September 09, 2008

Fear and Loathing of Women Make Heads Explode Across the Political Spectrum

Please forgive the imposition, but I think it might be helpful if I offered a bit of my personal, albeit long-distance, history with the Clintons. I hope you will indulge me.

Life was very good for me in 1992. I was passionately in love for the first time, my partner and I had set up housekeeping in the late spring of that year, and my professional career was humming along. I was very successful, made a lot of money, and my personal life was extraordinarily happy. And along came Bill Clinton. In the 1970s and 1980s, my political convictions had been of the very hardcore libertarian variety. But by the 1990s, I was exploring other possibilities. Clinton seemed to genuinely get it with regard to gay issues. His campaign repeatedly reached out in meaningful ways to the gay community, and I responded. I contributed myself; because I was then very active in the Los Angeles gay community, I was able to raise a lot of money for the Clinton campaign. He made me believe that important change -- and change for the better -- was coming. I still remember election night in 1992. A large, rowdy group of West Hollywood queers got together. (We didn't all live in West Hollywood, but you get the idea. And the party was in West Hollywood.) We whooped it up, drank a lot, and were incredibly excited. When Clinton went over the top, we cheered, very loudly and for a long time. Good times would be here soon. I had fantastic sex that night.

Then, in one of his very first significant decisions, Clinton announced the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. I had invested a lot in Clinton, and I thought I was "sophisticated" about political matters. Clinton got a lot of opposition, from all sides, to the idea of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Washington was tough. Compromises had to be made. The perfect must not be the enemy of the good. Oh, I knew all the excuses and rationalizations. A few weeks after the policy had been announced, I had a conversation with a gay activist who had been involved in politics for many years, and much more seriously than I was. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" came up, and I offered all the defenses of Clinton that I had learned. I thought I believed them. And this man said to me, and I have never forgotten it: "Arthur, you are absolutely wrong. Let me tell you why."

We talked for about an hour. In essence and in abbreviated form, this wise man told me the following. Once the issue of gays and lesbians in the military had been raised, and once the relevant principles -- genuine equality, respect for gays and lesbians as full human beings, equal rights for all -- had been engaged, you cannot back down. Democrats often herald the toughness and courage of Harry Truman. Clinton could have issued an Executive Order, as Truman did for blacks in the military, and simply said: "This is the right thing to do. It's the only right thing to do. Gays and lesbians are in. Period. Do it." But Clinton didn't choose that route. Instead, he compromised. He endorsed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In the context of the national discussion that had emerged, this conveyed one message and only one message: This policy is okay and acceptable. This policy will offer more respect for gays and lesbians. This is progress for gays and lesbians.

But none of these claims was close to true, as my friend and advisor predicted and as events have borne out. Here's a story from 2006 that details some of the costs, financial and otherwise. Many of those costs -- the expense involved, the loss of valuable and needed personnel and expertise, and similar items -- are irrational and utterly senseless. But, as my wise friend pointed out in his own way, the worst cost is psychological in nature, and goes directly to the humanity of gays and lesbians. Note this from the USA Today story:
Congress approved the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 1993 during the Clinton administration. It allows gays and lesbians to serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and do not disclose their sexual orientation.
To demand that any human being "abstain" from sexual activity is inhumane in the extreme. And there is no justification for it. Forget the nonsense about open gays and lesbians being bad for "morale"; the identical alleged "justification" was used to exclude blacks from the military. It wasn't true about blacks, and it's not true about gays and lesbians. It's bigotry and unreasoning prejudice, and nothing else. Don't dignify it by making excuses for it, especially when the excuses are patently untrue. I would add a related point: the fact that some men may experience sexual hysteria or "panic" in the known presence of gays, and react this way because their own sense of "masculinity" is so precarious, is absolutely no reason for discrimination against those who allegedly provoke that reaction. Talk about punishing the victim. But that's one of our greatest specialties, and we will not give it up.

Beyond this, the demand that gays and lesbians "not disclose their sexual orientation" underscores and confirms the notion that being gay or lesbian is a shameful secret. You mustn't talk about it. It's disgusting, and decent people don't want to know about it. These are some of the messages of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This is not "okay" or "acceptable." This does not offer more respect for gays and lesbians. This is not "progress" for gays and lesbians.

That is what my friend explained to me. As I said, I have never forgotten it. When principles of this kind are involved, you cannot back down. To back down is to give in to bigotry, ignorance and hatred. I quickly understood that my friend was right. After that, I didn't have much enthusiasm for the Clinton administration in general. I also disagreed, often very strongly, with a number of the administration's other policies and actions.

I offer this history in part because many Obama supporters appear to be in the position I was, before my friend educated me. They offer an endless array of threadbare excuses and justifications for policy pronouncements and statements that cannot be justified by any intelligent person who reflects on these questions for any length of time. I've been through these issues in many articles; if you wish, you can start here, and follow the numerous links. Perhaps these issues haven't been explained sufficiently for some Obama supporters. Possibly my articles will help a bit, and I might provide my own version of the assistance offered to me by my friend.

