’s only so much attention, love, compassion, and humanity to go around. So, we protect what privilege we do have, no matter how little.

Additionally, we don’t see how all such oppression and domination, and its resulting privileged position, hurt the dominant group itself, put its members out of touch with their own best selves, their own humanity, and restrict their freedom to be fully who they would be if they didn’t have to be straight-acting, white-acting, manly-acting, upper-class-acting. And all that having been installed by fear -- fear of what would happen if they don’t conform to the dominant group’s lifestyle.

But a third issue makes it most difficult. The interwovenness of various oppressions and dominations means that when ones privileged position is pointed out, instead of noticing and learning about it, it’s too tempting to react in guilt and fall into a rehearsal of other cases where we’re not privileged.

Guilt feelings are debilitating here. People without the privilege we’re noticing think it's unhelpful for everyone to have to deal with white guilt, straight guilt, male guilt, or class guilt.

So, if someone points out my privilege as white, I don’t take it as information that I need to understand my world, my friends, and my country. I instead invoke how I’m not privileged in terms of class, or I give examples where heterosexual privilege leaves me behind.

Life ought to be a learning experience where we learn about our blind spots as well as our possibilities. Denial won’t help.

Recognizing that all oppressions intertwine means that I need to learn more about my own prejudices and privilege if I want to change a society that comes down in some way on each one of us.

Let’s Talk About the Religious Addicts in McCain’s Life


By now it’s clear to anyone wants to pay attention that John McCain’s “straight talk” is just that -- talk. It’s hard to keep up with the number of times he’s changed his rhetoric to woo the right-wing Republican base because so many mainstream pundits have fallen head over heals for him.

There’s enough information out there to research his flip-flops for anyone who doesn’t prefer denial or needs a punishing, militaristic father to save them. Likewise, anyone can find McCain’s past me-too positions if they still think he’s been much of an actual maverick from Republican conservatism.

Even the religious right-wing was fooled into thinking McCain’s not a true conservative. But that’s because “conservative” to them is symbolized by an abusive, vengeful, judgmental Heavenly Father who proves them righteous by looking for any reason to rain destruction down on everybody who disagrees with them religiously or politically.

So, instead of calling right-wing religious leaders “agents of intolerance,” “corrupting influences on religion and politics,” and people who “in the name of America shame our faith, our party, and our country” as he did on February 29, 2000, McCain is now shamelessly embracing these same leaders “proudly.”

While the extreme religious right-wing shows its true beliefs and is salivating at that final catastrophic battle they even want to promote, mainstream media would rather enable than expose their underbelly.

On the February 26th Democratic debate, NBC’s Tim Russert couldn’t let go of the question of Rev. Louis Farrakhan’s distant endorsement of Barrack Obama even though in the article Russert himself quoted Obama’s campaign as criticizing Farrakhan, Obama had already denounced Farrakhan’s comments, and repeated it in the debate itself. Even then, Russert had to go on to tell the audience more of Farrakhan’s words, and, sadly, Hillary Clinton used Russert’s tactics to criticize Obama.

But the reaction to media darling John McCain standing along side right-wing televangelist John Hagee on February 27 personally accepting Hagee’s endorsement hasn’t raised such ire. Only after criticism by progressive talkers and bloggers, the president of the conservative Catholic League, and, surprisingly, even Nancy Pelosi, McCain’s official response on March 6 was carefully worded so as not to admit openly that his new buddy actually held any anti-Catholic views:

“We’ve had a dignified campaign, and I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee’s, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics.”

Analyze these words as carefully as if they were said by Bush II or any of cabinet appointees who’ve duped Senate Democrats into thinking they were saying something that would in any way threaten Bush’s regime. Note the indefinite “if” here and the placing of this in the context of the larger campaign as if Hagee’s words shouldn’t really stand out. This is political posturing, not repentance.

The difficulties the economic conservatives are having in their use of the extreme religious right-wing need to be exposed. But media enablers cover them up, pass them off, and divert attention.

Those responses change nothing. But we ourselves can’t afford not to continually speak of them if we hope to see the end of the influence of religious addicts over both political parties and our country.

John Hagee is a good example of a dealer of religious addiction. Head pastor of an 18,000-member right-wing Pentecostal church in San Antonio, Texas, host of a national television show, and founder of Christians United for Israel, a lobbying organization with which hundreds of right-wing leaders identify, Hagee has made himself indispensable to those needing to feel righteous in a world against them.

