The power players in Washington should have their own reality show. They know how to distort truth, and how to create scandalous episodes that inspire water-cooler conversation. For the past six years, we’ve had one installment after another of Republican asshattery, and last November the Democrats benefited from all this derring-do, reclaiming the House and the Senate by the votes of a population expecting them to remedy this course of corruption. Suddenly, it seemed like this trashy, ugly reality show could produce a happy ending after all. But we might have hoped too soon.
While many of us were enjoying spring break on some beautiful beach, an unsettling sea change was occurring in Washington. On March 13, House Democrats took a timorous step back from their original position against a war with Iran, by removing language from a $124.1 billion spending bill that attempted to prevent President Bush from taking unauthorized military action against that country. Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) replied lamely that the language was not strong enough to achieve its purpose and would only hobble the Democrats’ stride on the House floor toward finding common ground on Iraq.
“You’ve got the legislative world and then you have the real world,” Obey said. “In the real world, if Bush tried to attack Iran without coming to Congress for approval, I think you would really have people start to make big noise about everything from impeachment to a total cutoff.”
Wait, what? Since when did President Bush care what anyone else thought? If Obey had listened to himself — or if this story had received any real traction — both he and the public would realize how illogical such a response is. He’s basically saying the Democrats don’t have the muscle to get their way on Iran, but not to worry because the president will have to ask for their permission, even though they didn’t have the muscle to compel his asking in the first place. I swear, only the Democrats could come up with this!
I never expected them to rise above expectations, but how about just meeting expectations? Most of the country is anti-war at the moment, so the safest position these cowards could take would be this one. But in a staring contest with our myopic president, the Democrats blinked, and the country lost again.
Yet it seems odd that this story was not widely covered by the major news organizations. Only the Wall Street Journal really focused on it. Why is this? Well, it was the same day that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others responded to the homophobic comments of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who called homosexuality “immoral” and equated it with adultery.
The spending-bill story was swept under the rug, as only Obey’s less-ubiquitous voice really acknowledged it, and the louder voices clamored after the Big Gay Story. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama chimed in, offering dithering, calculated responses to cull support from the gay community without alienating its adversaries. I am troubled because it seems as if the Democrats buried the retreat from their Iran position under a more provocative news cycle. They knew that a spending bill would never be as sexy as a Big Gay Story, and so the script was written and the dog-and-pony show began. Don’t forget to cast your votes at the end of the show, people! Text “1” for Democrats!
The inherent paradox of “reality television” is best delineated by the Heisenberg principle: The act of observing a phenomenon alters its behavior. The Republicans tried to avert scrutiny the past few years by skirting the issues and distracting the public with errant nonsense like Terry Schiavo (for whom Congress actually passed a resolution!), a sudden fear of Mexicans pouring over our borders, and color-coding terrorist alerts. Now scrutiny is on the Democrats, and they too have proved that exploiting social issues is par for the course. Even reality television needs editing and a script.
During the 2004 presidential elections, the Republicans cleverly made gay marriage a wedge issue to retain the evangelical voting bloc needed for another George W. Bush victory. And even if Democrats like Pelosi are defending rather than demonizing gays, isn’t using the gay issue in this manipulative way equally reprehensible? The wolf may come to your house dressed as Grandma, but it’s still the wolf.
I’m not suggesting that gay issues are nonsense, but let’s keep some perspective here. An old general in a homophobic institution makes a homophobic statement. Did we really expect any better from him? “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is an offensive, antiquated policy, but we can make that point and still not allow a complete obfuscating of reality. Why did this become the only “important” news story of the day?
And even more disgusting is the fact that the Democrats will only take up the gay cause when it is politically salient for them to do so. They have never adequately defended gay rights — most Democrats won’t even come out fully in support of gay marriage. After John Kerry lost in 2004, Bill Clinton actually said Kerry should have come out more strongly against gay marriage. The Democrats treat the gay community like a cheap first date, expecting them to put out after dinner. It’s time for gays to say no thanks, I’m saving myself for marriage.
Think of it like an episode of “Survivor”: The Democrat forms secret alliances with the gay guy and the homophobe, riding their support throughout the competition and not acknowledging either alliance publicly. At the end, the Democrat wins final immunity and takes the homophobe to the final two, tossing the gay guy off the island and expecting him to come back and vote for the Democrat to win the million-dollar prize because hey, it’s either a Democrat or a homophobe. And when it comes to voting, you still have to keep it real.
Akash Maharaj is a junior in Morse College.