Archive for election

Obama’s Support for Gay Marriage, My Political Cynicism, and the Global Context

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

The Interwebs and news outlets are aflame:  the U.S. president has publicly expressed his personal support for gay marriage rights.  In an election year.  It’s undeniably a historic move, and certainly a very positive thing for human rights in the U.S. and around the world.


“For me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married”.  It seems like such a simple little sentence, doesn’t it?  He speaks only for himself, personally, not for his administration as a whole — and it’s taken years for this sentence to be expressed, despite increasing public sentiment in favour of same-sex marriage and various moves by his administration that have indicated a pro-gay-rights stance.

The timing of this announcement is, undeniably, a carefully planned political move.  With his country gearing up for what is sure to be a hard-fought election, in the wake of 4 years of a seriously struggling economy, there are a lot of issues to be hotly debated in the coming months.  By finally, after years of avoiding the issue and claims that his views are “evolving” when pressed, coming down firmly on one side of this debate?  He’s choosing his battleground, and simultaneously locking down a large portion of the queer vote (a vote he was likely to get anyways, because honestly, even without voicing his opinion like this?  He was clearly the more queer-friendly candidate).

In fact, the real reasons behind this announcement likely have little to do with gay rights at all.  A common criticism of Obama, throughout his term as president, has been that he is too indecisive, too willing to compromise and seek a mythical centrist “common ground”, rather than sticking to his guns and defending issues with passion (something that, for all I cannot stand Republican politics?  They’ve got that whole “passion” thing locked down).  This announcement takes some of the wind out of Republican sails — no longer can they accuse him of dithering and avoiding the issue — while not really giving them anything new to complain about.  Obama’s administration has been taking queer-positive steps all along, from the striking down of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, to Hilary Clinton’s historic “gay rights are human rights” speech.  Those who oppose those rights?  Have plenty to complain about already, and have been doing so all along.  Obama’s announcement gives them very little in the way of new material — especially as it was phrased as a personal statement, and not one of policy.  In addition, this move draws greater attention to the important but ultimately sideline issue of gay rights, pulling criticism away from more difficult topics such as the economy and the Iraq war.

It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ platform, when it is released, will contain any references to gay rights or gay marriage, although I’m honestly pretty hopeful that it will.

Cynicism about politics aside, the amount of attention that this announcement is drawing?  Is such a good thing.  In many parts of the world, we’re approaching a sort of “tipping point” when it comes to gay rights.  Because for all the hard fighting that’s been done, for all the fights won and rights achieved, we’re still at a place where it’s socially acceptable, in many circles, to be against gay rights — or even against the very concept of being gay.  People will speak openly, publicly, about their hatred and bigotry, and not be ostracized by society for doing so.  So while killing someone for their gender orientation or beating a person half to death for their sexual orientation is now considered a hate crime and rightly deplored, expressing hatred through words or less brutally violent actions is still (somehow) okay.

Obviously this is a situation that isn’t going to last.  A generation from now, we’ll look back on the hateful things that were said and done, and wonder how we ever tolerated such awfulness.  But we haven’t quite tipped that balance, yet.  The more virulently angry the bigots become, though?  The more people are going to lose their taste for such dialogue, and the more people are going to start saying “shut up, that’s not acceptable”.  By giving more prominence to gay marriage rights as an election issue, Obama is — intentionally or not — going to inflame the hate-spewers to a point that just might be far enough to tip things over and lead us into a future where saying “I’m against being gay” is no longer an acceptable statement to make.

I do fear the backlash from this, however.  In stirring the pot, Obama is making life more dangerous and difficult for queer people everywhere, for a little while at least.  It’s inevitable — it’s a step we must go through to get to where we need to go — but it’s still scary.  I know I’ll be walking a little more carefully while the ensuing shitstorm blows up, and encouraging my queer friends to do the same:  we haven’t seen the last of the hatred, and as the homophobes see their comfortable world disappearing, violence is likely to ensue.

On the upside, though, I can hope that this may be one of the final nails in the coffin of Canadian conservatives’ attempts to re-visit the gay marriage issue — Canadians have already fought this fight, and seeing it brought up again in this past year has been an emotional struggle for all of us.


The Shifting Landscape of Canadian Politics

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

So as most of you are probably aware, there was a national election here in Canada yesterday.  The votes have been tallied, and the results are in — and in many ways, they’re surprising, but not as much as it might seem on the surface.

The Conservative majority is, sadly, not one of those surprises.  Despite the fact that Stephen Harper’s minority government over the past few years has been by turns ineffectual and out of touch with reality, the official opposition (the Liberal party) have been even more so.  While in 2008 the rallying cry in many areas was “anything but Conservative”, it seems that in 2011 most people have completely lost faith in Ignatieff’s Liberals, and would prefer to go with “anything but Liberal”.  And from my perspective, it seems a logical conclusion:  just what, exactly, have the Liberals done in the last few years?  They couldn’t even manage to successfully arrange for an election to be called — it took months, and a proroguing of parliament (one conveniently arranged to put things off to a more convenient time for the Tories, by the way), before they could finally get Harper to go to the Governor General and get the ball rolling.

