Tag Archives: iowa caucuses

Thoughts on that woman who wouldn’t vote for Pete Buttigieg because he’s gay

 

I can’t stop thinking about this viral video of an Iowa voter asking to change her vote after she discovered Pete Buttigieg is gay. My first thought was “where the hell has this woman been?” The fact that Pete Buttigieg is gay has been plastered everywhere. Hell, I’ve written about Pete’s sexuality and what his historic run means to me as a gay man at least three different times. My second thought was “I hope every single person who says Pete isn’t gay enough sees this and realizes that if he’s gay enough to experience homophobia he’s gay enough for them to shut up about it.” Then, my third thought was “I bet they’d say ‘see, that woman didn’t even know Pete is gay!’ as proof that he’s just a straight-acting poser who isn’t gay enough.”

That video bothered me. That woman’s homophobia is something I’m familiar with. As a gay teen coming of age in eastern Kentucky, I experienced my fair share of that. When I ran for class president my senior year there were people who wouldn’t vote for me because I’m gay. I had more than one person—friends, classmates, family members, a teacher—tell me I’m going to hell and will burn for eternity. They all insisted they said it out of love. Maybe they did. It still felt a lot like hate, though.

That video inspired me too, though. Nikki van den Heever is the woman being credited on Twitter as the precinct captain who calmly, patiently, and thoughtfully tried to explain to our bigoted friend why Pete’s sexuality doesn’t matter. She was articulate and compassionate—both towards Pete and towards the woman who didn’t want to vote for a gay man. It brought to mind another woman, Crystal O’Connor, from Buttigieg’s home state of Indiana. You might remember her as one of the owners of Memories Pizza, a small family business in Walkerton which became the center of the 2015 Indiana RFRA controversy when O’Connor said she wouldn’t cater pizzas to a gay wedding.

That’s a homophobic opinion, to be sure, but something about the way the O’Connors were treated has always bothered me. For one, why were they even asked? Who in general wants pizza at a wedding? Not gay people, I’ll tell you that. (Okay, maybe I would, but I really like pizza.) And did it really further the cause of gay rights to publicly humiliate and cancel them for expressing an opinion when asked? The vitriolic reaction they received has always troubled me, but my concerns are mitigated by the fact they made bank off the controversy, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in a GoFundMe campaign. I guess homophobia pays well.

I much prefer the way van den Heever handled the caucusgoer. She kept her cool, explained her position, didn’t belittle or condescend, and contained a situation which could have gotten ugly. She expressed respect for the woman’s right to hold a different opinion without ever actually saying she respected the opinion—because respecting the right to be homophobic is one thing, but respecting homophobia is quite another.

From what I’ve seen, no one has doxed our homophobic friend. No one has sent her death threats. No one has threatened to ruin her business. Of course, no one has raised close to a million for her either, so maybe she feels like the loser here. I would.

I can’t get that woman out of my head though. She seemed so ordinary, like the type of woman you’d meet at a rummage sale or chat to in line at the grocery store. She wasn’t a foaming-at-the-mouth homophobe ready to go out and bash a gay. She was your grandma, or your auntie, or you. A nice Midwestern woman who just happens to not like gay people.

It’s not justifying homophobia. Thinking of that woman, though, and thinking of Memories Pizza, and thinking about all the people in my life who have felt emboldened to condemn me to Hell for daring to love another man, I keep thinking about how nice they were. How well-intentioned. How they genuinely thought they were the good guys, that they were doing the right thing. When the religious right talks about “deeply held beliefs” vis-à-vis opposing gay rights, they’re not blowing smoke up your ass. They really do believe in the righteousness of their cause.

That’s both reassuring and concerning. They don’t think they’re being hateful, which counts for something, or at least is better than intending to be hateful. But on the other hand, how many people out there are so convinced they are right that they would be willing to refuse to sell pizza to a gay couple or refuse to vote for a gay candidate. I know the answer. Most gay people know the answer.

Which brings me back to the “Pete’s not gay enough” crowd. Pete’s clearly gay enough to have a homophobic Iowan refuse to support him. He’s gay enough to where, if he held Chasten’s hand as he walked down a rural road he might here homophobic slurs. He’s gay enough to have felt the suffocating pressure of life in the closet. He’s gay enough to know the liberation that comes from leaving it.