His background sounds familiar. A multi-millionaire continuing to rake in millions today. Of the generation of the Falwells, Robertsons and Dobsons, he’s 66 years old. With “youthful indiscretions” such as divorcing his wife of 30 years, only six months later to marry a women twelve years his junior.

And also because of Hagee’s writings, interviews and even You-Tube, there’s a clear record of words that express the underreported belief pervading the right-wing that religions with which they don’t agree are more like cults. Hagee’s response was to lie like the others, claiming he was just misunderstood.

Bill Donahue, head of the Catholic League kept track of his words, though: “Did we also mischaracterize Hagee when he called my religion ‘The Great Whore,’ the ‘apostate church,’ the ‘anti-Christ’ and a ‘false cult system’? McCain can’t ignore Hagee’s lies any more than he can tolerate his bigotry. This is getting out of control.”

Hagee’s statements about feminists and women, LGBT citizens, Muslims, hurricane Katrina, and African Americans are all on the record. His church has events they call “slave sales” (introduced with the headline “Slavery in America is returning to Cornerstone [his church]).

Hagee is one of the chief supporters of Israel, no matter what its government does, even though he believes Jews will only be saved when they accept Jesus. (One, after all, can be both pro-Israel and antisemitic.)

His wildly successful book (seven weeks on Wal-Mart’s top-ten sellers list), Jerusalem Countdown, looks forward to war between Israel and Iran. Hagee’s organization hopes to unite congregations across the US to encourage the Congress to support war with Tehran.

That final Armageddon is a popular deliverer of that fix of righteousness among the religiously addicted. The battle is seen as final proof that they are the righteous ones in spite of everything they fear about themselves.

It’s part of God’s punishment of all those who doubted them, mocked them, or tried to improve the world in the long run. What gives the addicted the feeling of power in the face of their fear of cultural powerlessness is the teaching that at the endtimes only Someone else in a Second Coming can and will improve their self-images and their lot in life.

Few in the mainstream media want to speak the truth about this. They’re scared of their editors, their multi-millionaire bosses who want McCain to win, and the religious right-wing’s ability to mobilize responses way out of proportion to their numbers through grassroots political organizations, their churches.

So, we must.

Why Would a Nice Boy Shoot Up His School?


In February it was a mass shooting at another university by a “gentle, warm, sensitive” young man whom acquaintances described as a student who didn’t fit the profile of a killer. Yet, he was a male in American culture, and therefore the likely gender for workplace, school, and university mass shooters. Males commit 90% of all violence.

Twenty-seven year-old Steven Kazmierczak, who grew up in middle-class middle-America, had been an honored sociology graduate student at Northern Illinois University. After his classroom attack killing five and wounding sixteen, he completed the attack as these men often do – kill themselves or see to it that they are killed.

The mainstream media searched for numerous acceptable explanations and settled on the fact that he had stopped taking his medication with the expectation that he had just broken up with a girlfriend. Both explanations won’t threaten our underlying culture by calling for changes in what we and our institutions value.

Our culture finds actual relief in these answers. The standard responses then enforce the need for more consumption and profits – more medication, more security equipment, more prisons, and more armament purchases – without examining root causes in the system itself.

Oh, don’t forget, there usually follow proposals for stricter punishment of someone or everyone. Punishments, after all, enforce our sense that the current way of seeing things has overwhelming power behind it.

We don’t know what personal circumstances, ranging from his family upbringing to his experiences growing up male in a masculine beat-or-be-beaten culture, brought him to the conclusion that this would settle something in his life. But we can make sure that we don’t under-emphasize the part that American masculine conditioning plays in such large, and numberless smaller, tragedies.

It turns little boys into depressed, seething young men who are supposed to idolize and embody warrior-type responses. Then it turns their depression into outward attacks on others, and, at times, gun-wielding massacres.

There’s anger and rage beneath all depression, therapists tell us. But different sets of conditioning turn that inward in most women so that they beat themselves up, and outward toward others in men.

The training to be a man and to keep quiet only enforces the seething emotions. And talking about it to other men to learn that the feelings are common, is forbidden. It’s put down as girly or gay.

So never, ever, show vulnerability, insecurity, and weakness to another man or he’ll put you down. Better keep quiet or join those who put down women and vulnerable men.

