New York, NY, 2:14PM….Just as the most valuable gifts often come in small packages, most great legislative achievements arrive in surprisingly banal ways.
In the United States Senate, this usually takes the form of a vote to end a filibuster. Like ‘haberdashery’ and ‘snorkel’, filibuster is far too glorious a word to be wasted on the narrow definition with which it is stuck. A filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver employed by a minority of legislators to extend debate on a matter before the Senate ad infinitum. In the past, this meant that Senators read from telephone directories or, less grippingly still, the Old Testament for days on end until their colleagues would finally relent and move on to less controversial terrain. There is method to this madness, however: the filibuster was designed to prevent tyranny by the majority — a noble objective before politicians began defiling it. These days, the threat of a filibuster is enough to force the Senate to move on to other matters. A 60-40 vote is required to override a filibuster, a tough ask when you consider how difficult it is to get just two Senators to agree on anything beyond this sentence:
“I should be President”.
This is why Obama finds it difficult to pass his agenda through the US Senate, despite the Democratic Party’s apparently comfortable 59-41 majority.
Just 30 minutes from now, the US Senate will vote to end a filibuster on the Defence Appropriation Bill which includes provision to end the ban on openly gays and lesbians from serving in the US military. The policy this vote aims to bring to a merciful end is widely known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or by it’s tricky acronym, DADT.
DADT is a Clinton-era compromise which states that gay and lesbian soldiers can serve in the military as long as they lie about their sexual orientation when asked. In return, military commanders are forbidden from asking direct questions about a soldier’s sexual orientation, but presumably were free to enquire after musical theater recommendations, seek decorating tips or, in the case of suspected lesbians, request help to assemble Ikea furniture.
Even by the low standards of modern politics, especially in the US, DADT is astonishingly morally bankrupt. An outright ban on gays and lesbians, while wrong, is at least forthright in it’s bigotry. The enforced deception at the heart of DADT is despicable beyond mere discrimination; it is cynical, knowing and vile. According to opinion polls, most Americans have turned against the policy, but Obama and the Congress have delayed action. They clearly want to avoid the anti-gay with military command who — there’s no point beating about the bush –frighten the shit out of them. There are many reasonable-sounding political explanations for this, but it seems obvious to me that the kind of person who forges a successful military career is very much like the kind of person who deals out wedgies to, and steals lunch money from, the sortvof person who runs for School Council, and later Congress and the Presidency on the Democratic ticket. (Republican politicians, on other hand, arise from the ranks of those more aroused by, than scared of, schoolyard bullies for whom they gladly surrender lunch).
New York, NY, 4:31PM…The vote to end the filibuster went down 53-47. Not a single Republican — not even the two Senators from ultra-liberal Maine — voted to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Hardly a shock, really. There is an election in a few weeks and the gay lobby is hardly at the front of the queue when it comes to political pandering (I think we are just behind cycling enthusiasts and ahead of Scientologists).
The pair I encountered yesterday will be toasting today’s defeat for gay rights. But it is slim pickings these days for conservatives who yearn for a return to homophobic days of yore when gay-bashing was not merely legal but compulsory. Americans, even those who live in the shopping mall car-park that occupies that country’s giant midriff, have worked out that the failure to discriminate against gay people has not materially made them worse off and is unlikely to do so in the future.
This distinguishes the gay lobby from the other civil rights movements to emerge from the 1960’s. While gay men may pose a threat to masculine identity, we have no interest per se in the systematic overthrow of white male power (in fact, it turns many of us on). Instead, our collective aspiration can be captured in a single word: acceptance. For blacks and women, acceptance alone is a necessary but insufficient precondition to social and economic equality; for us, it is the magic ingredient from which flows openness, pride, freedom and the possibility of happiness. And — bonus! –acceptance grows exponentially as more and more people know more and more gay and lesbian people, because old prejudices can never withstand reality. A big fat gay virtuous cycle that no filibuster can possibly stall — let alone reverse.
*I wouldn’t dare speak for our lesbian sisters
Fred Nile is a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council — a state senator, if you like. He is also a firebrand Christian conservative, scourge of the Sydney Mardi Gras and hater of all things carnal. It will therefore come as no surprise to anyone that he is also a rapacious consumer of Internet porn.
Today’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney reports that the randy Rev. clicked on to porn sites 200,000 times, according a a recent audit by Parliamentary watchdogs. This makes it impossible for Nile to use the “technophobe” defense since even the most stupendous Luddite could not click on 200,000 porn images by mistake.
There are two standard defenses in these cases — blanket denial or the “research” canard. Cutting his losses maybe, or spreading the risk, Nile has opted for both: on the one hand, he says that it is “impossible” that his computer was used so many times to access x-rated images; on the other, he admits that his staff may have used his log-on details to view the occasional porn site as part of their ongoing and appropriate investigation into the depravity sector.
The research angle has been used before — from memory, Pete Townsend of The Who actually managed to convince the authorities that he was telling the truth when he used it to deflect child porn allegations. It strikes me as an especially weak defense. What kind of research could this conceivably be?
The sound of distant chanting, as a large door slams shut with a creak.
Staffer: Your holiness, we have completed the research.
Staffer: It is worse than we thought.
Nile: Go on.
Staffer: It is vile, ungodly. Unspeakable.
Nile: Smooching, my child. Do they portray smooching between the unmarried?
Staffer: Oh, far worse, Your Grace.
Staffer: Oh yes. Much shirtlessness. And bottoms too.
Nile: Wobbly bits!!?? The full array of naughties on display?
Staff: Yes, and more.
Nile: What can you mean, my innocent one?
Staffer: I can say not in English for it shames me!
Nile: In Latin, then, my child.
Staffer: Cunnalingus et fellatio.
Nile: Oh dear God. Bring me my horse. I ride for Parliament!
Internet porn is many (many, many) things, but it is not especially complicated.
So if you believe Fred Nile was surfing porn for science then faith really can move mountains of bullshit.
Students of behavioral psychology are never surprised by these stories. The human tendency to rant and rave against things that, in all honesty, excite us, is as old as time.
This explains why gay-bashers are often immensely conflicted themselves — a perfectly well-adjusted straight boy is far too busy chasing tail to bother bullying benders. It also solves the riddle: why is it always Tory MP’s caught strung up to the ceiling fan by their testicles while dressed as nuns? We are disgusted, in short, by own impulses so we project this revulsion in the public sphere while harboring deep and unspoken desires privately.
The term in psychology for this is Reaction Formation which would also be an excellent name for a barbershop quartet.