Friday, October 27, 2006

The Game, Not the Name

How the New Jersey Supreme Court Decision Offers the Queer Community a Way Out of the Marriage Trap — If We’re Willing to Take It


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine

Noncommercial reproduction encouraged if complete and with attribution, (The first three pages, up to the subheading “Marriage’s Heterosexual History,” may be reproduced without the rest if a shorter version is desired.)

On October 25, 2006 the Supreme Court of the state of New Jersey handed down a decision in a same-sex marriage lawsuit that provides the Queer community a potential way out of the political and social trap its leaders have dug themselves into by insisting not only that our relationships be recognized legally but that they be given the name “marriage.” The court ruled unanimously that Gay and Lesbian couples in New Jersey have a right under the state’s constitution to exactly the same legal rights, benefits and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples. The only thing that divided the justices was whether the relationships should be called “marriages.” By a 4-3 vote, the court ruled that Gay and Lesbian couples in New Jersey did not have a constitutional right to the word “marriage” as a legal definition, but they DO have a right to the same legal benefits as married couples.

At first glance, this may seem like a defeat — or at best a qualified victory — for the Queer community. But coming after a long losing streak for the same-sex marriage movement both at the ballot box — where every, repeat EVERY, state whose people have had a chance to vote on whether the term “marriage” should be extended to same-sex couples has overwhelmingly voted it down — and in other courts, it seemed like a breath of fresh air even though it essentially put the marriage equality movement back where it was in 1999, when the Supreme Court of Vermont made the same sort of ruling and the Vermont legislature and then-Governor Howard Dean responded by passing the first civil union law in the United States.

I would argue that the New Jersey court majority has offered the Queer community a compromise position we should eagerly accept. I think Justice Barry Albin, who wrote the majority opinion, is absolutely right when he says that “the traditions, history and conscience of the people of this state” — and, I would add, of the United States in general — preclude any acceptance of the idea that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to the term “marriage.” The entire worldwide history of marriage as an institution, despite the many ways in which it has altered and evolved over the centuries, has been that of a union of opposite-gender partners. The traditions and mores of the United States regarding marriage have also defined it exclusively as a recognition of a relationship between opposite-gender partners. Certain factors built into the social understanding of what “marriage” means in the U.S., including the expectation that the partners will have sex exclusively with each other and that they have at least the physical possibility of bearing a child without outside help, render “marriage” an inaccurate term to apply to same-gender relationships, especially between males.

What’s more, even if it were theoretically possible to imagine a redefinition of “marriage” sufficiently sweeping to render the term applicable to same-sex couples, only a tiny minority of Americans would support such a redefinition. Virtually every poll taken in the U.S. on the same-sex marriage issue shows similar results to these (from the Time/CNN poll taken shortly before the 2004 election): only 25 percent of all Americans support the right of same-sex partners to marry; 37 percent oppose any legal recognition of same-sex relationships at all; and 35 percent oppose same-sex marriage but are willing to support an alternative way of legally recognizing same-sex relationships (domestic partnerships or civil unions) and giving same-sex partners all or some of the rights of married people.

Queer political strategists like to refer to that 35 percent as the “movable middle” in hopes that they can be “moved” into broadening their support for recognizing same-gender relationships into an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Instead, the Queer community’s insistence on using the M-word has moved that “movable middle” solidly into the same camp as the religious Right. The history of so-called “defense of marriage” initiatives on state ballots proves that. EVERY time U.S. voters have been asked to amend their state constitutions to ban legal recognition of same-sex marriages, they have done so by landslide margins. (The closest margin for such a vote was in Oregon in 2004, where the ban on same-sex marriage passed by “only” 12 points, 56 to 44 percent.)

Same-sex marriage has been consistently defeated at the polls regardless of whether or not the overall politics of the state voting on it were “red” or “blue,” regardless of whether it went for a Democrat or a Republican for president or governor, regardless of its reputation for cultural liberalism or traditional values — and, most ominously for the same-sex marriage movement, the initiatives passed whether or not they banned domestic partnership and civil union laws for same-sex couples as well as marriage. This suggests that for that 35 percent in the so-called “movable middle,” preserving marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution is more important than granting Gay and Lesbian couples any legal recognition at all.

