Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And then it hit me

I live in a world without Ted Kennedy. I know I wrote about this earlier, but it wasn’t until I got home that it really sank in that he’s gone. I’ve been a political junkie a long, long time. I grew up in a family of Kennedy Democrats. When I was a young Republican (still weird to say that) he was the Enemy but I was aware of how he had always been on the side of the little guy. Conservative as I was, I was still black and as such a direct beneficiary of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. As I got older and came to something that could be called political and intellectual maturity and left my youthful conservatism behind, I came to truly admire Ted Kennedy. Was he a flawed man? Yes, all humans are flawed--myself as much or more than anyone. But he was a true liberal who, I believe, got really serious after Bobby Kennedy’s death and the tragedy at Chappaquddick. The grown-up Ted Kennedy became a consummate legislator, a statesman in the best and truest sense of the term, and a light for liberals.

He was able to compromise and negotiate with people with whom he might otherwise disagree vehemently in order to get something done. This is an art--the very core--of politics. Kennedy could do this better than most and probably better than anyone remaining in the Senate and, as such, was spectacularly capable. We can think Kennedy for the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

As I said in my earlier post, Ted Kennedy was always there just part of the background of American politics. Now there’s a hole in our national pantheon and we will likely not see his like for a long time to come.

Queer anarchists get it exactly wrong on DADT

Over at Queers Against Obama the following was posted:

If a George Bush policy had had the systematic effect of bringing death, injury, sexual assault, harassment, psychological trauma, and suspension of civil rights to poor queer and trans people, while expanding the might of the military, there would have been widespread outrage from queers, anti-war activists, and liberals. Yet President Obama is able to push forward such a policy under the guise of equal rights and with the hearty encouragement of spellbound liberals and wealthy gays.

This was my response:

I'm going to chime in as a minority opinion here. For the record, I am veteran of the US Army, a black lesbian, daughter of a WW II veteran, mother of a current soldier, sister of a retired Army officer, and a thorough-going progressive. I think that Ms. Ariel Attack gets it almost *exactly* wrong in her essay. In order to understand why, a bit more background is necessary.

I grew up in an upper-middle class family--my parents were college professors--and as such, when I enlisted in the Army there was much to-do about it. Kids from my class background went to West Point or Annapolis or the Air Force Academy, or they did ROTC at university. They didn't *enlist*. But I did. It was the first time in my young life that I had to *depend* upon people from the working-class. Before that working-class folks were my poorer relations in Louisiana and Alabama, my best friend Jeff and his mom, or the tenants my parents rented to. Because of that experience of having to depend upon folks who were from a wildly different class background than I was, I got a much needed education in class that took some of the winds out of my sails.

What's more--and this is the crux of the issue for me--I met people in the military who were from little postage-stamp towns where the only people who knew that the place existed were the folks who lived there, the postal service and the military recruiters. One woman in my unit, her nickname was Tennessee (and the first woman I kissed, incidentally), was from such a town. Joining the Army was her way to get out--to get an education, to see a bit of the world, to give herself a *chance* to have a skill she could levy into a job when she got out so that she could move someplace where being queer wasn't likely to get her killed. (This was the middle 80's, a very different America)

When I was kicked out of the Army for being queer (although my commanding officer called in a favor so that's not what my discharge papers say) I ended up moving to the Bay Area and came out. Once DADT was passed (to my horror, Clinton screwed that up) and I found myself having this exact same discussion in groups of my Queer Nation and Lesbian Avenger cohorts, I thought about Tennessee. The struggle for gays and lesbians to be able to serve in the military is about people like Tenn, who needed a chance out. Not some chance out in some utopian anarchist dream that isn't coming true as long as we are homo sapiens sapiens with our peculiar evolutionary history but in a foreseeable future. She needs that chance *today* when she's not got the grades or perhaps the money to go to school out of state, isn't going to follow the captain of the football team to university, and is just looking for some way to get herself started in the world.

I find it ironic that people who allegedly proclaim to love the working-class so much are so quick to look down on them for making rational, good choices from *within their own context*.

RIP Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy died at 77 from brain cancer. While conservatives may very well be dancing on the streets (or, more likely, there will be the predictable false claims that he was universally loved) or laughing along with Limbaugh, as a die-hard progressive who grew up in a family for which the Kennedy name was spoken in reference, I will be mourning. He was a great liberal champion--of labor and of health-care. At this point, I would like to see President Obama tell the Dems in both the house and the senate to go back, start the health-care reform bill over from scratch, and pass the bill that Kennedy would have wanted to see pass. That would functionally be Medicare-for-all (or at least all who want it).

I’m rather tired of the Democratic party pussy-footing about this trying to figure out which way to go. Write a truly liberal health-care reform package, understanding that with the possible exception of Snowe and Collins of Maine, it is vanishingly improbable that the President will get any Republican votes. So if you know that no matter what you do, with the exception of doing nothing, that the GOP is going to vote ‘no’ why even bother pretending that they’ll behave differently? Kennedy, who has worked around these yahoos since before I was born, understood this. I wish more Democrats in Congress understood it as well as he did.