Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Democratic Stronghold Goes Republican, After Huge Mandate for Change: A Personal Response

The Massachusetts special election has, as expected, given the Senate seat held for almost half a century by longtime health-care reform advocate Ted Kennedy to a Republican. In the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts, which gave President Obama 62% of its vote in 2008. The special election gave this longstanding Democratic seat in a strongly Democratic state to a Republican whose primary claim to fame is that he owns a truck. And once posed for Cosmopolitan.

And I wish I could say I’m surprised. But as anyone reading this blog on a regular basis knows, from early in the new administration, I became convinced that the refusal to act decisively to fulfill its progressive promises and to adhere to the moral core of those promises was going radically to undermine the new administration. Click on the tag “Barack Obama” at the bottom of this posting, follow the thread back, and you’ll find posting after posting on this blog making those predictions.

I began predicting the turn to the right that we’re now seeing (turn to the right: Brown was endorsed by the savagely anti-gay National Organization for Marriage) from early in the new administration when I saw its cynical, calculating willingness to play games with the hopes and lives of gay citizens who had worked hard to elect the new president believing that he was sincere when he told us he would end DADT and work to abolish DOMA. When I saw the willingness of the new administration to waffle immediately on its moral commitment in that area, I saw the handwriting on the wall.

And I wrote on this blog that, though I had strongly supported Mr. Obama and had written over and over to praise him during the election, my energy in support of the new administration was rapidly vanishing. As I’ve stated here, I have never been so disappointed about any vote I’ve cast in any federal election during my adult life.

The pundits will pick through these election results now, and parse them every way possible. Already, centrist commentators are encouraging Mr. Obama to take the same lesson Mr. Clinton is said to have taken from the turn to the right that followed his initial period in office, and to become even more bipartisan and even more centrist than he’s already been. As if that’s even possible . . . .

There will be—there already are—claims that the progressive wing of the Democratic party in Massachusetts voted heavily for Ms. Coakley, while blue-collar Democrats turned against the new administration, due to its movement away from the center.

And these are, of course, precisely the wrong lessons to take from what has just happened in Massachusetts. As Peter Daou notes today in a HuffPo article entitled “Liberal Bloggers to Obama and Dems: We Told You So,”

I've written a number of posts arguing that it's all a matter of values and ethics. In essence: when you fail to govern based on a morally sound, well-articulated, solidly-grounded set of ideals, you look weak. All the legislative wins in the world won't change that. People gravitate to people who exude moral authority. The vast majority of voters lack the detailed policy knowledge that would enable them to make an accurate assessment of policy differences, but they do have a visceral sense of when a candidate or an elected official believes in something and fights for it. It's why campaigns are laden with moral arguments; politicians ask to be elected because they'll "do the right thing."

“Morally sound, well-articulated, solidly-grounded set of ideals”
; “moral authority” as the foundation of compelling leadership: as Daou also suggests, when, on the inauguration day itself, this administration invited Rev. Rick Warren to take center stage and give the inaugural invocation while Bishop Gene Robinson’s prayer off in the wings of the stage was not even broadcast to the public, anyone watching for the moral foundations of the new administration had a strong clue as to what was about to happen to every aspect of the progressive agenda of the new administration. To every aspect demanding moral fortitude . . . .

In one year’s time, we have seen the new administration—and a Democratic-controlled Senate and House—squander the mandate provided to it by a strong majority of the American public in the last election, as the right-wing noise machine has been given every opportunity possible to crank itself up again while Democrats waste valuable time and energy catering to banks, Wall Street, and the health and pharmaceutical industries.

While Democrats diddle, the right-wing noise machine has free rein to re-animate deep racial bias, fears of necessary progressive change, sound and fury about nothing. And now we see a man with a truck and a Cosmopolitan past walking into the highest legislative body in the land as a result of the new administration’s refusal to put core values front and center as it governs.

Daou’s conclusion:

Progressive bloggers have been jumping up and down, yelling at their Democratic leaders that the path of compromise and pragmatism only goes so far. The limit is when you start compromising away your core values.

Will the new administration hear that lesson now? I very much doubt it. In my view—and I’ve stated this here repeatedly as the morally vacuous course the new administration intended to take became glaringly apparent—we are now in for a period of right-wing dominance in American politics the likes of which we haven’t seen since the McCarthy period. Nasty, gay-bashing, free-wheeling free-market dominance that will make what took place in the Bush era look like a church picnic by contrast.

