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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Inauguration Day Madman

February 12, 2009


"You might find... you get what you need"

The Rolling Stones song says, "You can't always get what you want." While it disappoints, it offers up a consolation prize and informs you that, "You get what you need." So it goes with our new President, Congress and a new culture that has come to Washington, DC.

If the far Right was ticked off at President George W. Bush for not trying to passing a man-woman no-gay-marriage bill or an anti-choice amendment to the Constitution, the far Left is sure to be just as ticked of at President Barack Obama for not doing their bidding as they want done.

And there is much bidding to be done.

It is, however, the responsibility of the President to serve all of the people as best as he sees fit. It's also his responsibility to make sure that legislation gets passed. Most of the time, passing legislation through Congress - even if that Congress held a majority in the House (which it does) and a filibuster proof super-majority in the Senate (which it does not) - becomes a series of compromises. Sometimes those compromises are made along party lines; sometimes they're made due to geographic concerns; but when there is a bill to be turned into a law, they will be made.

Such is the case with President Obama's Economic Stimulus and Recovery Act.

Obama has been both conciliatory and firm in his effort to get this act done. While the defection of a few Democrats; and the refusal by every Republican in the House might not have shown the kind of bi-partisan support The President wanted, the opposite could be - and should be - said of the Senate where three Republicans crossed party lines to support the upper house's pared-down version of the bill.

Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (both of Maine) along with Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania) brokered a deal they could live with and gave the President a 61-vote majority. (60 votes were necessary.) And now, with the House and Senate scheduled to meet and form a bill both sides can live with, President Obama will be able to put pen to paper and begin the promise with a long and painful recovery from the bad decisions of the past eight years.

And it will all be done with the help of a few GOP Senators and, quite possibly, without the help of even one Republican in the House.

The GOP Senators who stepped up and should get noticed had to play it cautious. Senator Specter said that he held his nose while he voted "Yea"; Senator Snowe took the more cautious approach and said she voted with the Democrats on condition that she would cash in on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's promise that she would be an integral part of the two-House compromise bill; and Senator Collins took credit with much of the Senate bill's successful negotiations and even mentioned Democratic Senator Bill Nelson (Nebraska) as her holdout negotiating partner. Their web sites' comments tell their stories:

"This is obviously a very difficult vote in view of the large deficit and national debt which we have. But I believe it is indispensible that strong action be taken because the serious economic condition - with millions of jobs lost and millions of people being foreclosed from their houses - poses a threat that cannot be ignored,"

"After speaking with the Vice President and the Majority Leader Monday morning, I’ve been assured that I’ll be directly involved in the Senate-House conference committee process. This point was reiterated to me during my meeting this afternoon with Leader Reid,"

"This deal represents a victory for the American people. We came together to tackle the most immediate problem facing the nation,"

Each one of the Republican Senators crossed the aisle stating the reasons that would keep them in good standing with their constituency and secretly knowing that it - the Economic Stimulus and Recovery Act - was necessary. But those on the Right who didn't for the bill - those who should have voted for the bill - need to explain why. The usual crap about "proven tax cuts" and "tax and spend Liberals" won't cut it this time.

Those on the Right who represent themselves as "Mavericks" (sound familiar Senator McCain?) and "Independent thinkers" (Lindsey Graham) have shown themselves to be nothing of the sort.

Senator Judd Gregg (REPUBLICAN-NH) also needs to answer some questions. After contacting the Obama administration stating his desire to be the next Commerce Secretary, Gregg not only didn't vote for the Economic Stimulus and Recovery Act bill presented to him, he withdrew his name from the post he sought. Gregg cited his disagreement wit President Obama over the act as the reason he dropped out of the running, but it appears that the real reason was the removal of the responsibilities of our nation's Census - the next one coming in 2010 - from the Commerce Department. It seems as if President Obama didn't want a Republican heading the new Census which determines, in part, how US Congressional districts are re-districted; and Gregg didn't see a reason to take the job without that perk.

President Obama faces the problems any President with a real mandate - and a real majority - should face: appeasing his friends while offering up the olive branch of Peace to his political enemies. In Obama's case, the former feels as if they deserve the spoils of the victory they helped deliver; and the latter needs to feel relevant.

You can't please all of the people all of the time, I guess, but sometimes, you do get what you need.

-Noah Greenberg

Q on the Tube: Still Not Okay to Be Gay
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2009 PGN, Inc.

When Katy Perry sang “I Kissed a Girl (and I Liked It)” she might have been singing TV’s latest anthem. Women are kissing all over the tube these days. So why is it still not okay to be gay?

Attractive women kissing has always been titillating to straight men and therefore acceptable in a way gay men kissing–posing a threat to straight male sexuality–has not.

