Big money poured hundreds of millions, if not billions, into this year’s presidential election, only to come up with a big fat ’NO SALE’.
The brazen cash blitz came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s scandalous Citizens United decision, a feat of judicial activism that was nothing less than a slap in the face to ordinary Americans who don’t have enough money to be heard in a culture where money, by legal fiat, is "speech."
But speech in and of itself isn’t enough. Sometimes, the message is more important than the word count or the volume or even the size of the wad pulled from deep pockets.
So it went with this election. Bales of bucks went into attack ads and outright lies, but Americans weren’t fooled. They re-elected President Obama and, in so doing, rejected Tea Party extremism, the prospect of Ayn Rand-by-proxy as a Vice President, the right’s homophobic, misogynistic platform, and the very idea that the leadership of our democracy is available to the highest bidder. The American people also reaffirmed its dislike of the idea of a flip-flopping wobblecrat as occupant of the Oval Office, rejecting Mitt Romney just as they rejected John Kerry in did in 2004.
Four years ago, we had an historic election that brought us our first African-American president; it also dealt a hugely disappointing, wounding blow to LGBT Americans when Californians voted to rescind the then-existing right of same-sex families in that state to wed. In the 2012 election, voters put the issue of family parity to bed: Just as historic as Obama’s election in 2008 is the way voters in Minnesota turned back a bid to write anti-gay discrimination into the state’s constitution, only the second time we’ve seen such a victory -- the first time was when voters in Arizona defeated a similar proposition, but that didn’t really count because Arizona’s populace cynically approve it when the ballot initiative, re-worded so as not to harm unmarried straights living in sin, appeared on a subsequent ballot.
Even more historic: For the first time ever, voters approved ballot initiatives that made marriage equality legal, and not just in one state. Three states ushered in marriage equality via ballot: Washington and Maryland, where voters upheld a law passed by the state legislatures, and Maine, where, only three years ago, voters repealed a marriage equality law before it could take effect.
Personally, I hate the idea of putting people’s rights up to a vote, even if we win. But the fact that we did win, after so many years of loss after loss whenever our right to family was left to the heterosexual majority to decide, marks a watershed in our progress toward full equality before the law.
As the Human Rights Campaign’s Chad Griffin told the Washington Post, "It takes away the talking points that anti-marriage activists use day in and day out: that this issue can’t win at the ballot box." As of now, we can win. We did win. We won’t go back.
More evidence that the tide has turned: Voters in Iowa retained state supreme court justice David Wiggins. You might recall that Wiggins was one of the justices who ruled that an anti-gay state law restricting marriage to straight couples violated the Iowa constitution. That finding was unanimous; indeed, it was the only reasonable ruling, given the state constitution’s guarantees of equality before the law. But anti-gay right-wing extremists led a charge against the justices, and three of them were thrown off the bench after losing a retention vote. Three more face retention votes in the future, but the future just got a whole lot brighter. In the long run, an attempt at brute bullying aimed at the nation’s judiciary has failed.
Paul Ryan is now seen as a contender for 2016. He won’t be, unless two things happen: One, he retires his copy of "Atlas Shrugged," and takes a broader view of the American character than seeing it as a simple "I win / You lose" proposition. Two, Ryan and the rest all the rest of the congressional Republicans need to learn the art of compromise.
Tea Party-style crowbar politics has led this nation awfully close to a fiscal cliff that could pull us back into another Great Recession; if that happens, make no mistake but that the same voters who saw through a four-year strategy by Republicans to block prosperity for their own political gain will see through it again. The attempt to starve us into giving the GOP the presidency has backfired, and if the Republicans hope to regain Executive power they are going to need to show that they are capable of statesmanship rather than back-alley thuggery. If Ryan wants the Oval Office, he’s gonna have to grow into it; if it takes a village to raise a pol, then GOP, which constitutes Ryan’s village, had best get cracking on that whole "reaching across the aisle" thing.
It’s also time for the major money wasters like the National Organization for Marriage to reconsider their priorities. If NOM really is a group concerned with "protecting" families, then they might do well to stop attacking them, finally, and start doing something constructive with all those millions of dollars they throw around.
Of course, NOM -- and all such partisan organizations, on both right and left -- are less philanthropic entities than businesses. They manufacture controversy because they have a market for it. The American people have sent a message that they’re no longer buying what NOM has been peddling. Rather than simply re-brand the same old snake oil, it would be better business sense to come up with a product that really works: Something that lives up to the name of protecting marriage instead of curtailing it.
As for the rest of America’s big businesses, and its billionaires, surely they didn’t get so rich and so big by ignoring what their customers want. America is the customer; America has spoken. The customer might always be right, but America has rejected fringe-right policies and platforms. Sometimes the customer is a lot more centrist. Smart businesses will follow.
Meantime, we ordinary folks, even the queer ones, can get back to the business of living, a little more hopeful that the legislative attacks against us and our families are finally, finally starting to let up and, in time, disappear for good.