But admit that you need help, admit you need medication, and you’ve failed again by the man-code. You couldn’t hack it. You couldn’t handle it yourself.

Medications are being touted as the cause. But are they in effect the result of being a gentle soul who kept trying to follow the path he was taught was the one of real men -- of someone who enlisted in the army in September 2001 but was discharged for an unspecified reason the following February, who worked for less than a month as a full-time correctional officer at an adult medium-security prison in Indiana before “he just didn’t show up one day,” who, of all subjects, chose to make himself an authority on prison systems.

So, was the action of giving up his medications about two weeks before, a way to assert his manly independence, as it is for many men who aren’t supposed to “need,” much less ask for, any help? “Buck up,” the man-code says. “Pull yourself up.” “Get yourself together.” “Stop whining.” “Be a man!”

And then he turned to that ultimate proof of manhood: the gun. As the underlying manhood mythology goes, a big enough gun or large enough collection of them will not only protect a man from those other men who will threaten his space, but it will show to them all that he is truly man enough to hold, caress, and fire one.

It will make up for any fear that other men are stronger, bigger, and threatening. Even when he emerged at the front of that class wearing black and a ski mask, one student described him as some “skinny white guy.”

How much did he feel that his stature was dwarfed when compared to the ever-increasing size of the icons of manhood he was expected to worship? Whereas in the 1950’s the average GI Joe doll had biceps that would be 11 inches around if he were human, today they are the equivalent of 26 inches. (To be real, baseball superstar Mark McGuire’s biceps measure only 20 inches.)

Even those guns that symbolize the manly power of our icons are getting bigger. Just think of the increasing size and number of this obvious symbol of a man’s virility over other men over the last 50 years – from Humphrey Bogart and Sean Connery, to Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now one gun won’t do for a real man, even if he can only fire one at a time. His arsenal had become a Remington pump-action shotgun, a Glock 9mm handgun, a Hi-Point .380, and a SIG Sauer, all four of which he carried to the scene.

We can’t know with certainty what was going on in the mind of this young man. The majority, thankfully, don’t act out their problems with being a man this way. Sullenness and anger are more common.

But beneath it all we can detect something persistent about how we raise boys in our culture to turn them into the warriors we’ve convinced ourselves we need to man our military, our industries, and our government.

Our boys learn that they can’t win without another man losing, that there are no win-win situations when it comes to being a man, that truly masculine teamwork means a group of men bonding together to beat, defeat, or kill another group of men.

And they’ve learned that if they start feeling their failure at this man-code, they’d better come out fighting – or shooting.

Is Huckabee the Right-Wing’s Savior?


The Christian right-wing is painfully anxious. The addicted among them are increasingly desperate for the new pusher to deliver the high of feeling righteous they had felt before the Bush administration let them down.

They hung on as long as they could, repeating the mantra that no matter what he did, W really, really must be “a good Christian man.” As his administration comes apart under investigations from which they thought a Republican Congress would eternally protect them and exposés showing that its primary interest is serving corporate greed, they’re afraid of the failure of their belief.

Those who can’t let go, still needing Bush to deliver proof that their righteousness is genuine, face the administration’s end (without The Rapture having saved them yet) and the fear that there is no Republican dealer on the horizon. Who will lead government in righteous causes, their using activities? Who will help them feel they really are righteous victors after all?

Is there the prospect of another fix, hopefully stronger, to relieve their anxieties? Or must they face themselves and reality cold turkey, without their current political drug?

As if fulfilling their predictions of Christ’s return on the Mount of Olives, enter former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee. Huckabee says he’s “the Christian candidate” among Republican pretenders.

He’s pulled it off effectively enough to scare Mitt Romney into soft-peddling the beliefs that make the Christian right-wing label Mormons an anti-Christian cult. He’s scared the others into religious gymnastics in fear that they’ll lose the Christian right-wing vote.

With the folksy ability to charm the public perfected as a professional Southern Baptist preacher who knows what to say when, the closeting of his belief in hell and damnation for those who reject his sectarian salvation in order to sport the facade of compassion that televangelists like Joel Osteen have perfected, and his pastorly ability to save money with free labor from the faithful (“volunteers”) to do his political work and prove thereby that they really believe, Huckabee is poised to be the Christian right-wing’s savior.

He knows how to be president already. He maneuvered politically enough to become past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. And, as he testified to the 1998 Convention, he entered politics because: “I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.”

