Otherwise Excellent Frank Rich Column Marred By Prop 8 Zombie Meme

In today's New York Times, Frank Rich mars an otherwise-excellent column (“You’re Likable Enough, Gay People“) by repeating what Pam Spaulding has labelled “the meme that will not die” (or zombie meme) that Black Californians voted 70% for Proposition 8, thus enabling the heterosexual supremacist initiative to be enacted.

Rich commits his faux pas in an absolutely amazing column in which he captures the root of the somewhat hysterical response by progressives and LGBTs to the Rick Warren inauguration invocation invitation (say that three times fast!) while he simultaneously updates his readers on the latest flashpoints in the kulturkampf (Warren being attacked by both pro-LGBT and anti-LGBT people, evangelical leader who was demoted for supporting civil unions, Focus on the Family laying off workers after massive donations in support of Proposition 8 and Sean Penn in Milk) and quotes three openly LGBT people (U.S. Representative Barney Frank, Bishop Gene Robinson and Harvard professor Timothy McCarthy) smacking Obama. It is a masterful column and deserves to be read in its entirety. Do that now, then come back and read my commentary on it!


As we saw during primary season, our president-elect is not free of his own brand of hubris and arrogance, and sometimes it comes before a fall: “You’re likable enough, Hillary” was the prelude to his defeat in New Hampshire. He has hit this same note again by assigning the invocation at his inauguration to the Rev. Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch preacher who has likened committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and “an older guy marrying a child.”

Bestowing this honor on Warren was a conscious — and glib — decision by Obama to spend political capital. It was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong. […] There’s no reason why Obama shouldn’t return the favor by inviting him to Washington. But there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope.

You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”


Unlike Bush, Obama has been the vocal advocate of gay civil rights he claims to be. It is over the top to assert, as a gay writer at Time did, that the president-elect is “a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot.” Much more to the point is the astute criticism leveled by the gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who, in dissenting from the Warren choice, said of Obama, “I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” That’s a polite way of describing the Obama cockiness. It will take more than the force of the new president’s personality and eloquence to turn our nation into the United States of America he and we all want it to be.


The success of Proposition 8 in California was a serious shock to gay Americans and to all the rest of us who believe that all marriages should be equal under the law. The roles played by African-Americans (who voted 70 percent in favor of Proposition 8) and by white Mormons (who were accused of bankrolling the anti-same-sex-marriage campaign) only added to the morning-after recriminations. And that was in blue California. In Arkansas, voters went so far as to approve a measure forbidding gay couples to adopt.

There is comparable anger and fear on the right. David Brody, a political correspondent with the Christian Broadcasting Network, was flooded with e-mails from religious conservatives chastising Warren for accepting the invitation to the inaugural. They vilified Obama as “pro-death” and worse because of his support for abortion rights. Stoking this rage, no doubt, is the dawning realization that the old religious right is crumbling — in part because Warren’s new generation of leaders departs from the Falwell-Robertson brand of zealots who have had a stranglehold on the G.O.P.

It’s a sign of the old establishment’s panic that the Rev. Richard Cizik, known for his leadership in addressing global warming, was pushed out of his executive post at the National Association of Evangelicals this month. Cizik’s sin was to tell Terry Gross of NPR that he was starting to shift in favor of civil unions for gay couples. Cizik’s ouster won’t halt the new wave he represents. As he also told Gross, young evangelicals care less and less about the old wedge issues and aren’t as likely to base their votes on them.

On gay rights in particular, polls show that young evangelicals are moving in Cizik’s (and the country’s) direction and away from what John McCain once rightly called “the agents of intolerance.” It’s not a coincidence that Dobson’s Focus on the Family, which spent more than $500,000 promoting Proposition 8, has now had to lay off 20 percent of its work force in Colorado Springs. But we’re not there yet. Warren’s defamation of gay people illustrates why, as does our president-elect’s rationalization of it. When Obama defends Warren’s words by calling them an example of the “wide range of viewpoints” in a “diverse and noisy and opinionated” America, he is being too cute by half. He knows full well that a “viewpoint” defaming any minority group by linking it to sexual crimes like pedophilia is unacceptable.

It is even more toxic in a year when that group has been marginalized and stripped of its rights by ballot initiatives fomenting precisely such fears. “You’ve got to give them hope” was the refrain of the pioneering 1970s gay politician Harvey Milk, so stunningly brought back to life by Sean Penn on screen this winter. Milk reminds us that hope has to mean action, not just words.


McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.” And “for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.” Amen. Here’s to humility and equanimity everywhere in America, starting at the top, as we negotiate the fierce rapids of change awaiting us in the New Year.

First, I want to thank Allah for what a supportive ally LGBT people have in Frank Rich! Not only does he get to the crux of the issues with this column, but he gives three prominent openly gay men access to the Sunday New York Times op-ed page to promote their sound-bites and all three deliver. Kudos!

(Were any of you surprised or disappointed by my reference to “Allah” in the above sentence? That's my tongue-in-cheek reference to a deity for no apparent reason (similar to what we will shortly be seeing repeatedly as award season heats up in the beginning of the year) that I hope highlights the incongruity of faith. Why should Robinson and Warren be praying to the same God? Is that the same God that Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush and Barack Obama are praying to? Reading I Don't Believe In Atheists over the last week has tipped me further along the agnostic-atheist spectrum.)

However, my main focus of this post is trying to (again) plunge a rhetorical stake through the heart of the undead idea that Black people were responsible for Proposition 8 passing. Rich links to a November 6th New York Times article “Bans In 3 States on Gay Marriage” written by Jesse McKinley and Laurie Goodstein which promulgates the dubious exit poll number of 70 percent African American support for Proposition 8. MadProfessah has seen multiple documents which reference other polls that put this number as closer to 56-58% African American support, which although still higher than any other ethnic or racial group in California is clearly not in the asshole range of Republicans or weekly churchgoers (80+% Proposition 8 support). Rich ends his piece calling for “humility and equanimity” that will be required of all of us in order to enact the “change we can believe in” next year.

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