Certain factors must apply, of course: the women must be pretty, sexy and preferably young, although a hot cougar works, too. And the women must at least give the implication of bisexuality (that is, open to men joining in the fun) and not definitively lesbian (closed to men).

For two weeks ABC has been promoting the upcoming wedding of Bianca and Reese on “All My Children.” The promo ads don’t just run during daytime, they also run during prime time–ABC wants to grab lots of viewers for the event. The scenes in the promos are of Bianca and Reese walking down the aisle together, Bianca and Reese kissing and–wait for it–Reese and Bianca’s brother-in-law, Zach, kissing.

What’s the message here? Tune in to the first legal lesbian wedding in TV history and see one of the brides-to-be kiss her soon-to-be brother-in-law?

For months CBS was working the gay storyline between Luke and Noah on “As the World Turns.” Yet at no point was there promotion of Luke and Noah kissing or Luke and Noah deciding it was finally time to have sex. Even though Noah has a bisexual past, just like Reese, while Luke and Bianca are totally queer, the same rules do not apply with men. No one want to see “that.”

Because it’s still not okay to be gay on TV.

There have been gay scenes between men on prime time, notably on “The Wire,” “The Shield,” “Prison Break” and “ER.” There were gay rape scenes on “The Shield” and on “Oz.” Interestingly, all the actual sex scenes involved men of color–black and Latino, and more than half of the characters were criminals.

On “Brothers & Sisters” and “Desperate Housewives” there are established middle-class white gay couples. But these men are as de-sexualized as can be. Occasionally Kevin and Scotty kiss on “Brothers & Sisters,” and they are legally married, but there’s no lovemaking, no sexual intimacy. Yet the other members of the cast are regularly hopping in and out of bed together.

On “Desperate Housewives” one gay character is allegedly a former gay male porn star. But he couldn’t be less sexual in his on-screen scenes, even though he’s young and about to marry his boyfriend. Viewers are told he’s sexual, but never see it. But the same show has shown inter-generational heterosexual sex between several couples with no apparent problem.

The desexualizing of the gay characters is so marked, that on the Feb. 8 episode of “Brothers & Sisters,” one of the gay men, Saul, even complains that he’s being made into a stereotype in the Walker family.

The gay characters on “Ugly Betty” are also derided for their queeniness–and they are stereotypical in that they work in the fashion industry. Even when gay men and lesbians are writing these characters, as is the case on the ABC shows, there’s still a clear line that is never crossed–the sex barrier.

TV likes to be on the cutting edge and push the envelope. Few series have pushed more envelopes than “The Shield” and “The Wire.” Yet even on those ground-breaking shows, the gay characters had a serious dark side that marginalized them as real gay people with real gay lives.

Meanwhile, lesbian characters on the tube have been, with the exception of those on “The L Word,” nearly always in transition between being gay and being straight.
Few, with the exception of Ellen and Bianca, have been lesbians throughout their tenure on their respective shows. And Ellen’s character didn’t come out as a lesbian on her sit-com until the show had been on for several seasons. Bianca has yet to be involved with another woman who wasn’t bisexual.

ABC is mum on whether Bianca and Reese will actually make it down the aisle without a hitch, so too speak. The two women seem to love each other and be committed to each other and they have a daughter together, but there is a definite conflict for Reese over Zach. Whether that’s about her need for a father figure, the intensity of their friendship or his attraction to her is unclear.

What is clear is how new queer relationships really are to TV and how unsure the footing still is. If a storyline is front-burner as the Bianca/Reese or Luke/Noah storylines have been, are straight viewers turned off by the amount of time devoted to queer characters? Does this necessitate a level of conflict that requires drawing in straight characters–like Zach or Brian in the Luke/Noah arc? That seems to be the question writers, producers and networks/cable seem to be asking.

The question LGBT viewers have for the networks/cable is this: When will prime time and day time accept men being openly gay and intimate with each other as part of the panoply of sexuality on TV dramas? When will they accept lesbians who aren’t going to be straight in the next episode? When will it truly be okay to be gay on the tube, rather than just a phase a character is going through on the road to “real”–that is straight–sexuality?

In response to, "Single Payer Universal Health Care," Dorothy Schwartz writes:

Great essay on health care. Thanks.

Victoria Brownworth responds to "why there will never be single payer health care": Alas, Noah Greenberg is totally correct about health care. And Denise must not have looked at the Senate's eviscerated stimulus bill, or she would not be so eager to have the House Democrats sign onto it. I suggest people check out this comparison of the two versions of the bill. ( http://www.propublica.org/special/the-stimulus-bills-house-vs.-senate) You will note it explains what we got in exchange for those three Republican votes in the Senate we keep hearing about ad nauseum as if they are somehow more than the 56 Democratic and two Independent votes. The short version is this: eviscerated health care and eviscerated education. It only took three Republicans to rob Americans of services they desperately need.

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-Noah Greenberg