I’m a Christian who is gay. I’d like to sit down with that woman and have a conversation. I doubt I’d change her mind, but I might at least be able to convince her that voting for a gay man isn’t a mortal sin. Orthodox religious people are here and they’re not going anywhere. Gay people are here and we’re not going anywhere. The country is plenty big for both of us, if we can just establish a baseline of respect.

I don’t need every evangelical to believe I am fine the way God made me; my value isn’t tied up in what Intolerant in Iowa thinks, but is derived from my own self-worth and my God. I do need them to accept that I have a right to exist in the public life of this country, though. Similarly, as much as we’d like to stamp out these homophobic attitudes, gay people need to accept that we’re not going to win over everybody. Some people are just stubbornly prejudiced, though they wouldn’t consider themselves prejudiced at all. They really do feel that strongly. Browbeating them into submission isn’t a long-term solution.

Mayor Pete himself is running a campaign on bringing the country together and overcoming differences of opinion. He would probably be hurt by what that woman said, just as any gay man would be—more, maybe, since she’s saying it about him—but having read Shortest Way Home (in which Mayor Pete briefly writes about Memories Pizza), I don’t think he’d want us attacking her or her faith. (Not that anyone I’ve seen has. I’m just making a point.)

Still, I wonder if that woman knows any gay people. She probably does, though she might not know she does. I wonder what they think seeing her doggedly decide Pete Buttigieg isn’t worthy of being president after learning he is gay? I feel bad for them. I also hope they’ll pull her aside, maybe over a cup of coffee, and come out to her (if they haven’t already). I hope they’ll share a little of their struggle and listen as she shares a little of hers. Studies show tolerance and acceptance of gay people increases if you know gay people. Maybe she just needs a little call-in. SI mean, she’s participating in the Democratic caucus, so she’s clearly not a lost cause.

It hurts me that a woman who thought Pete was the candidate for her changed his mind just because she found out he’s gay. That speaks to the level of homophobia still present in much of this country, a homophobia many gay people experience on a daily basis. We’ve come a long way since I came out in 2001, but we’ve still got further to go. I’m heartened, though, to think that Pete Buttigieg might have won the Iowa caucus. If he didn’t win, he did very, very well. Love trumps hate, and Iowans have shown that just because one homophobic woman won’t back Pete because he’s gay, for many more people it isn’t an issue. That’s encouraging. We should hold on to that.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Low voter turnout in Iowa should concern Democrats

Picture it: Iowa, 2008. On a cold winter’s night 240,000 cornfed Midwesterners descended on precincts across the state to caucus for their preferred Democratic candidate. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both locked in a ferocious political war for the nomination, and this was the opening skirmish. After eight long years of an unpopular Republican president, Democrats were energized and turned out in record numbers to support their favored candidate.

2020 couldn’t be more different. Turnout has dwindled to 170,000 and we don’t yet have a winner. While much of the Democratic establishment and mainstream media is handwringing over the fact we don’t yet know the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses, we’re ignoring the elephant in the room. In the end, the only result that may matter is that voters didn’t show up like Democrats hoped and needed.

Historically, the Iowa caucuses have a low turnout. There are reasons for this, including issues of accessibility and the fact that American elections generally have low rates of participation. It’s also true that the turnout is predicted to be roughly on par with 2016.

Democrats lost in 2016, though, making the lack of enthusiasm a possible harbinger of doom for our party come November. Bernie Sanders has promised to inspire a new generation of Americans, Pete Buttigieg promised to bring in “future former Republicans,” and nearly every candidate tried to reach out to people who feel left behind. Yet exit polls suggest a dip in first-time voters, indicating that candidates have failed to bring new recruits into the Democratic fold.

That’s a problem. Democrats need to attract disaffected Republicans, remorseful Trump voters, young people (whom election after election shows are apathetic about voting) and energize Democratic voters to actually show up at the polls. Iowa isn’t a perfect mirror of Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—but it’s close enough that the lack of enthusiasm from the Hawkeye State is troubling. We need to win these states if we hope to defeat Donald Trump, but we can’t win them unless we have a broad coalition of new and returning Democratic voters—people who sat out the 2016 election and people who voted for Trump but regret it.

All of this is compounded, of course, by the fact that we don’t know who won Iowa. Both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg last night gave speeches which sounded like victory speeches but weren’t really victory speeches. That’s all they were, though—speeches. We have a crowded field of candidates, so perhaps the enthusiasm gap between 2008 and 2020 is simply that voters are spoiled for choice and opted to let others winnow the field. Maybe, as the field narrows, enthusiasm and momentum will shift to one candidate and we’ll see the excitement and passion we saw the last time we elected a first-term Democrat to the White House.

