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.

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