Straight Man's Burden
With only days to go before the election, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow invited Maine's Democratic governor on her show to discuss Question 1, the measure on gay marriage. As with practically every other gay ballot proposition, the Maine politicians and gay and allied leaders, had no Plan B in case we lost. Look at the transcript and see lame political spinning in action:
MADDOW: Governor, how confident are you about how this ballot measure is going to go on Tuesday? And if the law is overturned, if the Yes on One forces win, is there a Plan B for same-sex marriage rights in Maine?
BALDACCI: I think, Rachel, it‘s a very good question. But when I visited the campaign office, there were over 8,000 volunteers, Rachel. And almost all of them are from the state of Maine. They‘re from families in the state of Maine. There are college students. There are older people, retired people, working people that are working on this.
And they‘re working day and night in the campaign offices throughout the state. I was talking with Jesse Connolly(ph) and he was telling me about how driven and motivated they are and about the early voting that‘s already taken place. [...]
What a bucket of warmed-over spit. The governor lies about it being a good question, then doesn't answer it, while boasting how terrific the people are working on the pro-gay side. I, for one gay man, am sick to death of such spin and lack of planning like this, then trying to divert attention from the core issue, Plan B. Rachel wasn't going along with the spinning:
MADDOW: And a backup plan?
BALDACCI: I think the way I approach this, Rachel, is that we conduct a campaign well. We‘ve been able to get a lot of information and education out to people about a very difficult issue for some people, an emotional issue for some people to grapple with. So I think we‘ve made a lot of inroads.
So I think whatever the results are, I‘m very pleased of the efforts and abilities of a lot of people to be able to look inside themselves and realize that it‘s only an issue of fairness. It‘s an issue of equal protection. [...]
Not only does the governor spin like a dervish, he mouths a bunch of platitudes about the campaign for fairness and equality, the vague talking points that didn't help defeat Prop 8 last year.
Speaking of campaign leaders, Jesse Connolly, the heterosexual head of Protect Maine Equality, the group that dare not speak it's gay marriage equality name, penned a column for the Huffington Post over the weekend, offering some thoughts about the loss. His column reeks of "straight man's burden" attitude and an irritating naivete.
From the get-go, Jesse talks how difficult it is for him to start to address the loss, ten long days after the election and the burdens he bears because lots of people beyond his state's borders haven't waited for him to opine:
While it's difficult and, one might suggest, even slightly irresponsible to weigh in on our marriage equality loss so soon, it's also tough to sit on the sidelines while others make sweeping proclamations or conclusions, usually hundreds or thousands of miles away from Maine.
What does it matter where critics live at this point? We've all seen the election efforts and results, and for those of use old-timer gays who've witness and volunteered for gay ballot props over three decades, it's never too early to begin analyzing our latest loss.
First and foremost, marriage equality is a complex issue. Many people are conflicted and we know from national and state specific polling that it is very difficult to move people on this issue, particularly in the confines of short campaigns.
Secondly, our opponents capitalized on that conflict by constant distortion and misrepresentation.
He wants to talk how marriage is a complex issue? He can start by simply stating the ballot measure was about gays and marriage. I'm not sure what is gained by Jesse admitting known facts about gay marriage and those who are against it. His two points are the same one made time and again by those who run these campaigns. Given that the points are always in play with the props, what did Jesse do differently this time than all the other times we lost?
Remember, this was a campaign where we got up on the air first and where we put genuine Maine values as the context for supporting marriage equality. We used real Maine families: gay and lesbian Mainers and their kids, and parents who wanted all of their children treated equally under the law. In sharp contrast to other campaigns, gay and lesbian families were woven into our advertising and images as they are in society - organically and realistically.
It isn't until the fifth paragraph that Jesse uses the word gay, illustrating again how the campaign leaders go out of their way to avoid saying gay too soon or too loudly. Sorry, but it ain't enough in my book to give the Mainers brownie points in 2009 for including gay people in TV ads. And guess what? That cosmetic addition to the media strategy wasn't enough to overcome the basic closetry of the campaign.
Here's what I do believe after some sleep and a break from the caffeine: we moved the equality ball further up the hill, not just in Maine, but everywhere else. Voters do need these conversations which we had by the tens of thousands; they do need to see real gay and lesbian couples and their children up close and personal; and they do need to be reminded that these are neighbors and soccer coaches we're talking about, not "homosexual activists" which is the well worn handle our opponents trot out.
Sorry, but after triple-digit losses, all waged by de-gayed campaigns, and with milions of gay dollars spent, it's not nearly good enough anymore for these campaigns to simply move the "equality ball." At minimum, we must start insisting that the campaigns be gay-specific educational efforts and stop wasting precious money and time on failed and empty vague equality arguments.
Would also be good if Jesse can one day see that even "homosexual activists" should be discussed by Mainers, and that there is nothing wrong with being one. I don't know about you, but I feel the way the phrase is used, is as a slam against activists.
I'm not skirting anything here when I suggest that we need to remember that it was not long ago when we were losing in double digits, when they threw an anti-marriage equality question on a ballot in a presidential year to drive conservatives to the polls.
It may turn out to be simply this: that by moving this basic premise of equality from the sink hole of catastrophic defeat state after state, year after year, to within striking distance of a win, that we are almost to the finish line.
More blather about vague equality and omitting references to gays, all the while put a Pollyanna gloss on the loss in Maine. Frankly, with 32 gay marriage initiative losses, we ain't even close to the finish line, but these campiagn managers have to drag out their shop-worn cliches in order make themselves feel good.
There are probably huge demands to make on the Gay Inc leaders and allies preparing for the next ballot props, but they must be made: Develop a Plan B, admit the props are about gays, and be ready to start objectively analyzing losses within 24 hours of polling places closing.