Now the conservative political coalition that provided the political fix the religious right-wing needed for its current high is showing its inner sectarianism, and it could look like a church fight. Can the economic conservatives, military conservatives, and social conservatives hold together?

None other than Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a group that began socially right-wing but bought into the full three-part conservative political hope, pronounced on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last month that Huckabee is “a liberal” because he doesn’t accept their whole agenda. That’s the ultimate putdown to scare the addicted.

Criticism wasn’t necessary until Huckabee became a winner in Iowa. There 80% of his supporters identified as “conservative Christians.”

Huckabee represents the Neocon playing to the Christian right-wing coming home to roost. The religiously addicted need him now.

They believe he represents that 2008 buzzword, “change.” And there are young religious conservatives who love his message and its public facade of inclusivism. An on-line network of 12,000 campaign volunteers calls itself Huck’s Army. One of its 19-year old founders, Alex Harris, says: “we are not going to have to be embarrassed about him.”

But leaders representing both the right-wing Christian machine and the right-wing economic machine care little about Huckabee’s social agenda if he threatens their pocketbooks. They’re afraid Huckabee’s not far enough to the economic right. They want even more corporate control of the country than they gained under Bush, not face the possibility that preferences for the rich could be turned back.

So, right-wing leaders are endorsing candidates more likely to preserve their economic gains under Bush. Kansas right-wing Opus Dei Senator Sam Brownback endorsed John McCain. Right-wing millionaire televangelist Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council endorsed Romney. Gary Bauer, former president of the Family Research Council and president of American Values endorsed Fred Thompson. Paul Weyrich, founder of the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation endorsed Romney.

Even powerful right-wing political operative James Dobson of Focus on the Family officially only noted enthusiastically that Huckabee did well in Iowa. Dobson’s strategy, understand, is to support what preserves his political power. So, expect him to endorse a likely winner when it isn’t too early to know whom.

The members of the Republican establishment don’t want any religious conservative to spoil their economic gains either. Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page labeled Huckabee “religious left.” Right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh accused him of “class warfare.”

Still, the religious right-wing desperately needs a savior. It needs a political leader who can deal that feeling of righteousness they sought from Bush.

They’re looking for “change,” all right, but that’s a change to more assurance that their regressive social agenda that breaks down the wall of separation between their religious establishment and the government will be accomplished. It means more attempts to turn US citizens into people who are Fundamentalist-acting, like them.

Huckabee knows not to make their agenda appear mean. He’s a polished professional who’s perfected how to woo the flock he needs behind him to become a president.

When people look back at his intemperate right-wing statements of the past, he knows how to deflect their objections with charm and a smile. No need to take them back.

So, when confronted with his 1992 position that homosexuality “could pose a dangerous health risk” and, therefore, AIDS patients should be isolated from the general public, he doesn’t repent. He uses a chronological defense without revealing where he now stands.

Beware of Huckabees in sheep’s clothing. He's the tip of the theocratic iceberg.

Even images in the book of Revelation portray evil coming in the features of a lamb. And not all change is progress.

Now We Know, But Do We Want To?


We’ve been wondering why the Democrats talk a good line of opposition to the occupation of Iraq, all President’s crimes, and, especially, torture. There’s a lot of sound and fury, but when it comes to denying a Bush Attorney General nominee, or exploring impeachment, Democratic leadership caves in to whatever Bush and Cheney want.

From the beginning of her leadership, in spite of protests and a resolution this year led by good ole Dennis Kucinich, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says, “impeachment is off the table.” She’s even tamed firebrand John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

We now realize that Democrats who were elected to represent us have settled in as managers. We’ve learned that “managing” means calculating how representatives should vote based upon re-election prejections so that any final tally produces the result the managers need without threatening election prospects and corporate sponsors.

Democratic leaders keep talking about how they must manage the House and Senate. Yet, in the process, their “leadership” is so far behind the progressive views of the majority of Americans that dwindling public respect for the Democratic Congress reflects only the fact that it appears less bad than corrupt, corporate Republican alternatives.

A December expose in the Washington Post reveals another possible explanation for all the tough Democratic talk that lacks real substance. It helps us understand why Attorney General nominee Mukasey -- who couldn’t say waterboarding was torture for fear that criminal indictments would result against Bush-Cheney -- was a shoe-in after all the anti-torture posturing by Democratic leaders.