It is time for the Queer community to face political and social realities and recognize that in the United States at the dawn of the 21st century same-sex marriage is a political impossibility, and the continued pursuit of it can only do harm to the overall Queer movement in general and provoke backlashes that will leave us with even fewer rights than we have now. It is time for us to acknowledge that the compromise the New Jersey court majority made — the one I call “the game, not the name,” i.e., all the rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage without the actual word — represents the outermost limit of political possibility for the legal recognition of Queer relationships in the United States today. To that end, I would recommend the following as a long-term strategy for relationship rights:

1) The Queer community in the United States must firmly, flatly, finally and irrevocably renounce any demand or aspiration to the legal recognition of its relationships under the name “marriage.”

2) To make that renunciation firm, flat, final and irrevocable, the Queer community should cease opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would write into the U.S. Constitution a definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. Instead, we should lobby to amend the amendment to make sure it allows state legislatures to pass domestic partnership or civil union laws, and allows state courts to construe their own state constitutions to require their legislatures to grant rights to same-sex couples comparable to those of married couples.

3) The Queer community should work with legislators in states likely to be sympathetic to craft domestic-partner and civil-union laws that acknowledge both the important ways in which same-sex relationships resemble heterosexual marriages and the important ways in which they differ. The idea is to craft a parallel institution that would be, not “separate but equal” — as marriage advocates within the Queer community often sneeringly characterize civil unions — but “equal but unique.”

4) As a long-term lobbying strategy, once a critical mass of states has domestic-partner or civil-union laws, the Queer community should begin a campaign to persuade Congress to amend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act to provide that couples whose relationships are legally recognized under domestic-partnership or civil-union laws in their home states should be treated identically to married couples for purposes of federal rights and benefits. Once achieved, this would give functional equality between same-sex and opposite-sex couples under federal law, which absent such a change at the federal level state domestic-partner and civil-union laws cannot do (one of the points same-sex marriage advocates make ad infinitum).

5) The Congressional lobbying campaign should also include a proposal along the lines of the current Permanent Partners Immigration Act, which would allow U.S. citizens residing in a state that has a domestic-partner or civil-union law the right to sponsor a foreign partner on the same basis as a binational married heterosexual couple.

What this strategy seeks to do is offer the American people in general and the “movable middle” (which, despite that term, is IMMOVABLE in its opposition to same-sex marriage by that name) in particular a sort of grand compromise. We give up any claim on the institution of marriage and in return we receive a hunting license to build our relationship rights through the political process (and, where applicable, in state courts) towards the long-term goal of FUNCTIONAL equality through parallel “equal but unique” institutions specifically crafted to recognize our relationships.

Marriage’s Heterosexual History

As Friedrich Engels noted in his 19th century classic The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, marriage as an institution was the product of the change from matrilineal to patrilineal lines of inheritance. Its origins were inherently bound up with the establishment of the patriarchy and the need for a patriarchial society to know with certainty who a particular child’s father is. Since it is women who get pregnant and give birth, it’s obvious who a particular child’s mother is — but, absent some enforcing institution that limits women’s ability to express their sexuality and essentially makes a woman’s body the sexual property of one and only one man, there is no way to be sure enough of the identity of the father to create a system of male-to-male inheritance.

Marriage was created to fulfill that function. From the outset, the defining characteristic of marriage has been that the woman belongs to the man. Her body belongs exclusively to her husband, and she may neither refuse him sexually nor have sex with anyone else. As marriage was originally defined, a woman could only marry one man but a man might marry as many women as he could support financially — which a) in practice made polygamy a luxury for rich males, and b) was indicative of the sexist assumption at the root of marriage as an institution: that it was the responsibility of the husband to support his wife (or wives) financially and the idea of a woman, especially a married woman, living an independent economic existence was unthinkable.

Under marriage as originally defined, upon marriage a woman’s property automatically became her husband’s, to do with as he saw fit. A married woman had no civil or legal rights except those her husband chose to give her. In traditional cultures, women frequently even did not have the choice of whether or not to get married, or to whom; their marital futures were either sold outright or negotiated between their own and their husband’s families. In these and many other ways, traditional marriage strongly resembled human slavery.

One of the ironies of the debate over same-sex marriage is the oft-made claim by same-sex marriage opponents that “the Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman.” Leaving aside the question of whether, and why, the holy book of one specific religious tradition should determine U.S. public policy, the fact is that the Bible does NOT define marriage as between one man and one woman. The Bible defines marriage the way it was traditionally defined in the early “civilizations” that emerged with the rise of patriarchy: as the union of one man and as many women as he could support financially.

The idea that marriage should be MUTUALLY monogamous is a relatively recent change, stemming from 1,600 years ago when Christianity was established as the official state religion in the latter days of the Roman Empire. It was later adopted by Judaism but, significantly, NOT by the third great religion derived from the Abrahamic tradition, Islam. In some Muslim countries, men are still allowed to marry as many women as they can support financially; in others, men are limited to four wives and have to divorce one if they wish to take a fifth. The irony here is that, despite the oft-expressed fear of same-sex marriage opponents that if we allow same-sex couples to marry we will be opening the door to polygamists, in fact the polygamists have a far better claim to marriage on traditional, historical, religious and cultural grounds than we do.

Obviously, marriage as it exists today bears little or no relation to the “traditional” variety described above. Yet what is staggering is how recent most of the reforms are. It was not until the 19th century that the right of people to select their own partners for marriage instead of having those decisions made for them was generally accepted. It was not until the early 20th century that married women finally were allowed to own property in their own names. (Interestingly, Muhammad called for women to have this right 1,400 years before it became standard practice in Christendom, but the Muslim world today lags well behind the Judeo-Christian West on this one.) It was not until the 1940’s that American employers, largely to meet their personpower needs during World War II, started dropping their formal policies of refusing to hire married women. And, most shockingly of all, it was not until the late 1970’s that California’s rape laws were amended so that a married woman no longer had to have sex with her husband any time he wanted to, whether she wanted to or not.

Yet for all the changes in marriage as an institution over the centuries, one aspect has remained constant: it has always been heterosexual. Despite the efforts of Queer historians (most notably the late John Boswell), no one has ever unearthed a society or a major religion that had a long-term tradition of marrying same-gender partners. Nor is there any particular reason why there should be. Until 1865, when the term “homosexual” was coined to describe a mental illness, humans regarded opposite-sex partners as the default position for human sexuality. Same-sex sexual expression was regarded as something one DID, not something one was. Homosexual activity in humans is no doubt as old as the human race itself, but the idea of a homosexual IDENTITY is a relatively new social construct, and one I would regard as irreconcilable with marriage as centuries of history and tradition, albeit reformed, have defined it.

Procreation DOES Matter

One of the most common arguments against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage has to do with procreation. Basic mammalian biology requires the involvement of both male and female to produce offspring. Therefore, a same-sex couple, no matter how emotionally committed they are to each other and no matter how good they may be, potentially or actually, as parents, cannot create children without outside help. Same-sex marriage opponents frequently argue that, because it takes a man and a woman to create a child, that serves as a logical reason to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples only.

Supporters of same-sex marriage reply to this argument in various ways. Sometimes they point out that the law allows any opposite-sex couple who fall within the other basic qualifications (i.e., neither is currently married to someone else, they are not impermissibly closely related by blood, etc.) to marry even though they may be unable, due to age, physical disability or any other biological reason, to procreate. Indeed, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), U.S. law has protected the right of married heterosexuals to choose NOT to procreate and to have access to drugs, barriers and other devices to allow them to have an active sex life while reducing their likelihood of procreating to nearly zero. But the most common argument made by same-sex marriage advocates against the idea that procreation is a rational reason to restrict marriage to heterosexuals is to point out that same-sex couples are already raising children.

There are three ways in which a same-sex couple can be parents. First, they can adopt. Second, if they are both women, either or both of them can be artificially inseminated with sperm from a male donor. Third, and probably the most common, one or both of them can bring to the relationship a child they had already conceived and (if female) born through normal heterosexual means in a previous relationship with an opposite-sex partner before they definitively identified themselves as Gay or Lesbian. Interestingly, all three of these means are represented among the 14 plaintiffs — five Lesbian couples and two Gay male couples — in the New Jersey lawsuit.

But those three means all have one thing in common: they all require outside help for the child actually to exist. The same-sex couple who adopt (in states enlightened enough to permit them to) are dependent for their child’s existence on the unrelated pair of heterosexuals who conceived him or her in the first place and the female half of this pair who carried the pregnancy to term and then gave up the baby, voluntarily or otherwise. The Lesbians who use artificial insemination are dependent on the male sperm donor, and the same-sex partners who bring children into their relationship from former heterosexual pairings are dependent on their opposite-sex former partners, not only to have helped bring their child into existence but (often) for permission to raise the child in a household headed by a same-sex couple.

