It’s undeniable that many of the developments from this Tuesday’s election were disappointing to Democrats and progressive folk around the country. But I must admit that I had to pause this time before announcing another (mostly empty) threat to leave the country entirely, now that I – once again – live in one dark blue county surrounded by a sea of red.* That’s right – put the whiskey down, my friend: Contrary to the mainstream media narrative comparing the GOP takeover of the House and theoretical shutting down of political productivity in Washington to a tsunami, I think there are a few positives to take from Tuesday’s election results.
To be sure, the disappointments are there too, and there are many. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, known best as the lone dissenting voice against the Patriot Act, was blown out of the water by his heavily-financed-by-out-of-state-$$$ Republican competitor Ron Johnson in my home state. Vehemently anti-war and a friend to the LGBT and immigrant communities, Feingold was a unique politician who truly voted with both his heart and mind — not always with his party. He will be missed dearly.
In Iowa, out-of-state, anti-gay dollars to the estimated tune of at least $600,000 squelched any hope of three state Supreme Court judges there to retain their jobs, collapsing under the weight of a far-reaching campaign to oust them following their affirmation of same-sex marriage in 2008. Brian Brown, leader of the National Organization for Marriage, one of the anti-gay organizations that bankrolled the campaign against the judges, is touting their successful campaign as “sending a powerful message to any judge who thinks they can impose gay marriage by judicial fiat against the wishes of the people.” NOM spent, all told, $7 million on this and other races in the name of “protecting marriage,” rendering mixed results but solidifying its status as the leading, most well-funded anti-gay group in the country.
Another important, mostly under-the-radar development is the likely death of net neutrality — a principle that blocks Internet service providers and governments from having too much influence on the Internet as we see it or creating tiers of “premium” access at different price points. Out-of-state funding here contributed to every single one of the 95 House Democrats who stood against net neutrality losing their races. Al Franken has called this the “First Amendment issue of our time” and, given Tuesday’s results, that may not turn out to be too broad of a hyperbole.
It was further saddening to see Penn. Congressman Patrick Murphy lose his race to Mike Fitzpatrick. Murphy was one of the leading voices in the House for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and was growing into a strong ally for LGBT people there on any number of issues. The fact that Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann earned over 50 percent of the popular vote statewide for the first time in her re-election is also somewhat troubling. Bachmann has consistently described gay people as having “sexual identity disorders” among any number of troubling positions on a number of social and economic issues. She stands a good shot at becoming the GOP’s Conference Chair.
But there is a glimmer of good news for LGBT activists. For the most part, candidates who campaigned on a fringe perspective, embracing anti-gay rhetoric to be used toward our communities and families, lost. And they did so from coast to coast: Senatorial candidates Ken Buck in Colorado, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller in Alaska and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Gubernatorial candidates Carl Paladino and Bill Brady in California and Illinois. I repeat: They all lost.. except for South Carolina’s Senator Jim DeMint, who has said that openly gay and sexually active, unmarried straight teachers should be barred from teaching children.
Perhaps now more than ever, public homophobia has become a political liability, unless you live in South Carolina apparently. But that’s not to say that politicians (both parties included here) are going to march, lock in step, toward endorsing equality for LGBT Americans or any other minority group. It seems just as likely that while public disgust with gay people may wane, that bigotry may continue its shift toward open racism against Muslim Americans and immigrant communities. And chances of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or comprehensive immigration reform passing during the lame-duck Senate session appear incredibly slim.
As of earlier this year, a higher percentage of Americans reported having negative feelings toward Muslims than reported opposing same-sex marriage. And while many politicians who utilized anti-Muslim rhetoric during their campaigns lost their elections – including Angle and Paladino who, notably, were also mentioned two paragraphs above – in Oklahoma, a ballot initiative successfully barred judges from “considering Islamic or international law when making a ruling.”
Indeed, bigotry remains alive and well and it would appear that any checks of the growing corporate influence on our politics, culture and lives will continue to be difficult to come by. It’s funny, over the course of this column those glimmers of “good news” have lost some of their sparkle so.. take that for what you will.
I’ll leave you with a song that feels appropriate as a lullaby to progressives everywhere today: Metric’s Emily Haines’ Winning.
*If you don’t already know, I attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, based in Dane County, one of only a handful of counties that did not vote to elect former president Bush to his second term in 2004, which marked my first time voting in a presidential race.
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