In September 2002, we now learn, two Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Bob Graham, were among four members of Congress briefed by the Bush administration in secret about their use of torture as part of a CIA program. Waterboarding was one of the techniques presented during “a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques investigators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.”

Staff attendees report that no objections were raised and “the briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough.” There were about 30 such private briefings during 2002 and 2003 with only one formal objection raised.

As of this writing, Pelosi has declined to comment. One congressional source said she did recall discussions about “enhanced interrogation” and that she raised no objections.

Tell me it isn’t so, but one of the real dangers of pursuing critiques and even accusations of crimes by this administration is that Democratic leadership might also be implicated. The administration’s claims that congressional representatives were informed about, and approved of, torture now seem to be accurate.

In some ways this seems like blackmail, doesn’t it? But as a result, we have another case where politicians are going to have to create other persona because their past has been so wrong.

Both the Republican and Democratic frontrunners for their presidential nominations have had to create persona involving finessing their pasts and reconstructing their present. Flip-flopping? Spinning? Downplaying? Shooting the messenger? Falsifying? You bet.

They’ve learned that the media is looking for an image not a person. So, they have staff to help them create, develop, test how they better appear.

One exception is Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich. He’s been right all along. On Iraq, on torture, on domestic eavesdropping, on the last two presidential elections, on administration crimes, on LGBT issues. You name it.

Even as Mayor of Cleveland in the late seventies when he stood up against big utility and bank pressure to privatize the city’s electric utility and lost re-election for it, the result was Clevelanders now realize that he had their interests at heart. They can see it in their low utility bills today.

Twenty years later Cleveland’s city council honored him for the "courage and foresight" to stand up to the banks and for saving the city an estimated $195 million between 1985 and 1995. He’s been reelected to represent Ohio’s tenth district five times.

Kucinich doesn’t have to create a covering image of himself, a role for TV. So he doesn’t. He just presents himself as who he is, a plain human being with drive, specific programs, and even flaws.

The media not only ask, “but can he win?” They provide us with image-based reasons that he can’t. Not only is it his height or haircut. It’s that he refuses to put on an image. He votes consistently with his conscience. And he has nothing to hide.

The media ignore him – he gives them no show-biz image to hype. The Democratic Party’s image consultants, -- making tons of cash every election cycle creating candidates -- wish he’d just go away.

The other Democratic candidates can’t keep up with his truthfulness. They’re too busy fudging, flipping, polling, and corporate fund-raising like good Republicans.

And maybe we don’t want another president like Jimmy Carter. He was the last of the real human beings. We’ve been told to believe that though he was, and is, a great guy, he made a lousy president for these very same reasons. He was no actor.

His actor successor, Ronald Reagan, changed that. He skyrocketed the national debt, still raised taxes, never spoke the word AIDS while tens of thousands died, and let our infrastructure suffer.

How can a man I remember as a terrible president now be someone every Republican candidate invokes with awe and reverence? It’s the image, man!

And the public gets caught up in all this hype and hoopla. We’re attracted to political images just as we’re attracted to other actors, glitzy sports celebrities, and show-biz creatures, like Paris Hilton or Barry Bonds.

Real humans are out of luck when it comes to support from our institutions. Our institutions have been pushing inhuman roles – gender, consumer, warrior -- on us for generations to keep profits soaring.

But don’t we the people feel down deep somewhere that the ones who are imageless human beings are right? Are we too afraid to say so? Too afraid we’ll not be in sync with the crowd? Too afraid we’ll look strange if we do?

Can an open human being be president? Why not? But only if we demand it.

Are You Excited About Connecticut?


While waiting to enter a radio studio for an hour of give-and-take on hot political issues affecting the LGBT community, it was a question another panelist found central. It was certainly of interest to the program's listeners. But, surprisingly, I hadn't given it a second thought.

On October 10, the Connecticut Supreme Court had voted by a mere 4-3 margin that "civil unions" are no substitute for marriage. As the majority opinion put it: "Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice."

Good news. Connecticut had joined Massachusetts and California as states where the highest courts had chosen marriage equality over past prejudice. For the majority of those justices, there was no middle, separate-but-equal, "civil unions" ground on the issue.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country the vicious campaign to eliminate the right of same-gender marriage in California was gaining ground. Polls were moving in favor of its goal – to amend the state's constitution to add discrimination by eliminating the right of two people of the same gender to marry.

