Thursday, June 22, 2006

This just in....Bush hates gays

A lot of interesting things in the new issue of Rolling Stone. The political story is "The Politics of Fear", about Bush's shameless gay bashing in an attempt to boost his poll numbers and rouse his base of conservative fundies. Now this is nothing new, and everything in the article has been reported piecemeal elsewhere, but it's often instructive to see everything in one place, if only to get a handle on how bad things really are.

It's obvious to everyone that Bush's touting of the anti-gay marriage amendment - a sudden emergency in year six of his presidency - is transparent ploy.
"He's some kind of demagogue without any core values whatsoever...His only dominant value is expediency. He's only doing this because he's losing what core support he had, and anyone with half a brain can see it. He's shameless."

Were those Democratic talking points? A raging Hollywood liberal? No, that was Fred Phelps, right-wing America's prophet of hate, the guy who pickets funerals of people, including straight people, because he hates gays so much. If there's going to be gay bashing, he's got his own bat, and he'll bring an extra one for you. Now if you can't get this guy to show up to your gay bashing party, you're doing something very very wrong. Nobody's falling for this one.
A friend of the family told Newsweek that the president's decision was "purely political. I don't think he gives a shit about it."

Even Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of the Vice President, is pissed off. Welcome aboard. Finally.
"I think one of the reasons you're seeing so much sturm und drang from the conservatives is that they know that they're losing the debate," says Dan Savage, a national political columnist who chronicled his experience as a gay father in The Kid. "The polls on gay people, gay marriage and gay adoption track more and more favorably with every passing year. Republicans want to lock in their bigotry now, while they have what they perceive to be a majority. But you can't have Rosie on The View and Elton John packing Mom and Pop in at Caesars Palace and gay people all over television, and then have these politicians run out there with a straight face and say that 'gay and lesbian relationships are a threat to the family.' We are winning in the culture -- which is why we'll ultimately win the political war."

While I think Savage is essentially correct, I worry about putting too much faith in eventual historic vindication. Most people think history is nothing but progress, technological, cultural, social, a one way arrow pointing towards the future. But things can backslide; battles and rights can be lost. The sad failure of Reconstruction led to a hundred years of Jim Crow. While things eventually improved, I don't think we should wait a hundred years again.

The issue also contains a fascinating portrait of James Brown by Jonathan Lethem, novelist of The Fortress of Solitude. Lethem portrays him as a Greek god, striding through life in a way that seems beyond life, a figure equally capable of casual acts of genius and causal acts of astonishing pettiness. He seems utterly in control of everything while at the same time completely unaware of his surroundings, like an Alzheimer's patient.
For my part as a witness, if I could convey only one thing about James Brown it would be this: James Brown is, like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, a man unstuck in time. He's a time traveler, but unlike the HG Wells-ian variety, he lacks any control over his migrations in time, which also seem to be circumscribed to the period of his own allotted lifespan. Indeed, it may be the case that James Brown is often confused as to what moment in time he occupies at any given moment...James Brown began browsing through the decades ahead -- Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and perhaps even into the Nineties -- and saw, or, more correctly, heard, the future of music. This, if my theory is correct, explains the stubbornly revolutionary cast of his musical efforts from that time on, the way he single-handedly seemed to be trying to impart an epiphany to which only he had easy access, an epiphany to do with rhythm, and with the kinetic possibilities inherent but to that point barely noticed in the R&B and soul music around him...This time-traveler theory would best explain what is hardest to explain about James Brown, especially to younger listeners who live so entirely in a sonic world of James Brown's creation: that he made it all sound this way. That it sounded different before him...We all dwell in the world James Brown saw so completely before we came along into it; James Brown, in turn, hasn't totally joined us here in the future he made...that may be because for him it was essentially occurring to him for the first time, or, rather, that there is no first time: All his moments are one. James Brown, in this view, is always conceiving the idea of being James Brown, as if nobody, including himself, had thought of it until just now. At any given moment James Brown is presently reinventing funk.

He also paints a vivid portrait of the world around Brown, of his hangers on and his band, musicians of astonishing talent who have to show other, lesser bands like the Black Eyed Peas how to play. Yet their talents are frustrated by Brown, afraid to put their full talent on display in case they incur the wrath of Brown's pettiness. They've taken to cutting tracks in the off hours behind Brown's back, which they eagerly play for Lethem, like he's a downed fighter pilot learning the secret workings of the French resistance. At first I thought that the band would suffer repercussions for having their secret sessions become public knowledge, but in the odd, self-centered world of James Brown, he's probably already forgotten he was interviewed by some guy from Rolling Stone, or if he remembers, he'll probably have his valet give him the highlights.

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