By the time the second Clinton term began, my view of both Clintons was strongly negative. I considered both of them to be largely unprincipled, willing to sell out anyone and everyone for momentary political gain, or just because they didn't have the courage for the big battles. But I have to confess that Hillary Clinton always held a certain attraction for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the presence of a strong woman in national politics, and I liked the fact that she personally fought back with everything she had. To put it in popular parlance: This woman wouldn't take shit from anyone. I liked that a lot. But most of all, I loved the reaction she provoked from conservatives. She did indeed make their heads explode. Conservatives were completely undone by Hillary Clinton. All their notions of "femininity" and about how women should "properly" behave were tossed aside. Hillary Clinton would have none of that. She made them close to clinically insane. From a great many conservatives, the primal cry arose: "Kill That Woman!" And still she survived, and went on to become a Senator -- and almost the Democratic presidential nominee. They couldn't kill her. They never will. I like that. A lot. Can't stand her politics, but I love that aspect of her.

That brings us to Sarah Palin. Again, I can't stand the woman's politics. But the spectacle that is unfolding is simply extraordinary. Not just heads are exploding, but entire solar systems. And this time, the explosions are on the liberal side. This reaction to Sarah Palin, especially when connected to the reaction to Hillary Clinton (not only in the 1990s, but in this year's primary -- see here and here), should make one point indisputable: the deeply embedded cultural loathing of women affects virtually everyone. Political labels are no protection against hatred of this kind, hatred that imbues every aspect of our lives. With regard to issues of sexuality, I often feel I can only make the point in one way. Forgive the crudeness, but when it comes to questions of masculinity, femininity and sexuality in general, we are completely, perhaps irretrievably, fundamentally, comprehensively fucked up. There is barely a sane word to be heard from any quarter. We are a godawful, calamitous, catastrophic mess.

For some examples of Palin dementia -- attacks that have nothing to do with her politics and policy positions, but everything to do with the fact that she is a woman -- follow the links provided in this piece, and look over the further examples provided in an earlier post. Here are two more recent examples. First, the always-dependable Keith Olbermann:
THIS FELLOW JUST CAN’T STOP: Some “men” are born to behave this way. One fellow clearly can’t stop:
MADDOW (9/8/08): And so, you think [Obama’s] confidence is about what comes next in the campaign, not necessarily an undue confidence about where his tactics thus far have gotten him.

OLBERMANN: Well, look what he’s—he’s fought off this. He’s fought off this, you know—we found somebody at Schwab’s Drugstore in Hollywood and give her a screen test and now she’s Liza Minnelli and a star is born and we’re making her the vice president of the United States or at least the candidate on the ticket.
In this way, this fellow adorned the first few moments of Rachel Maddow’s first program! But then, some “men” are born to insult women; they keep it up to the day they die. KeithO seems to be such a guy. He’ll never stop gender-trashing Palin, even if it puts her consort safely inside the White House.
A just slightly questionable use of the word "consort" there, but given Somerby's general excellence and the spot-on commentary in the balance of the post, we'll let that go. But these were actually "the first few moments" of the first program of The Great Liberal Hope? Say it isn't so!

Then there is Gary Kamiya, who offers one of the most disgusting, unrelievedly ugly pieces I have read in some time. I shouldn't say that. Given the hatred that has been unleashed, tomorrow will probably bring one that is still worse. Be sure to note the illustration at the top. And this is some jaw-dropping ugly:
[T]o anyone who isn't a true believer, Palin comes across not as a fantasy pinup, but as a dominatrix. And the S/M demographic isn't going to put the Republicans over the top in the swing states.

For the die-hard Republicans who lusted over Palin at the convention, her whip-wielding persona was a turn-on. You could practically feel the crowd getting a collective woody as Palin bent Obama and the Democrats over, shoved a leather gag in their mouths and flogged them as un-American wimps, appeasers and losers. "Drill, baby, drill!" the chant ecstatically repeated by the GOP faithful during Rudy Giuliani's speech, acquired a distinctly Freudian subtext after Palin spoke. The more Palin drilled the Democrats, the more hotly the base yearned to drill her. (We will leave it to shrinks to determine whether the GOP hardcore has the hots for Palin because she's reaming the Democrats, or because authority-worshippers tend to have secret fantasies of being reamed themselves.)


McCain's Palin Pinup Ploy was a masterstroke -- no pun intended.
We are entitled to draw certain conclusions from this. Kamiya has some very serious, unresolved issues. It would further appear that massive projection is involved. And while this might represent a textbook example of that phenomenon, I have to tell Kamiya that we truly could have managed without this level of detail. "Whip-wielding persona"! A "collective woody"! A "leather gag"! The "more hotly" they "yearned to drill her"! "Being reamed themselves"! Since we are all so concerned about matters related to national security, I think a new law is urgently required, one restricting Kamiya's own drilling to a severely delimited area. I suppose his bedroom would do. (I would suggest his closet, but I fear to ignite still more, even uglier disputes. Was that a cheap, unjustified shot? What the hell. The man is demented. I admit to my limited ability in dealing with utterances that are so far off the charts.)

Democrats and Obama supporters in general better wise up fast. I could make "Gunning to Lose" into a series of indeterminately great length at this rate. People are going to be voting against not just Olbermann, but against Kamiya and a host of others. But always remember: Women are evil. The hatred and the deeply unhinged quality of the attacks on Palin, as on Clinton, all proceed from that.

So many people, so completely undone by the presence of women in politics, especially at the national level. It's quite the spectacle. I'm out of words for the moment, so I'll end here.