In May, the California Supreme Court had ruled by the same narrow 4-3 margin as the Connecticut Court: "that the California legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples and may not be used to preclude same-sex couples from marrying." Then it turned down legal challenges of right-wingers to its ruling.

So in California Proposition 8 was the right-wing's counterattack. It was supported by money from all over the US, the usual right-wing religious advocacy groups, the Roman Catholic Church, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the Mormon Church -- which publicly endorsed the proposition and encouraged its membership to support it by asking them to donate money and volunteer time.

Declaring that traditional marriage is between one man and one woman, Mormon Church politics and prejudices kept its hierarchy defying its own tradition and resulting persecution. That's how oppression works – if you still expect prejudice to be logical, where have you been?

In Arizona, Proposition 102 would ban marriage equality even though in 2006 voters rejected a gay marriage ban. Mormon contributors were its biggest funders as were Catholics and other right-wing Christian and business advocates.

In Florida it was Amendment 2 to the state constitution. It was funded by state Republicans and sponsored by an extreme right coalition that included representatives of the Florida Catholic Conference and Florida Baptist Convention.

Activity around marriage equality was happening, but taking place in the middle of so many issues that affect everyone including LGBT people. Of course, that's a right-wing strategy – to divide progressives by fighting multiple issues all at once.

There was a presidential campaign that wore us all out. The Republicans continued to out-nasty the worst Rovian politics of the past.

There were state campaigns to wrest the Senate and House from the Republicans who got us into the current messes. We were holding our noses at times, because the best vote we could cast was for the least bad candidate.

There was an economy failing because of unregulated investment instruments that few people, even economists, seemed to know how to correct, but being bailed out with 700 million taxpayer dollars. There was an out-of-control healthcare crisis that will need radical reform to end the bankruptcies of people just trying to keep their families healthy.

There continued two occupations of countries who are learning to hate us more and more. And a world that has come to think of us as a disruptive force in their lives.

There was the lamest of lame duck administrations still ensuring that it has skewed government to favor the upper one percent of the class system as much as possible before it takes its money and runs. And, of course, there were the ongoing classism, sexism, racism, and heterosexism underlying our cultural institutions, sometimes, at best, covertly.

All of these issues are important to everyone including LGBT people, and they're all related. More basic than whether LGBT people can marry is the fact that discrimination in hiring, firing, housing, accommodations, and basic rights is still the country's norm.

Marriage equality has been thrust upon us and is an important part of the mix. And it's only one issue in the midst of so many others that are even more bread and butter.

We recognize that we live in a society that is desperately sick with plenty of complications. As a patient, our culture is systemically ill. So what we're attempting to do is heal it of many inter-related diseases. And, as in all healing, that means there are bound to be setbacks as well as rallies.

The diagnosis is complicated. The healing proceeds by fits and starts. We know that there are many issues to take on. We see how one condition reinforces the others by weakening the whole system.

This election was merely a stage in our struggle for health. No matter how tired, our most important tasks lie ahead. Certainly even healers need their rest. But that's only to gather the strength for further treatments that follow up both on the progress and relapses.

So, that's where we are now. We haven't won or lost some battle in a great war, no matter how the regressives among us love war metaphors.

We're part of a longterm healing process for a sick, sick society. We've made real progress, painful at times. We've seen setbacks on many issues.

But the call is still to you true healers, to you who have long-term goals, who don't just do rounds at the patient's bedside when there's an election, you who will keep the treatment going.

More Faithless-Based Initiatives


I don't care if Barak Obama changes the name of Bush's "White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" to a "Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships." I think most of the thirty evangelical leaders he sat down with in a private downtown Chicago meeting on June 10 to win their support won't either.

I don't care if his plan claims superiority because it forbids religious organizations from using taxpayer funds "to proselytize the people," or says the government handouts can go only to "secular programs." In reality, that only continues to free up more of the religious organizations' own money to proselytize, and, thereby, indirectly continues the old administration's role as proselytizer of the sectarian religions involved.

I'm sorry if religious organizations have become so government-dependent that getting on or off the government dole is a key to the effectiveness of what they claim are their good works. I know that historically religious organizations have done great social work on their own, but I'm sure they've justified Caesar’s support by now.

I'm unconvinced that a religious organization or business is inherently more effective than adequately-supported government programs, though we're all supposed to believe that well-repeated myth. Show me real supporting data for it.

I worry, as Jim Wallis of Sojourners fame once did, that such programs function "as a substitute for necessary public policies attacking the causes and consequences of poverty within the United States." In this conservative climate, where people still call center-right Bill Clinton a liberal on such matters, these initiatives are bound to drain money from somewhere: that's likely to be more expensive programs that tackle the sources of the poverty that shows up on the doorsteps of government-dependent faith-based organizations.

Though Obama might really believe that his embracing such a program is not as much of a political move as it was for W, the current Believer-in-Chief, I can only guess where Obama's desire to woo the Christian right-wing in this and other ways stands on a scale from merely political to mostly sincere. In his own private religious/political mind, W is somewhere on that same scale.

If there is any meaning to "By their fruits ye shall no them," I believe, as I argued in When Religion Is an Addiction, that seeking government funding of so-called faith-based initiatives is evidence that the seekers have lost faith in their avowed higher power and substituted government commitments for their own. It's a symptom of fear of religious failure.

It's as if those who trumpet the bumper sticker "WWJD" believe that Jesus said: "Sorry gang. We won't be able to feed the five thousand effectively until we get that grant from the Roman Emperor.”

These government programs to fund faith-based programs enable the decline of faith in the Divine and in the Spirit's work within the religious organizations. It's as if their god can't get this done on His own.

John Leland, a famous 18th century Baptist minister, understood this: "Persecution, like a lion, tears the saints to death, but leaves Christianity pure; state establishment of religion, like a bear, hugs the saints, but corrupts Christianity."

Leland hit the nail on the head. When the government enables religious people to do their good works better, when it embraces them as a bear, it saves religious people from having to sacrifice more of their own treasure for their faith.

The good works that included making financial sacrifices both for spreading their faith and helping the needy, the sacrifice that proved the deep level of their conviction, and even kept some believers from piling up riches unto themselves, are now replaced by government funding.

The good works being done are now not their good works but everyone’s -- yours and mine. We’re paying for it. And they can give less money so their lifestyles won't suffer too much.

They can spend it on bigger homes, gas-guzzling tanks, and the pleasures of life. They can again prove Jesus wrong by showing: You can "serve God and mammon."

They are saved from facing a most difficult challenge to the level of their faith, the hard task of proselytizing -- getting people to come to them in the first place. The government-funded program can bring the unbelievers in where the law says they don't have to "remove religious art, icons, scripture, or other symbols."

Then there's the deeper personal issue that can fuel an emphasis on faith-based initiatives as opposed to government programs. Protestant theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr warned of the subtle sin of pride that can be involved in charity, a sin absent from a program for which one is taxed.

A program for which I am forced to pay taxes, I can feel, can't count as my very own good works. I've been forced to fund it.

In contrast, I can feel so good about the charity I do for all those needy people. I can feel so "fortunate" in contrast, so "blessed" in a way that those others are not. So, why not prefer my good works to paying taxes?

And finally, religious institutions and coffers themselves benefit when government programs are poor. Contrast European countries where universal healthcare means people can turn to the government for help, and religious activity doesn't dominate the political landscape as it does here.

But the poor safety net we've set up encourages many to realize that they can't turn to the government for such help. The only thing left is prayer. "Clinging to guns and religion" wasn't such an unrealistic diagnosis.

Notice how much the leaders of right-wing religion fear a welfare state and fight for their faith by dismantling as many of the Roosevelt reforms as possible. "Suffering is good for those people and gives me a chance to show pity for them."

"Separation of church and state" might be a phrase that's not politically -- and I do mean politically -- correct for both these two presidential candidates. But it's true on both sides: when religion and government are mixed, both are in trouble.

And if we are looking for a sign of growing unbelief in our culture, this is a big one. Unfortunately for us, the response to such fear of failure is usually that reflected in the marginal notes a pastor once added to his sermon: "Weak point here. Pound the pulpit harder."

Target Michelle Obama


Even those of us who were disappointed with Hillary Clinton’s campaign can agree with CBS News anchor, Katie Couric: “Like her or not, one of the great lessons of that campaign is the continued – and accepted – role of sexism in American life, particularly in the media.”

 

But getting into arguments as to whether sexism or racism is worse in this country is, frankly, tacky. It colludes with those who deny, but benefit from, the existence of either or both.