Taken in that context, the biggest surprise of the day — the unprecedented number of seats gained by the NDP and the mantle of Official Opposition falling to Layton’s party — is less of a surprise.  For many years in this country, politics has been a 2-party game.  Vote for the puppet on the left, or the puppet on the right, or throw your vote away on one of those pathetic little smiley-faces-drawn-on-fingers in the back.  It has only been very recently that this familiar game has started to change, as the NDP under Layton’s leadership has gained strength and, slowly but surely, become a serious force to be reckoned with.  Long-time Grits who no longer wanted to vote red were faced with the choice of going Tory or going elsewhere, and a lot of them went orange instead.

Another factor here has been, undeniably, the backbiting nature of Tory and Grit campaigning in the post-Chretien years.  With Jean Chretien’s departure, the last vestiges of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau mystique were pretty much stripped away from a party that had gone largely unchallenged for a good solid decade, and thus had little practice in the art of serious campaigning.  Followed up by Martin, Dion, and Ignatieff, the party has struggled to find a new identity in the changing social climate of the 21st century.  In the absence of a solid party line, most Grits have gone to simply attacking the Tories, relying on the illusion of a two-party system and assuming that if people can be convinced not to vote Conservative, they’ll by extension have to vote Liberal.  The Tories have, of course, been more than happy to respond in kind, launching concerted smear campaigns against each of the Liberal leaders in turn and, one by one, forcing their resignation (and thus assuring that the party’s confused, directionless state is continued for as long as possible).  Liberal support has slipped, their party coffers have emptied, and by the time this election was finally called, they lacked the drive or the money to put up a decent fight.  Meanwhile, of course, the Conservative juggernaut was able to grab a larger slice of the media-control pie, spreading anti-Liberal (and, specifically, anti-Ignatieff) sentiment rampantly across the country.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Quebec politics has had a huge part to play this year, as well.  Almost 16 years after the second Quebec referendum ended in a nail-bitingly close 50.56% “no”, the world has changed drastically.  Post 9/11, with ongoing conflict in the middle east and a major economic collapse that we are still recovering from, Quebec is much less eager to declare itself separate from the rest of Canada.  Striking out on your own is, after all, a lot harder when you’ve got no money and there are scary people with guns and bombs out there.  The tendency, in unsure times, is to hunker down and protect what you’ve got.  This added up to major losses for the Bloc, and in most cases those seats were grabbed up by the up-and-coming NDP.

The economic crisis has, of course, been one of the major factors in determining where people’s shifting alignments have landed.  Traditionally, the Tories have been seen as the party of the rich — the upper classes, as well as private industry and business, tend to be well-served by Tory policy.  The Liberals, on the other hand, have traditionally been the party of the middle class, pushing for family-friendly policies, health care, education and the like.  To continue this, the NDP could be argued to be the party of the working class, and especially of the working poor, as their policies tend to fall further to the left on the political spectrum, favoring social assistance programs, workers’ rights, equity for women and minorities, and advocating higher taxes for the rich and for corporations in order to pay for increased social programs.  The economic crisis of the past few years has served to severely sharpen the rich/poor divide in this country (and around the world), and so it’s not surprising that the party of the middle class has lost some support:  the middle class itself is shrinking as more and more people fall below that invisible “poverty line”, while corporations and the rich are raking in cash from tax breaks and ill-advised “economic stimulus” programs.

Overall, I’d have to say I’m saddened by the results (I was sincerely hoping that the Tories wouldn’t gain a majority), but still somewhat hopeful (the NDP got my vote this year, and has been my personal party of choice since I became old enough to vote, so I’m glad to see them gaining so much ground across the nation).  While the prospect of Stephen Harper’s policies going unchecked is quite scary to me (as a non-heterosexual, twenty-something female working in an arts field and living below the povery line, there’s nothing about the Conservative party that supports my life or interests), I’m hoping that Layton’s NDP will manage to be a strong, balancing voice, keeping the most vehemently right-wing of Harper’s policies from gaining enough support to make it into law and reality.  While I would have been happier to see more red instead of blue on that political map, I can’t help but acknowledge the fact that the Liberals have been no help whatsoever in their role as Official Opposition during the last parliament, and I couldn’t have hoped for them to be any more effective during this one.  Until their internal struggles get sorted out, the Grits are pretty much impotent, and the need for a strong Opposition party has been a factor in many of the Tory follies of the past couple of years.  And, of course, I’m even more hopeful that four years from now (or sooner, should Harper truly fuck up and cause a non-confidence vote to occur) the NDP will gain even more strength, now that they’ve proven themselves to be a viable alternative to voting red or blue.

Expect to see some “stupid Harper!” rants in the coming months, though — I fully anticipate that this majority government will be a major barrier to finding stable, paid work in the arts, and will probably result in some steps backwards for womans equality, gay rights, and environmental policy in this country.  Sigh.  Guess I’ll be doing shitty contract work for a while longer, now.