1. Roy Cohn’s Ghost
I’ve been thinking about Barack Obama and Roy Cohn a lot lately. No, our 44th president has nothing in common with the Joseph McCarthy henchman and Studio 54 habitué. Rather I’m recalling a speech made by the Cohn created by Tony Kushner in his play Angels in America. It appears in the scene where Cohn’s doctor tells him he’s dying of AIDS — a fact refuses to accept because AIDS is a disease that “homosexuals get” and by his lights he’s not one of them. Why? “Homosexuals,” he tells the doctor “are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout.”
I know precisely what Kushner’s Cohn is talking about. I was born in 1947 in New York City, and raised there. I “came out” in high school in the early 60’s and became an activist shortly after the Stonewall riots — a rebellion against police intimidation and Mafia exploitation that jump-started the modern gay rights movement. This riot was undertaken by “men who know nobody and who nobody knows” — street people living on the margins of Greenwich Village bohemia. Some of them joined the Gay Activists Alliance as I did. And for years these street people and their newly found lower middle-class allies (the bulwark of the organization) we tried to get a “pissant antidiscrimination bill” through city hall — ‘mainstream” politicians and the Catholic Church standing in our way at every step. In fact G.A.A. was long gone and I had left New York for Los Angeles before such a bill was finally passed. That’s because thanks to the effort of those “men who know nobody and who nobody knows” middle and upper class gays and lesbians had finally found the courage to live honest lives, thus making urban anti-discrimination status de rigeur. Its these middle and upper class types who dominate the LBGT organizations that exist today. Clearly they “know people” and people “know them,“ but their clout is nonexistant as they have no intention of disturbing the status quo, and no interest in anyone outside of their class.
Needless to say this didn’t disturb the street people, or gay bohemians of any stripe. Not wanting any part of the “mainstream” to begin with we were happy to be left to our own devices — until AIDS came rampaging though, dragging the entire problem of health care with it. And that’s the paradox of la vie gay. In the immortal words of Coppola’s congenitally straight Michael Corleone, “Just when I think I’m out they pull me back in!
On June 16 of this year Barack Obama, under pressure from poor PR moves that set gay and lesbian internet sites ablaze with anger, offered the crumbs of exceedingly limited “benefits” to the “partners” of gay and lesbian Federal employees. This was because an important Democratic party fund-raiser planned by gays and lesbians of means was coming up and many of said monetarily endowed same-sexers were sending their regrets. It went on anyway, but it’s clear that a class right had opened wide up in the LGBT community.
“This Presidential Memorandum is just a start,” Obama said at the signing ceremony. “Unfortunately, my Administration is not authorized by existing Federal law to provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. That’s why I stand by my long-standing commitment to work with Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. It’s discriminatory, it interferes with States’ rights, and it’s time we overturned it.”
Very pretty words, but when it comes to actions about same-sex marriage to quote the President himself, “God is in the mix.” This rather startling statement, indicating both a hostility to the long-established principle of separation between Church and State, and a disbelief that marriages between opposite-gendered atheists are valid. (Dear Mr. President — Opposite-gendered atheists can legally marry and have been doing so for eons.)
Is the President confused — or simply clever. For while marriages are commonly performed by religious authorities they’re not exclusively executed by them — as any duly empowered Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas can tell you. And that’s because marriage is a contract issued by the state. Whatever the church may feel about it is of no legal concern — though it constantly acts otherwise. Obama with his “mix” (add God and stir?) is obviously more than happy to go along with it.
Such rhetorical mendacity has been driven home all the more in a statement Obama made after conferring with a group of Roman Catholic clergy in preparation for meeting the Pope. “For the gay and lesbian community in this country, I think it’s clear that they feel victimized in fairly powerful ways and they’re often hurt by not just certain teachings of the Catholic Church, but the Christian faith generally. And as a Christian, I’m constantly wrestling with my faith and my solicitude and regard and concern for gays and lesbians.”
In other words Obama doesn’t recognize any actual victimization, just the “feeling” of being victimized that “they“ have. Act like you want “them” to “feel better” — by throwing a cocktail party for their “leaders” at the White House — and everything will be OK. Doesn’t that show “tolerance”? And “tolerance” is all that the despised can expect. Or as Pennsylvania State Senator John Eichelberger says “We’re allowing them to exist.”
Eichelberger is a Republican. Obama is a Democrat. And the only difference between them is the latter’s ability to look the despised right in the eye (as he did soon-to-be-shit-canned Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach) and lie to them. For as Kushner’s Cohen says he has no compelling reason to act otherwise. “Nobody knows” our name.
Hey — maybe we should start a riot.
2. Hitler He’s Not
If you’ve been following the latest reports from Washington then you know that President Obama is addressing Congress this Wednesday, detailing his much attacked “Health Care” bill in heretofore unheard detail. Needless to say this is great news for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and all the other neo-fascist hysterics of the Republican party. Through image and sound bites they will surely the President’s speech with that of Adolph Hitler in Triumph of the Will – thus parsing once and for all the “Obama is Hitler” meme trotted out incessantly this summer. Quite a spectacle those “Town Hall“ scream-fests — replete with roiling “Teabaggers,” husterical “Birthers,” and unhinged fans of Minnesota state representative Michelle Bachman who recently declared “What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass.”
Put down the razor blade, Michelle. It’s become painfully obvious that President Obama’s much-heralded “reform” efforts will have no more affect than his White House Beerfest with Henry Louis Gates and the policeman who so brusquely arrested him settled race relations, or the cocktail party he threw for gay and lesbian leaders silenced their calls for repealing the “Defense of Marriage Act” and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Signing a Bill that promises to “reform Health Care” — yet declines to do so — will make for a nice photo op. Perhaps our Bartender in Chief will top it off with a glasses of champagne. Forget the town hall tsunamis, the real story is back stage in quieter climes where the insurance companies and “Big Phrama” have every assurance that they got what they paid for with campaign contributions to both President Obama and both houses of congress. The “Public Option” — a weak sister to the “Single Payer” system we actually need — and every other Western democracy enjoys — is “off the table” Consequently the status quo will be maintained — with a few pathetic “coop alternatives” for a fig leaf. America’s position as 38th in health care world wide — just above Slovina — is secure.
I learned that startling piece of numerical information from, as they say in Harry Potter, “He Who Must Not Be Named” — Michael Moore. The wide-bodied, baseball-cap-wearing leftie troublemaker’s 2007 documentary Sicko outlined in considerable detail precisely how health care is actually administered in Canada, Great Britain and France as compared to the U.S. where — according to actual congressional testimony by a former insurance company worker — bonuses are paid to employees who are successful in denying coverage or claims.
True Moore overreached with his showboating trip to Cuba — where a 9/11 volunteer who had been denied care for respiratory problems found the inhaler she was being charged $240 a month for available for a nickel. Far more to the point was a passage he found on Nixon’s famous secretly-recorded White House tapes where the then-president speaks with excited approval of the fact that in America health care is “for profit!” And profit is what the “Health Care Industry” will make from what the President will propose.
No, ladies and gentleman, town hall crazies be damned, Barack Obama is no Adolph Hitler.
He’s Dick Nixon.