Thursday, April 01, 2010

Our "First Gay President"

Oooh, the FRC's Tom McCluskey thinks he can snark:
[I]f it was argued during his two terms in office that Bill Clinton was “our first black President” because of his supposed liberal policies that would benefit African-Americans (though I’m not quite sure what President Clinton did, that he wasn’t forced to do, that would benefit any minority except for Chinese monks with political donations to spend.) With that argument shouldn’t Barack Obama already be our “first gay President” due to his liberal policies pushing the homosexual agenda?

In a massive shocker, McCluskey actually has no idea why President Clinton was referred to as "our first Black President". It wasn't due to his policies, per se. Rather, the phrase originated via Toni Morrison, who commented during the Lewinsky scandal the following:
Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."

Do you see a word about President Clinton's policies? No. It's about two things: one, his demeanor, and two, that Blacks identified with how he was hounded during his Presidency, how his enemies seemed intent on hyper-vigilance towards his sexuality and sexual misconduct, with a persistence that seemed mismatched both to the gravity of his offenses and to the treatment accorded to other public figures. The behavior seemed less about the pursuit of justice, and more about keeping a bright kid who had gotten a bit too uppity down, and that was an experience that Black people nationwide identified with. See also Paul Butler, Starr is to Clinton as Regular Prosecutors are to Blacks, 40 B.C. L. Rev. 705 (1999).

I don't think that Obama is known for having a gay demeanor. I also don't think that the method of opposition towards him is particularly reminiscent of the anti-gay bigotry propagated by, among others, the FRC. But alas, the FRC is little more than a partisan smear-factory with the veneer of religiosity. The odds that they've even had contact with substantial numbers of people outside the far-right's White Christian heterosexual base are rather low.


PG said...

Conservative picks up on phrase without actually understanding it, thus making a fool of himself when he tries to use it for his own purposes?
[falls over in shock]
See also Reagan presidential campaign and the songs "Born in the U.S.A." and "Pink Houses."

Phid said...

First, I think the Toni Morrison quote reveals the full extent of the "politics of victimization" where a victim metaphor intended to gain sympathy is "transferred" across racial lines in the hopes that the sympathy will be a defense in itself, rather than considering underlying problems that led to criticism of the president.

Second, this statement:

"But alas, the FRC is little more than a partisan smear-factory with the veneer of religiosity. The odds that they've even had contact with substantial numbers of people outside the far-right's White Christian heterosexual base are rather low."

...reveals more about the author's leftist ideology than it does about the FRC. Is there any evidence whatsoever about these "odds" that are spoken of?

David Schraub said...

To the first, I'm not sure what the problem is with the argument: that Blacks identified with Clinton because they identified with the excessive treatment he received at the hands of his (largely White) enemies. The Butler piece lays out this argument with considerable sophistication. Disproportionality is an argument that goes to the merits of the treatment of both Clinton and the Black population as a whole.

As for the FRC, what do we know about their proclivities regarding folks outside their White, Christian, heterosexual base? On heterosexuality, we know that Tony Perkins indicated he'd might have refused to serve his country if it meant associating with gay people (and of course, the FRC's major job in life is denigrating and dehumanizing gays and lesbians nationwide).

On race, we also know that the FRC was effusive in its praise of unreconstructed White Supremacist Jesse Helms, and dismissed concerns over a judicial nominee who thought it unreasonable to think "ole nigger" was a racial slur. And Mr. Perkins has addressed White Supremacist groups.

On non-Christian religion groups, the organization is apoplectic when Non-Christians enjoy religious liberties and equality. Such things are only reserved for Christians, I guess.

On general right-wing hackishness, see their alternative support,opposition, support, opposition, and support of judges interceding to overrule the will of the democratic majority (hint: when they like the results it's good, and when they don't, it's "activism"). Or perhaps you can give me a hint on how a hate crimes bill violates the Thirteenth Amendment.

I suppose all of that is consistent with interacting with non-White, non-Christian, non-heterosexuals. But it would make for a really awkward conversation.