I’m not holding my breath, though, because I remember the 2016 primary. Not the Democratic one—though I remember that, too—but the Republican primary. Some 16 candidates fought out a bitter contest for the GOP nomination, yet there was one—a spray-tanned former reality tv star—who consistently led the polls. He didn’t win Iowa, but the enthusiasm around him was palpable, and it carried him to the White House.

I’m not saying Democrats need our own Donald Trump—no one needs another Donald Trump, or for that matter, the original. But we need someone who excites people like Donald Trump excites people—except, you know, excites them for good reasons and not for racist reasons. We need someone who makes the farmer in Iowa or the autoworker in Michigan or the waitress in Wisconsin say “she says what I’m thinking” or “he tells it like it is.” I’m not talking just about attracting Trump voters here, but about energizing Democrats in Milwaukee and Philadelphia and Dayton who stayed home in 2016. We need someone who makes them believe their lives can be better, who makes them feel like their voices are not only heard but are important.

We don’t yet have that candidate.

We can’t win with 2016 levels of enthusiasm, and we can’t win with 2016 turnout. While candidates and party officials lament the shitshow that was the Iowa Caucuses, they ought to be less concerned with who won than who didn’t show up. If we can’t attract new and returning voters to our party, we’ve already lost.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

How I went from endorsing Jeremy Corbyn to voting for Hillary Clinton

Hillary_Clinton_April_2015

Image: Mike Davidson/Hillary for America

I love two countries. America, where I was born, and Britain, where I will die. I desperately want to see both succeed as fair, equitable, and socialist countries. There are people I love in both countries who are hurting. Cuts to benefits, the high cost of healthcare, and stagnant wages are all making life a living hell for the working classes.

When, in August of last year, I endorsed Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in a column for the Gay UK Magazine, I did so saying he had “all the electability and relevance of a Womble.” (Are you asking what a Womble is? Exactly.) Still, he was the best of an underwhelming lot, and the most anti-austerity of the bunch. So I tepidly threw support behind him.

I couldn’t imagine the overwhelming mandate that Jeremy would win. Nobody could. Registered supporters, sure. Unions, probably. But even Labour Party members voted overwhelmingly for him, something I—and no other pundit, so far as I know—predicted. Jeremy captured a zeitgeist that I felt well swept up in, myself: young urban socialists, disenchanted by Tory Austerity and Blairite “modernisation.” Many of us were young enough not to remember the bitter disputes of the 1980s, and those of us who weren’t largely fell into the camp that left (or was expelled, depending on whom you ask) by Neil Kinnock. We are angry, and we are right to be so.

But over the past few months, since Jeremy won the leadership race, I’ve seen Labour’s electoral chances nosedive. Labour is nine points down from the Tories in the latest YouGov poll. Jeremy, who we elected on an anti-austerity platform which, on the issues anyway, is largely supported by the British people, has utterly failed to turn the momentum of his campaign into any sort of tangible strategy. Instead of kitchen table issues, he’s focused on unilateral nuclear disarmament (something British voters don’t support), withdrawing from NATO (something else the British voters don’t support), and blundered on questions such as whether he’d shoot to kill a terrorist (I bloody well hope he would). No, not all of this is his fault—the media has been jarringly and unabashedly biased against him and miscreants from within the Parliamentary Labour Party, led by Simon Danczuk have been undermining his leadership since before he was elected. But the fact remains that as party leader, responsibility ultimately falls to Jeremy Corbyn, whose mismanagement thus far indicates he may be a leader in name only.

Two things have influenced my change of heart. One is this brilliant BBC documentary from the 1990s about the Labour Party in the 1980s. I’m a scholar of 1980s Britain, and I knew well how tumultuous the decade had been for the party. But hearing it from the people who lived it, speaking 20 years ago when power was within reach, and juxtaposing that to now when power is so far from us was eye-opening. We are repeating the past, and unless something changes, we will be damned in 2020 as we were in 1983.

Another is this blog by Jade Azim of the Young Fabians, widely circulated last November and succinctly titled “Sod It.” Jade, like a great many of us, was quite fed up with the Parliamentary Labour Party and, for that matter, the Twitter Labour Party, ripping into one another instead of the Tories. Unlike a great many of us, Jade had the guts to actually say something. It’s a poignant read about the disillusionment of a working class girl who became involved in politics to make changes that actually meant something. While champagne socialists natter on about Trident and defend Russia from any critique (looking at you, Seamus Milne), working class families like mine are worried about paying the rent, accessing our GP, and making sure our disability benefits—which we depend on to survive—aren’t cut by Iain Duncan Smith or a Republican-controlled Congress.

