Sunday, November 08, 2009

Will Gays Again Squander
A Ballot Loss Crisis?

Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff to President Obama, believes no serious crisis should be wasted to bring forth necessarily and valuable changes unlikely to happen at any other time.

Such a crisis befell the American gay community in the wake of Prop 8 passing in California last November, and despite many street protests, angry blog postings, the formation of dozens of new splinter groups, and other reactions, we are essentially at the same (losing) place politically. If there have been radical changes to the structure and leadership of Gay Inc and the California gay community, I've missed seeing them take effect.

Here it is, that time of the year when we've suffered another ballot proposition, No on 1 in Maine, while also racking up two wins, in Washington and Michigan, that don't wipe away the awful pain of the New England loss, and Gay Inc leaders are again pleading for the criticism to go away.

Actually, there was a preemptive move by Matt Foreman of the Haas Jr Fund, a week before the Maine failure, to keep the lid clamped tight on holding our leaders accountable for their decisions. In a column at the site, Foreman opined that TV ads weren't the answer for us:

As the campaign in Maine enters the home stretch, our skeevy opponents have unleashed yet another ad claiming that unless marriage equality is overturned, same-sex marriage will be "pushed" on elementary school children.

Our side has responded with calm, rebutting the attacks with facts, statements from authoritative figures, and appeals to higher values. Sadly, that approach has been condemned by well-respected figures in our community, including Andrew Sullivan, Mike Tidmus, the Box Turtle Bulletin and the Bay Area Reporter. [...]

If, goddess forbid, we lose [Maine], can we remember why that was - and it sure as hell won't be because our side was somehow responsible.

Well, our side's response, however noble it was, again lost us the battle. Instead of considering that his way of thinking is wrong, Foreman choose to cannibalize gay bloggers and newspaper editors for having the temerity to call for new approaches in ad and campaigns. I strongly disagree with Foreman's belief that our side bears no, or little, responsibility for our 31st loss. Reading his words, there is no sense, at least at the end of October, that he'd be willing to consider us taking responsibility for our Maine effort, the great and not-so-good stuff.

The question of how important the ads were to Maine's ballot measure can be summed up by this opening sentence in an AP story:

Stunned and angry, national gay rights leaders Wednesday blamed scare-mongering ads - and President Barack Obama's lack of engagement - for a bitter election setback in Maine that could alter the dynamics for both sides in the gay-marriage debate.

While some believe the TV ads from our side weren't our answer, our opponents again were able to use commercials to prevail with voters. Might our 31st gay marriage ballot loss finally be the opportunity for new thinking and diverse ad messages from us? Must we always lose with the same lame Hallmark marketing?

One gay political consultant, Steve Hildebrand, who served as an assistant campaign manager to Barack Obama, had this to say about Maine's ads:

We are fools to have spent all this money and time and not have defined the opponents. It's not enough to answer their charges. We need to hit them back and not let up on it until voters don't buy their lies anymore. Malpractice in my opinion.

Not helping with an honest assessment post-Maine, by his extremist framing of the issue, is the head of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese. In an email shared by John Aravosis at AmericaBlog, Solmonese said:

For a lot of people in the community and our supporters, Tuesday's results feel like a good reason to throw up our hands and say forget politics. It's also tempting to find someone to blame, or a missing piece, that pesky "if," to cling to. I'm not asking you not to. I'm telling you that we can't.

First of all, no one other than Solmonese is expressing a belief Maine is a reason to forget politics. And while the community is searching for betters ways of fighting at the ballot box, and potentially winning, HRC frames the search as a blame game. Good way to deflect rightful anger that is being directed at HRC and others. Who the hell is this HRC loser to tell the rest of us what we can't do?

Can we expect some new thinking from the head of Equality California, Geoff Kors, a key leader in the Prop 8 debacle, one year later? Sure, in some ways, Kors will never repeat the mistakes he made last year, but I wonder if he'd consider re-evaluating his approach to our next gay marriage ballot initiative out here. Take a look at an interview Kors gave last week to Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic:

I think we have to really look at the vote and analyze it before we can draw any specific conclusions, but what's clear is, even though we significantly outspent the opposition for the first time, and supporters of equality out-organized the opposition, our side still fell short. [...]

I think if we do the work we need to do and we can stay equal or out-raise the other side, I believe we will win in 2012.

What I would like Kors to think about is the fact, as he noted, that in Maine, even with significantly more money than our opponents, we still failed to persuade enough voters to agree with us. This means money, and lots of it, may not be the answer to gays winning in California, or any another state. Yet, Kors concluded his interview saying if the money flows like a river, we'll do well. Sorry, I just don't have faith in that method.

Money is surely important to any election, and gays sure like to open the checkbook for these losing campaigns, but I believe it going to take more than big bucks to turn the tide. We're going to need a new ideas and marketing.

But will the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community muster the courage to use the Maine crisis to bring about better, lasting changes to Gay Inc and the future campaigns on the horizon?

This skeptic is not hopeful that will happen. A recent Washington Post piece on the aftermath of Maine, delved into how Gay Inc will move forward:

For the gay rights movement, the defeat is another setback to its long-held strategy of building the case for marriage equality state by state. Historically, the tactics have been to target places where conditions seem favorable, and Maine, characterized by its governor as a libertarian state, seemed to fit that criterion.

Still, advocates say the strategy remains effective.

If the strategy is so damn good, why are suffering so many setbacks? Those advocates are entitled to their views, and the Post article is not about the ads and tactics employed in Maine. However, if we are to most beneficially use this latest current electoral loss and crises, we would be wise to place every aspect of the gay marriage battle on the table for discussion.


Clinton Fein said...

Matt Foreman wrote: "As the campaign in Maine enters the home stretch, our skeevy opponents have unleashed yet another ad claiming that unless marriage equality is overturned, same-sex marriage will be 'pushed' on elementary school children."

Actually the opponents weren't so much skeevy as they were savvy. This is not the reason gays should not be held accountable. It's the reason they should. These tactics were used identically in California, word-for-word, play-for-play.

"Calm, rebutting" of the attacks with "facts, statements from authoritative figures, and appeals to higher values," do nothing other than allow "leaders" to offer pious statements, loss after loss.

You don't fight a Pitbull with a Maltese. In this ugly dogfight, that's exactly what was done, once again. And unsurprisingly, we lost.

Unknown said...

use of the word 'skeevy' reminded me of my adolescence when it was thrown at me for being non-butch. what a word for matt foreman to throw out at an opponent. let's hope he doesn't also believe the winning side has cooties.

Anonymous said...

When Yes On 1 ads began appearing on gay blogs, I tried to get No On 1 to place ads on ours, but, as is always the case with A gays, it seems the campaign was being run from the cafeteria.

-Ed. said...

But the strategy IS working! Look at all the money they have raised -- for themselves.