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09/14/2011

On NY-9, or how NOM = everything wrong with American politics

by Jeremy Hooper

The degree to which a hyper-motivated, largely faith-based coalition was able to use marital bias to drive votes against the pro-equality Democrat will be debated today. But when it comes to the special election in New York's 9th congressional district, I think the mere fact that some would want to make this election about one supposed "social issue" is the larger, more pertinent point of discussion.

For now let's overlook the obvious discrimination and outright offense attached to the "protect marriage" view and instead think purely in terms of our nation, its politics, and the state of both. We are a country with more struggles than solutions -- struggles that affect every single one of us in real and measurable ways. As a population, we are crying out for strong leadership, common sense ideas, and viable paths towards the future. As an electorate, we not only have the desire but also the responsibility to select representatives who, in our view, will get us to greatness. Or at the very least: People who will lead us forward.

But now consider the National Organization For Marriage. In response to David Weprin's loss -- and I say David Weprin's loss as opposed to Bob Turner's win because the former was NOM's much more focused Nom Email 2011-09-14 Ny9-Victorygoal -- NOM president Brian Brown hailed it as "another victory for marriage in our country." Brown also claimed Weprin "is not going to Congress for one reason: he listened to Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and a few billionaires on Wall Street and went along with them to redefine marriage." Then Brian closes his reply with the threat: "Our message to the rest of the politicians in Albany who voted to redefine marriage is this: 'You’re next.' Once again voters have said: 'Don’t Mess With Marriage!'"

For same-sex couples (particularly legally married ones), the words are like daggers. Though regardless of one's view on civil marriage equality and the growing support for the same, is it not remarkably obtuse for anyone, on any side of the contrived "culture war" fence to make a congressional election about this one matter? Sure, things like marriage support are major factors for both pro- and anti-equality voters alike. But Brian isn't even positioning marriage as a factor: For weeks, both Brian and his larger NOM host have been positioning the decided, majority-supported, completely benign marriage equality action taken by the New York state legislature (and Assemblyman Weprin in particular) as the one and only hinge for NY-9 voters to consider. NOM didn't even couch their advocacy in other concerns. NOM made no bones about it: They were out to "punish" Weprin for understanding the difference between his personal faith (Weprin is an Orthodox Jew) and his votes on matters pertaining to civil law.

Heck, the guy who NOM recruited to record robocalls -- Rabbi Wallerstein, a man who has blamed gays for both earthquakes and hurricane deaths -- admitted in the Jewish press that he knew absolutely nothing about Bob Turner. His stated goal, like NOM's, was "to make a [public statement] against the gay marriage bill." Take that, actual matters of great import!

This sort of special-interest-driven, personal-attack-littered (NOM's mailers accused Weprin of betraying his faith), single-minded obsession is what Americans hate about politics. This is why, when I was watching my Screen Shot 2011-09-14 At 2.22.00 Pmlocal NYC news on election morning, the reporter positioned at an in-district subway platform kept commenting on how most people she talked to were completely unaware that an election was even going on. I get why that is: People are beyond tired of the games like those waged by NOM -- a sense of fatigue that has bred deep stagnancy. Years of unfocused rhetoric has fostered multiple generations of would-be, should-be voters who, come election day, instead choose a "why bother?" attitude. Or worse yet: Who are not even aware of what's going on around them, since the state of affairs shut them off and out from the process years before any particular Tuesday.

For this apathy, I do, quite unapologetically, lay much blame at the feet of those who declared this contrived "culture war." And don't be fooled: It was the far-right that declared and branded this ridiculous "war" for the sake of political gain. Here now in 2011, NOM is simply continuing the trend. With its "protect marriage" obsession, NOM is working those well-worn "us vs. them" lines that have long divided the population on the subjective basis of "morality." Only NOM's taking the concept to an even greater extreme, narrowing the scope onto one certain "issue" within the "culture war" battle plan. In doing so, they are not only deeply offending millions of potential benefactors of marriage equality and the people who love them -- they are also doing great harm to our elections, our government, and our ideally shared goal of enhancing America's future. NOM is not seeking solutions: NOM is creating problems in places where there should be none. If that's patriotic, then I'm a bald eagle.

With the Weprin loss in NY-9, NOM staffers will certainly try everything within their power to show the sail-winds that have supposedly sent the organization aloft anew. As we work to combat those ridiculous claims -- jobs, the economy, and Israel are the Weprin/Turner race's big three cited issues, with marriage not even getting a mention in most mainstream news reports -- I suggest we not only point out the flaws in the argument but also question the very principles and interests behind this agenda and those who insist on its reductive push. For an America that needs and deserves better, an organization that needs and demands such cynical political game-playing is one that deserves more focused scrutiny/criticism.

*Oh, and marriage inequality is downright offensive and discriminatory. So there's that, too.

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