Meanwhile, we who continue living in this nation have to find some way to make do—I have to find some way to make do, as one of millions of Americans without a job, with no health insurance, with monthly mortgage payments I cannot meet without dipping into my rapidly vanishing savings. As I enter my 60th year.

As I’ve shared on this blog (and I bring this up for two reasons: it’s politically pertinent, and it illustrates some of the serious day-to-day struggles that lack of equality continues to create for gay citizens of this nation), I find myself the owner of a second house in Florida that I can’t sell, and which I bought on the basis of promises made to me by a former employer who has created tremendous hardship for my partner Steve and me by breaking those promises. I’ve noted our inability to refinance the loan for this house, even after banks were given funds by the new administration precisely to enable citizens in financial distress with mortgage payments to do just that.

Recently, we’ve gone through yet another round of negotiations with our bank, Bank of America, which is the lender for this mortgage, in the hope that some way could be found to refinance the loan and reduce our prohibitive monthly payment on the note. Once again, we’ve been told at the end of that time-consuming process that the house’s precipitous drop in value from our purchase date in March 2006—it is now appraised at some $88,000 less than the purchase price—prevents the bank from assisting us.

We’ve gone through tortured negotiations with the bank that revolve around the fact that, though we’re a couple who have lived together and pooled our resources for nearly 40 years now, we’re not a legally recognized couple. We have no legal existence at all under the law of our state, or under federal law, for that matter.

This lack of any legal recognition of our shared life and shared resources results in ludicrous problems such as the following: because I have no full-time employment, and because my income in the past year has been minuscule, I automatically don’t qualify, on the face of it, for a renegotiated loan. Steve, on the other hand, has a full-time job and a decent salary.

But the house is in my name. In Florida. In a state that, like our home state, has no laws at all recognizing our existence as a couple. And so, when we bought the house, we put the house in my name, rather than attempting to deal with the legal nightmare of trying to negotiate a loan as a non-existent couple—as a couple that doesn’t exist in the state of Florida, in the eyes of the law. We put the house in my name, as well, to protect Steve’s assets in our house in Arkansas, which is in his name—for precisely the same reason: we are not legally recognized as a couple in Arkansas.

And so, the upshot is, I can't claim Steve’s salary and income as my income when I apply for a new loan. Because I have no legal connection to Steve, in the eyes of the bank. Though I live, largely, from his income. Because we are a couple.

This situation—the situation of existing in fact as a married couple, but not being legally recognized as such—does work to our advantage now, ironically. It does so in this respect: if I walk away from the mortgage in Florida, as we have told the bank we may well decide to do now that it has once again refused to renegotiate the mortgage loan, only my credit is affected.

As I stated here when I wrote about our mortgage nightmare back in December, everything in me revolts against the thought of walking away from a financial commitment. I was raised to pay my debts—all my debts. Because I have consistently done so throughout my life, I have a stellar credit rating. It galls me deeply to have been placed in this situation of unemployment and financial helplessness by the president of a United Methodist university who claims to support the rights of gay citizens, but who, after inducing Steve and me to take jobs at the institution she leads, revoked her promises to us because of her homophobia, when the United Methodist bishop who sits on her university’s governing board told us we ought not to have been hired, as a gay couple.

But we’re very seriously considering walking now. As we’ve come to see it, the banks were given money to assist people in our circumstances, and they’ve refused to do so. They’ve benefited themselves—largely so—from the government’s beneficence while refusing to do with the money they’ve received what the government instructed them to do.

And since the government’s not holding the banks’ feet to the fire, many of us caught in impossible mortgage situations with upside-down mortgages are walking. And more of us are going to walk.

And to pull our money out of the huge banks that have treated us like non-persons when we approached them to do what the government told them to do.

And to withdraw our energies from a “progressive” administration that has done nothing at all to assist us in this crisis, except to throw money at the banks who have created and are benefiting from the crisis.

Are people angry that the new administration has done virtually nothing to create new jobs, to help Americans in financial crisis, to hold Wall Street and the banks accountable for their role in creating this crisis? I think so. And a lot of that anger is coming from those who, during the campaign, were the new president’s strongest supporters.

More as this saga unfolds . . . .