Friday, October 10, 2014

peeling off the label

Susana Martínez is running for re-election as governor of New Mexico.  As you can probably deduce from her name, she is both a woman and Hispanic.

Her opponent, Gary King, a middle-aged white guy, is running against her.  Recently, he lowered his rhetorical gun and fired off a salvo that is evocative of almost everything that is wrong in American politics.  "Susana Martínez does not have a Latino heart."  I suspect he was not accusing her of having an organ transplant.

Of course, what is wrong with American politics is all of those adjectives in those two paragraphs.  Americans are no longer referred to as individuals -- as a woman or as a gay or as latino.  We are now lumped into categories devoid of any personal characteristics.  Adjectives have now Germanized into collective nouns.  And we are plumped into our respective ticky-tack boxes with the other nervous passengers as Woman, Gay, Latino.

The trend is not new.  I can recall when Jeane Kirkpatrick was considering a run for the presidency.  Gloria Steinem  called her a "female impersonator." 

Now, that was witty.  But the charge was evident.  Because you do not think exactly as we do, you cannot call yourself a woman. 

Naomi Wolf didn't bother with the wit (or the fact that Jeane was a mother), when she pulled out her scalpel and declared Kirkpatrick was "a woman without a uterus."  Ouch!

When President Bush was considering a justice to replace Thurgood Marshall on the supreme court, a reporter asked Justice Marshall whether he should be replaced by a black.  Marshall responded that it should not be just a black man, but the right black man.  In other words, a black who thought Black.  He meant, not Clarence Thomas.

At least that was a bit more subtle than Congressman Bennie Thompson, who had no trouble in slicing a thick slab of racial slurs by calling Justice Clarence Thomas an "Uncle Tom."

Now, it is perfectly fine for people to disagree about policy.  That is the very essence of a liberal democracy.  But it is not OK to reduce policy discussions to school yard name-calling.

Rush Limbaugh was wrong to call Sandra Fluke a slut.  Just as Congressman Thompson, Gloria Steinem, and Naomi Wolf should have been ashamed of themselves for their grade school mouths.  Just as Gary King should be -- but won't.

John O'Sullivan recently wrote an interesting article about the various definitions of the term I used two paragraphs ago: "liberal democracy."

Liberalism is, of course, a protean set of ideas.  Its three most common meanings are (1) the broad tradition of constitutional liberty of freedoms of speech, inquiry, association, etc.; (2) classical liberalism (a.k.a. neoliberalism), or a broad reliance on free-market economics; and (3) "progressive" state intervention, initially in economic policy, more recently in educational and social mores, sometimes enforced by cultural coercion, a.k.a. "political correctness."
It is an interesting division.  And one that came up during a lunch conversation.  I had with a friend who I mistakenly referred to as "liberal."  She corrected me.  "I am not one of those fascist brie-eaters who live their lives lock-step with National Public Radio."

I understood her distinction instinctively -- even though I doubt O'Sullivan would appreciate it.  She reminded me of something that happened about two years ago in the highlands of Mexico. 

A friend told me that two of her gay friends, and acquaintances of mine, were going to a political party meeting.  When I asked her which party, she looked at me as if horns had just grown out of my head.  "Democrat, of course.  What else?"  When I talked to the guys and told them the story, their reaction was the same.

I am still a bit confused.  When I was growing up, the only homosexual men (that is the term we used in my youth) I knew were registered Republicans -- some of them very active in the party.  I am not certain that it is written anywhere that a gay man has to be a Democrat and that the only issues a gay man can bother himself with are gay issues. 

But I may be missing the point.  I suspect that some people would claim that a gay man who is not a Democrat is not Gay.

When I ran my theory past a gay friend who is very active in Republican politics and is personally ambivalent toward same-sex marriage, he told me: "When I decided to live as a gay man, I had no intention of returning to a bourgeois life of marriage and children.  It doesn't interest me.  If it interests other people, they can try to persuade me."

And I guess that is what liberal democracies are all about.  As individuals, we cannot be reduced to a list of Capitalized Nouns that will capture who we are.  We simply have to learn to live within our individual lives and stop the dehumanizing reductionism.

That is my response. 

Susana Martínez's response was far more gracious.  Maybe because she is a woman -- but there I go again. 

We certainly have different views on the issues.  But I know what's in my heart and I won't question what is in his.
With a heart like that, I wish she could be my governor.

No comments: