The longest presidential election season in history is over. The campaign that gave us Joe the Plumber, Ralph Nader (again), Sarah Palin, Ron Paul and lipstick on a pig also gave us our most inspiring leader since John F. Kennedy. Historians will look back at the election of Barack Obama as a watershed event, similar to the elections of Thomas Jefferson (1800), Andrew Jackson (1828) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1932). Obama’s victory may be attributed to a brilliant campaign carried out by him and on his behalf, along with a collapsing economy and a near-total repudiation of George W. Bush and his eight year reign. Though John McCain is not responsible for much of the Bush Administration’s crimes, follies and misfortunes, he linked himself to the president’s policies at a time when they were becoming increasingly unpopular.
The Bush Administration, with its “my way or the highway” foreign policy, preemptive wars, disregard for civil liberties and the environment, its use of water boarding and other torture devices and creation of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, has earned the enmity of the entire world. Since this election, for the first time since 2001, Americans are once again liked and respected by others. Though Barack Obama is far from perfect, and is likely to disappoint us the way that Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did before, his administration will be a welcome change from the Bush regime. Thanks to Obama, black and brown boys and girls will dare to dream high; even to achieve the highest post in the land. And while women were not yet able to break the glass ceiling, the example of Hillary Clinton – and, yes, Sarah Palin – will inspire other women to reach for the stars.
Not everything came out right in the elections of 2008. The biggest disappointment was the passage of constitutional amendments in Arizona, California and Florida that banned same-sex marriage in those states. Combined with passage of an amendment in Arkansas that will prohibit the adoption of children by “unmarried” (mostly Gay) couples, these initiatives gave social conservatives a degree of satisfaction that was denied to them on the presidential level. Though the Arizona and Florida amendments were bad enough, the California initiative (Proposition 8) was especially cruel, for it deprived Lesbian and Gay couples of a right to marry that they had already enjoyed. In approving Proposition 8, Californians also voted against their own self interest, for the Gay marriage industry brought much-needed revenue to the Golden State.
Too much has been written about Black support for the anti-Gay amendments, in California and elsewhere. Some white Gays complained that African-Americans, themselves longtime victims of discrimination, voted to deprive the rights of others on the same day that they helped elect one of their own. But it is unfair (if not racist) to blame the “black vote” for our recent defeats. Proposition 8 would have passed even if every African-American voter had stayed at home on November 4. The majorities of all colors who voted for Proposition 8 and the other anti-GLBT initiatives shared a conservative religious and cultural bent. Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons of all races joined forces to “protect” the institution of marriage from the specter of same-sex unions. On the other hand, liberal Jews, Unitarians and freethinkers voted against these measures.
That the GLBT community is disappointed, shocked and angry by recent electoral losses is no surprise, and I share those emotions. But we have gone through electoral ups and downs before, and always managed to come through. On a happier note, Connecticut voters failed to call for a constitutional convention that might have repealed that state’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage. And Jared Polis, a Democrat for Colorado, was elected to Congress, joining Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Barney Frank of Massachusetts. So is 2008's electoral glass half empty or half full? The glass is more than half full with the promise of an Obama presidency (and a more progressive Congress), and less than half empty with the passage of homophobic state initiatives. But when you think about it, all things considered, our glass is really half full, even in California. This is not the end, and we will carry on. We must not become despondent by our electoral defeats, nor complacent by Obama’s great victory. Instead, we must continue to work as hard as we can, in good times and bad, in order to make our world a better place to live in.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author and gay activist who lives in Florida, “a great state with horrible rulers.” Send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.