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Iceberg Politics

by Libby Post

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. George W. Bush was clearing brush in Crawford while New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

And what were a majority of LGBT activists and bloggers doing while the U.S. Senate stealthfully confirmed anti-gay judge Leslie Southwick to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit? They were throwing rhetorical bombs at Barack Obama for including an ex-gay African-American minister/Grammy award-winning gospel singer who thinks we can be cured in the candidate's "Embrace the Change" gospel tour in South Carolina this weekend.

Now, I know it is important for us to draw a line in the sand and hold candidates responsible when their words don't support their actions.

Although I'm not sure where he stands in the latest go round about trans inclusion in the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Obama supports all of the legislative initiatives important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community except same-sex marriage. Inviting Pastor Donnie McClurkin, who has struggled with his own sexuality and now considers himself cured of being gay, wasn't the brightest move when it comes to my community. It was, however, a smart move for Obama whose goal is to build a base among the more conservative African-American church going community down south.

Political pragmatism outweighed political correctness—a reality of political life that many in the LGBT community can't reckon themselves with.

Unfortunately, our myopic perspective may just leave us with a federal judiciary that will have a much more negative impact on our future than whether or not Donnie McClurkin sings Obama's praises in the south.

The confirmation of Leslie Southwick is just one more notch in the belt of the neo-conservative mission of making a strict constructionist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution the rule rather than the exception.

This effort didn't start with Southwick's nomination. It's been going on for decades. Former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley detailed how well the conservative right has laid a foundation for its political sea change in a March 30, 2005 New York Times op ed piece entitled, A Party Inverted.

Bradley explained that in the 1970's and 80's, the Republican Party and their neo-conservative brethren built a strong base of foundations and think tanks to support their candidates and their socially conservative initiatives. The goal was to change the face of our elected officials from those who represent the people to those who represent their interests—all done with a folksy populism that fooled the electorate into thinking they were voting for the guy or girl next door. The down home, aw shucks, I’m just a regular guy persona of George Bush during the 2000 election was the cynical electoral culmination of this political tom foolery.

An un-winnable war is not the only legacy of W's eight years in the White House. In fact, the Iraq War has served the neo-cons quite well as a cover for their real agenda—turning the nation's judiciary to the right.

This is much more of a threat to LGBT rights than all the ENDA hand wringing and Obama bashing combined.

When I first got involved in LGBT activism, we knew legislative victories would be few and far between. But, our saving grace was that we could always turn to the courts. Based on the Warren Court's interpretation of the Constitution, by and large, they usually did the right thing. Earl Warren's Supreme Court saw the Constitution as a living document—one that needed to be interpreted for the times. Without that Court's foresight, Jim Crow laws would still be in place, schools would still be segregated (unfortunately, some still are) and women would be scouring back alleys for abortionists who would leave them dying on a table.

With conservative jurists like Southwick being confirmed to the federal bench, much of the freedoms we have taken for granted are under threat.

These judges, whose role models are Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts, have reached their judicial heights because we've been out organized. And soon, we may be out our civil rights. These are the folks who don't think the constitution guarantees a right to privacy—the basic tenet of so many of the decisions that speak directly to the lives of LGBT people.

We've been out organized because we're always looking at the short term, always getting angry at our latest savior for not being exactly on cue, always focusing on political purity rather than pragmatism.

Leslie Southwick is just the tip of the iceberg and global warming isn't about to melt the neo-conservative ice cap. And, if we're not careful, we all may be taking a cruise on the Titanic.


Originally published on Friday October 26, 2007.

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