 

We all have a chance to assess the subtle and not-so-subtle expression of the state of both sexism and racism in the USA in 2008 by paying attention to how media pundits, and editors who choose the slant they take, treat Michelle Obama. Get ready to observe a woman of color treated in ways that no man and no white person in the political arena will be treated.

 

Maureen Dowd in her June 11 column predicts: “Now Republicans can turn their full attention to demonizing Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is the new, unwilling contestant in Round Two of the sulfurous national game of “Kill the witch.”

 

While the GOP has begun to play this game, watch the mainstream media enable them, repeating and analyzing it as if sexism and racism represent another valid viewpoint in fair and balanced coverage.

 

Like Hillary, the issues Michelle will face will include criticisms of a woman who doesn’t know “her place” and, when she conforms, demeaning it as a “make-over.” The political panderers to right-wing people who know how to play the “uppity” woman, “feminist,” and worse epithet cards know that the way to do this isn’t only with words but through images and symbols.

 

Remember Hillary donning an apron to prove she could bake cookies like a good little housewife, or criticized for using Rodham in her professional life during Bill’s 1962 campaign. Remember the response to anything public she did to help Bill: “she’s out for her own good.”

 

The unpaid, doomed task of trying to lead healthcare reform in this country was one more example. The more she looked more competent than those white men challenging her, the more she was pictured as a man-hater or even (Horrors!) having lesbian affairs.

 

Any man would be praised for such leadership no matter how it furthered his career. Yet wouldn’t Hillary just be satisfied to stand by her man? Or at least keep her real power and financial influence hidden from the public like Nancy did, or multi-millionaire beer-distributor baroness Cindy McCain or Laura Bush do.

 

Everyone knows that Laura gave her husband an ultimatum years ago to sober up or get lost. But as a public helpmate she’s just a good librarian promoting children’s reading. There’s no discussion of Laura’s intelligence or shrewdness, no matter how we all suspect they exceed her husband’s.

 

Even when Hillary chose the role of the famous Tammy Wynette “Stand By Your Man” throughout Bill’s sexual shenanigans, there was little praise for her from the pro-family crowd for keeping her family together and practicing forgiveness. The assumption continued that Hillary was doing it for those reasons praised in men -- thinking primarily of self and career.

 

Why wouldn’t she just stand quietly behind her man like a beaten puppy in that now infamous pose where family-values politician husbands deny or explain affairs, prostitutes, and romps in the hay to the press? Doesn’t she realize that her true worth as a lady is as a publicly gushing, subordinate beneficiary of her man’s success?

 

Keep an eye out for all that. But Michelle has to face racism’s addition to the mix. And that means playing to white fears of angry, out-of-control black people.

 

It didn’t matter how many white, right-wing preachers damned America over and over again for Rove v. Wade, its growing acceptance of LGBT people, or women’s equality. It was the image of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s twenty-seconds of preacherly rhetoric that conservative racism knew played into fears of the angry black man in the same way that the GOP used the image of Willie Horton to scare white people into voting for George Bush I.

 

It’s already begun under the new guise of her own “racism” with downright lies about Michelle Obama. Right-wing websites picture her as an angry, threatening female version of Wright. Some even ask if she is “more black” than her husband.

 

Conservative blogs repeat the false rumor that a tape of Michelle denouncing “whitey” exists. But these are the same people who have no problem with white Trent Lott in 2002 congratulating white Strom Thurmond’s unsuccessful 1948 bid for president as a segregationist with only slightly coded words: “And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

 

Then there was the celebrated fist pump between Michelle and Barrak on the night of his victory. Every young person knows it means no more than a high five or a victory hug. Fox News anchor E.D. Hill leaped in to play the scary black (Muslim?) card, calling it a “terrorist fist jab.” Someone made him apologize later.

 

Then conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg reached back to question Michelle’s 1985 college senior thesis, “Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community,” as if that too would scare us white people. “Why is Princeton restricting access to it?” The blogs went crazy with what they didn’t know.

 

Was any professor who listens to students shocked that she wrote in its introduction: “Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

 

How we react to this depends upon whether our goal is really to end sexism and racism.

 

Will everyone who complained about sexism during Hillary’s campaign continue their fight to end sexism by protesting every time it rears its ugly head toward Michelle Obama? Or was that just temporary politics.

Will we white people now recognize and stand against racism hidden or open in the treatment of Michelle as well as Barrak Obama?

For all our sake, I hope so.

© 2008 Robert N. Minor

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