I just watched Sarah Palin's speech to Tea Party Nation on MSNBC. She is a used car saleswoman. A deceiver. And she doesn't care about people of color or queer folk, poverty or children in jail. Her message is self-serving and mean-spirited even tho she wears a smile on her face. She makes fun of her opponents, and acts like she's just being folksy. She doesn't once mention bailing out bank execs or selling out healthcare reform to insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. But she reminds us over and over to be afraid of terrorists and to strive for upward mobility. She deflects all blame from our broken Congress, and places it squarely on Obama's shoulders.
The racist and small-minded teabaggers applaud and catcall, and the media goes wild. Sarah Palin just might win the White House in 2012.
We LGBTQ folks and our allies are rightfully angry at the lack of action for civil rights since Obama took office last January, but our critiques lack analysis, and we have yet to really do anything more than talk. This video from Lawrence Lessig and FixCongressFirst.org put some things in perspective for me.
On every front, Obama has tried to enact the substantive changes that he promised, but on every front he has been stymied. Why? Well some say the problem is the Republicans - that they've become too extreme, that they're unwilling to compromise, that they're abusing the privileges of the filibuster, that they care only about partisan gain and not about America.
That view, in my view, is hopelessly naïve. Republicans of course have different views about what's good for America, but the problem of America is not the problem of different views. And it's not the problem of just one party. After all, the Democrats have a supermajority in Congress. Nothing gets done - or nothing gets NOT done - without them as well.
The problem isn't Republicans, the problem isn't Democrats; the problem is what both parties have allowed Congress to become. Our Congress has become the fundraising Congress. Members are obsessed with raising the money they or their party needs to get re-elected. They openly, and routinely, and grotesquely take piles of money from the interests they regulate, producing a Congress that seems not to care a squat about what makes sense - instead, only what raises campaign dollars.
Of course, Lessig doesn't make one mention of LGBTQ folk, or of civil rights. We're not counted among his list of of "substantive changes that [Obama] promised," and President Obama certainly has not been the "fierce advocate for equality" he declared himself. But there is a deeper point here that all of us should be concerned about: Congress is not a political entity that debates serious ideas and serves the people; it is a tool that corporate money and special interests use to steal money, resources, labor, and power from the people. At the end of the day, it's the banks, the insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry that have won big over the last year - not the Republicans or the Democrats, and certainly not the People.
Indeed, we should ratchet up the pressure on Obama and Congress. There are real steps that Obama could take to show decisive leadership. For example, he could issue a moratorium on Don't Ask, Don't Tell right now to show us that he's got our backs, but he hasn't even done that yet. So let's give 'em all hell. It's not enough to "Talk, Write, and Meet," as my friend Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called us to do in Dallas last weekend. It's also not enough to withhold money from candidates or from the DNC. We should do all those things, but we've also got to hit the streets, take risks, disrupt business as usual, and break the rules if we want to make change.
Let's stop lamenting that President Obama has failed us. It's harder to hold everyone accountable than it is to target him with our frustration, but we can't take the easy road if we want to win. Let's also get over the idea that simply boycotting the DNC or punishing specific legislators will get them in line. While turning up the real pressure on our electeds, let's fix our broken Congress and restore trust in our government. Then we'll have space for a legitimate political debate among liberals, conservatives, progressives, independents, and everyone else.
Our problem got much worse a couple weeks ago when the Supreme Court took a bold step to abolish democracy in Citizens United. Corporate personhood?! At this rate, corporations will be able to marry before same-sex couples! But out of the ashes from that disaster, Lawrence Lessig and our friends at FixCongressFirst.org are building momentum for a two-part solution:
If we don't want Sarah Palin's faux populism and her thinly veiled facade of a White Supremacist movement to take power in 2012, we have work to do. Let's turn up the heat without calling President Obama a failure and placing blame squarely on his shoulders, and let's provide him some cover from the Left when he does lead. Let's speak the truth, take risks, and break rules. And let's fix Congress so that when we win the White House again in 2012, our Congress is accountable to us.