Monday, August 27, 2007

Building Blocs of the Gay Community

There was an article awhile back about the study the Equality Forum did of GLBT voting patterns in the Philadelphia mayoral primary. The interesting thing about the report is that gays and lesbians seemed to vote as a bloc for the eventual winner Michael Nutter. For those outside of Philly or who live here but don’t follow the local political scene, Nutter climbed up from next-to-last to first in a matter of months to win the nomination.

The methodology of the study was pretty interesting in that it necessarily relied on a number of key assumptions. It looked at the Census information for areas with large concentrations of self-identified same sex couples. Then looking at the poll results they were able to show that in areas with large same-sex couple populations Nutter received a plurality of the vote.

This is interesting for a number of reasons if one can take the interpretation of the statistics seriously. First it shows that the GLBT community can vote in a bloc to express political will. Used properly bloc voting can be a carrot or a stick to make sure more than lip service is paid to an issue. Used poorly and you wind up like the Black community nationally ignored by the Democrats until election time and trotted out by some Republicans as the boogeyman during elections but mostly ignored since there is little upside in trying to capture your vote.

For an example of how the bloc vote can go bad; Lee Atwater, Ronald Reagan’s political advisor made a really good point when describing the Southern Strategy as reported by Bob Herbert in the New York Times. (Copy and pasted from Wikipedia).

Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn’t have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he’s campaigned on since 1964… and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster…

Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps…?

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now that you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is that blacks get hurt worse than whites.
And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'

The strategy is alive and well today one need only look at the “McCain’s Black Baby” phone calls in South Carolina during the Republican primary for the 2000 campaign. It was sleazy but effective, with an anonymous call votes for all candidates would be suppressed by those who would be offended that such an accusation would be made. But McCain lost the most because enough people would be disturbed by the alleged extramarital affair and/or the race of the woman involved. As a side note a similar issue was brought up about Nutter and Brady not being Catholic or Catholic enough, since the flyer endorsed Knox as being the one true Catholic anyone upset by the sleaziness likely took it out on him.

As the Atwater quote states candidates can’t be as blunt as they once were in trying to court a particular groups vote, at least when the way to do it is on the backs of another group. The McCain example notwithstanding subtlety is crucial. When politicians want to make political hay out of attacking the GLBT community they rarely come right out and say the Jerry Falwell line about 9/11 happening because of the gays, lesbians, feminists, and abortionists. Invectives like that will backfire; you say you’re against special rights and only for state’s rights. When someone brings up Loving v. Virginia and the possible precedent it sets for gay marriage with the 14th amendment, you say you’re against judges legislating from the bench and such decisions should be left to the legislature. As long as the voting bloc isn’t sufficiently large and the general public will take such answers you’ll get re-elected. The vocal voting bloc is itself a get out the vote tool for their opposition, which can be placated into a stable base.

A side note is that with the higher than average rates of Black and Latino voters attending mass regularly “family values” can be an effective wedge strategy. One needs look no further than the 2004 elections, opposition to gay marriage brought out the evangelical vote in large numbers. There are some obvious problems with this strategy though. There are only so many anti-gay laws that can be passed before you start to look a little mean spirited. The mean spirited bar is a moving target since the more out GLBT people heterosexuals know they tend to view homosexuality less negatively on average. The big problem is the statistic showing that negative feelings toward homosexuality are less among those under 40. Among those who will vote in upcoming elections speaking negatively, may backfire.

The election results are interesting because the five candidates were decent to good on the GLBT issues. One candidate, Dwight Evans, tried hard early on to cultivate the GLBT vote for his campaign but was dead last at the polls. The results may have a lot to do with the tangible legislation Nutter passed awarding domestic partner benefits to city employees.

The key to a successful bloc is to vote the issues and hold the candidates responsible for their votes. That’s how the NRA became such a force in politics. It’s a shame that the Logo “debates” were business as usual. We’ll get nowhere nationally kissing the asses of people who give us a kick in the shins in public. The Democratic candidates are better than the Republicans but not by much really.

Domestic partnership is a joke and like “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” would only serve to keep us in limbo. Domestic Partnership is a denial of equal rights. Using the argument that all but two of the candidates have expressed that gay marriage shouldn’t be recognized because it would violate the religious rights of churches is a way to sidestep the issue.
It's not like people want babies to get married. Under the same argument Rudy Giuliani isn’t married since he divorced his previous wife and under Catholic tradition one can’t get divorced, therefore the state should not allow Giuliani to enjoy any of the rights afforded married couples since his living arrangement would scandalize some religious institutions.