The gist of Jade’s blog can be summed up in one sentence: “give me a Blairite government over a Tory one any day. Call it ‘Red’ Tory, it’s still not bloody Tory.” Or, in other words, we have to work with the world as it is, not the world as we’d like it to be. The litmus test for politicians must be whether they deliver results, not whether they’re ideologically pure.

Which brings me to Iowa.

I can’t lie and say I haven’t long been a Hillary Clinton supporter. Those who know me know I campaigned for her in 2008. But my politics have shifted decidedly left since then, when I was still supporting the Conservative Party in the UK, and Bernie Sanders—like Jeremy Corbyn—has been a breath of fresh air. A solid candidate with democratic socialist (though not traditional socialist) credentials, he has struck a chord with the populist, left-wing contingent of the Democratic Party. Not since 2004 have I been this undecided this close to the Iowa caucuses, but with his proposals for a single-payer healthcare system (something I’ve long championed) and a return to Glass-Steagall in order to regulate Wall Street, I began to feel the Bern.

But then, Hillary Clinton said something in the last Democratic debate that struck a chord, and made me think of Jeremy Corbyn. She called herself a “pragmatic progressive,” something she’s driven home before. In a debate last year, she said “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive that likes to get things done.” She promises not what’s fantastic, but what’s feasible.

And on this, she has a point. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Republicans are likely to retain both houses of Congress this November. That means that whoever is elected president will have to work with Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the conservative movement which has hijacked our democracy. This isn’t me being Chicken Little; it’s a fact. And as Clinton pointed out in the debate, President Obama couldn’t get a public/single-payer option through with the Affordable Care Act, and he had a majority in both houses. The fact is the American people, or at least their representatives, don’t have an appetite for it. I don’t like it any more than Bernie Sanders does, but alas, we have to work with what we’ve got.

I didn’t get into politics to debate abstract socialist orthodoxy. I got into it to help the people from whence I came, people like my friends back in Leslie County, Kentucky who are losing health insurance thanks to Governor Matt Bevan. I’d love a single-payer system in America, but it’s not going to happen. At least not now. We’re still fighting just to make sure everyone can access affordable, let alone free-at-the-point-of-access, healthcare. For my friends and family back home, Bernie Sanders talks a big game. But what about now? What can be done now? Fighting for a single-payer system sounds great until you’re dying of black lung and can’t afford your treatment. Taking principled stands on wealth redistribution are noble until a Republican president and his Republican-controlled congress cuts your Social Security Disability Insurance. Then what?

Hillary is far from perfect. She hasn’t always been great on LGBT rights, but then, neither has Bernie Sanders. And as I wrote for the Daily Dot, Hillary’s stance on the Black Lives Matter movement needs some serious work.  Clinton’s record on incarceration and her links to the for-profit-prison industry are deeply troubling, and Sanders has been likewise tone deaf at times. Neither candidate has done enough to embrace this cause.

But Clinton has proven her muster on a range of issues, from reproductive justice to gun control. Her foreign policy credentials are impeccable. Yes, she voted for the Iraq war and Bernie Sanders didn’t. But one vote thirteen years ago is just not enough to prove you’re ready to be commander-in-chief. (After all, Jeremy Corbyn voted against Iraq too yet wants to negotiate a new Falklands settlement with Argentina.) Hillary has shown a deep understanding of the threats facing our country, from Daesh (ISIS) to Russia to the situation in the Taiwan Strait. She has a deep understanding of the realities of geopolitics and a longstanding commitment to human rights throughout the world. Nobody can deny this. The Republicans are still trying to make a meal out of the bones of our lost heroes in Benghazi, but her performance at the Congressional hearings prove her ability to neutralise their bogus attacks.

My heart lies with Bernie. God, would I love a Sanders presidency. But if I have to choose between a progressive reality and a socialist dream, I’m going with the former. I followed my heart with endorsing Jeremy Corbyn, and the party is in shambles. Labour has four years to course-correct, though. The Democrats have nine months. We have a straightforward choice: ideology or electability, principle or pragmatism. In both cases, I choose the latter.

That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.