The point is the Catholic Church has every right to deny Giuliani Communion and refuse to officiate his marriage since it violates their religious beliefs but the state could not deny his rights because we don’t live in a theocracy, the same principles could be used for gay marriage. Only Kucinich and Gravel approach this view, Logo should have called the front-runners in the Democratic Party on it. Sure the Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils in this case but as Eugene Debs once said, “The lesser of two evils is still evil.” Politicians will give the least that they can to get you vote; don’t give it away for free.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It was a "Big Black Man"

I don't know why people even use variations of this excuse anymore. It makes them look not only like liars, but racist jerks who think that the general public is even dumber than they are. The excuse goes something like this: "I'm not to blame it was some Big Black Man who caused me to (insert unlikely sequence of events)." It has to be said that it has a history of working.

As is mentioned in the article Charles Stuart made good use of the "Big Black Man" excuse when he killed his wife. The Boston police were quick to pursue the preposterous story and charge Willie Bennet. After Susan Smith drowned her kids in a lake she was able to convince the country to be on the lookout for a "Big Black Man" who kidnapped her kids and stole her car. Of course Hispanic men appear to be the new dark skinned bogeyman as evidenced by the runaway bride.

Florida State Rep. Bob Allen would have done better to just plead out the solicitation charge. His tory that he offered 20 bucks and oral sex to an undercover officer because he was scared of the "Big Black Man" smacks of the Mandingo myth, the untamed "Big Black Man" understands nothing but violence and sex. The myth has been fostered in popular culture by pornography, obviously, music and television. Poulson-Bryant makes a decent point that the myth of the ubiquity of large penises among Black men leads to an idea of hyper-masculinity among Black men in the broader society. This idea of hyper-masculinity gives plausibility to the "Big Black Man" in the mind of the broader society. So much testosterone is flowing through their brains that they can't think clearly and only understand violence and sex.

Allen's excuse is rather odd when one considers that while hyper-masculinity has homo-erotic elements (just look at the cover of a hip-hop magazine) offering to give a robber some of the money from your wallet and a sex act would seem to increase the chances of getting hurt not lessen them. While homo-eroticism is part of hyper-masculinity in the Mandingo myth it is merely there as an underlying element more as a response of the observing male to the Mandingo who is sex personified. The hyper-masculine is hyper-heterosexual at least outwardly.

Allen's excuse also rests on the unstated racist assumption that the Blackness of a man further up the walk is equivalent to a gun or knife, a threat in itself that demands mitigation. According to Allen's account he made the offer of money and sex without provocation of what turned out to be a police officer. His excuse also has a unique twist on the gay panic defense. The gay panic defense had mixed success in the Matthew Shepard case.

Usually with gay panic the defendant says they went temporarily insane and had to kill the victim for coming on to them. It is a form of jury nullification basically saying that the defendant was within their right to prove their masculinity by killing the victim. In this case Allen turns gay panic on its head, "I had to offer him oral sex or he might have raped and killed me." Not to put words in Allen's mouth (poor choice of words) but this appears to be where his defense is heading.

If Allen is lucky he can find a jury racist and homophobic enough to reduce his sentence or perhaps let him off. I say homophobic enough since they would have to buy into the stereotype of gay men that they will have sex with anyone and if possessing enough power will rape smaller more fragile men, the prison myth. While their obviously is some rape in prison there are obviously some Black men with above average penis size. The two generalizations are combined in the "Big Black Man" myth to form a hyper-sexed, hyper-violent, thug who has a huge penis that he'd love to stick in the White man. It's miscegenation and homosexuality wrapped in a bow looking for the right jury, one that is bent on taking a stand for "traditional values" against a railroading Democratic government. Allen is taking a big risk because he is going to alienate not only the Black and gay vote, who probably wouldn't have supported him in huge numbers anyway, but also some of the conservative backbone of his constituency who may just stay home.

If the Republican party is lucky Allen will plead out before the next election gets too close. One congressman's hypocrisy has a quick way of branding the whole party, see how fast the Democrats dropped support of Jefferson. The Republicans seem to be playing it right so far, let him hang himself. If McCain is lucky no one will remember that this guy was his man in Florida. It doesn't help to appear to have a record of appointing felons when you're making a run for the White House. Once you get in you can spin this type of situation like a top. Every president in the modern era has had some questionable people in their cabinet but you don't want to start off with the plausible deniability game before the inauguration. To be honest Lyndon LaRouche has a better chance than McCain of winning the White House.

The Democratic party will probably just sit back and bide their time. This isn't a huge national issue but can provide a regional opening if they let Allen commit political suicide. They don't have to worry about the body they'll just blame the "Big Black Man."