None of this necessarily makes a difference in terms of parenting outcomes. As the New Jersey court correctly recognized, the consensus in social science is that children do best when they are raised in a home with two adults — but it doesn’t matter whether either or both of the adults are the child’s biological parents or whether they are of opposite or the same gender. It DOES, however, make the internal environment of the home distinctly different — and in a society still largely accepting of anti-Queer prejudice, it renders the children vulnerable to being teased, ostracized and abused by their peers for something over which they have no control. The fact that a child being raised in a same-sex household cannot possibly be the biological offspring of BOTH partners (though both partners can be what New Jersey law awkwardly calls “psychological parents”) and the additional strains on a child being raised in a same-sex household over an opposite-sex one both make the term “marriage” rather dubious in describing the relationship between the adult same-sex partners raising a child this way.

Men Are Different

One of the not-so-dirty little secrets of the same-sex marriage movement is it is primarily a Lesbian phenomenon. As noted above, of the seven couples who participated as plaintiffs in the New Jersey lawsuit, five are women and only two are men. Of the over 4,000 couples who got married in San Francisco during the one-month “window” from February to March 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom illegally ordered his city’s registry to issue marriage licenses to same-gender applicants, two-thirds of them were Lesbian couples. This imbalance is even more striking when laid next to decades of survey data showing that there are twice as many men who self-identify as Gay as women who self-identify as Lesbian.

As a Gay man, I feel qualified to discuss the marriage issue as it impacts and is impacted by Gay male sexuality but not as it impacts and is impacted by Lesbian sexuality. I accept the broad outlines of the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” theory that men and women are fundamentally different in terms of how they manage their sexuality and the psychological fulfillments they get from it. Basically, this theory holds that men are more likely than women to detach sex from emotion, more likely to seek sexual outlets outside of their primary relationship, less likely to insist on “love” as a criterion for whether or not to have sex with a particular person and more likely to live the lifestyle envisioned by the (male) singer-songwriter Stephen Stills when he sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love/Love the one you’re with.”

Obviously, like all sweeping generalizations about human behavior, this one has many exceptions — but I think it’s basically true, and the experience of Gay men in particular proves it. One classic scientific technique is called “isolating the variable” — studying a phenomenon by looking at it in the absence of other aspects of reality that might get in the way. One obvious way to test the theory that men are more detached from emotion in their sexual expression than women would be to look at communities of men who don’t have to worry about the sexual and emotional demands of women, and women who don’t have to worry about the sexual and emotional demands of men — in other words, totally Gay men and totally Lesbian women.

In the case of men, at least, I think the overall ways Gay men express and manage their sexuality confirm the theory. Gay men are more likely than heterosexuals or Lesbians to have sex outside a committed relationship, to have multiple sex partners, to have sex with other partners besides their primary one, and — most relevantly for the same-sex marriage issue — to build into their relationships ways of acknowledging that they will have other sex partners and managing these extrarelational activities to minimize their potential for harming the primary relationship. The expectation of mutual monogamy that is at the heart of modern heterosexual marriage (though often honored more in the breach than the observance) simply doesn’t apply to many — I daresay most — Gay male couples.

The ascendancy of same-sex marriage as an issue of paramount importance to the political leadership of the Queer community is a trailing indicator of a far-reaching change in that leadership that began in the 1980’s, Before then, the Queer leadership was almost exclusively male — and often openly and offensively sexist towards women who tried to gain admittance — and it tended to focus on issues of primary importance to men: the protection of Gay bars, bathhouses and other cruising spaces; confronting police entrapment of Gay men cruising each other for casual sex; protection against Gay-bashing (not just to preserve the overall physical safety of Queers but specifically to protect Gay men in public cruising areas from being targeted and beaten or killed); as well as issues like antidiscrimination protection that affected Gay men and Lesbians equally. Issues of specific concern to Lesbians, such as maintaining custody of their children after they ended straight marriages or relationships and came out, tended to be ignored or sloughed off.

That all changed in the 1980’s, when the AIDS epidemic virtually wiped out a generation of Gay male leaders. In the 1970’s, the most prominent Gay male leaders had also tended to be the most flamboyant, the most obviously “out,” and the ones most likely to involve themselves in the riskiest behaviors for AIDS: casual unprotected sex with multiple partners, use of recreational drugs, frequent sexually-transmitted infections and antibiotic treatments for them and involvement in the so-called “fast-lane” lifestyle. As they began dying en masse, Lesbians managed to win community leadership positions because they were largely unscathed by the AIDS epidemic and therefore they were the ones able to continue the movement.

Long after the AIDS epidemic peaked and the syndrome became endemic — not epidemic — among Queer men, Lesbians remained in charge of many community organizations. In cities like San Diego, which fell behind more progressive cities with larger Queer populations, Lesbians, not Gay men, were the first Queers to win elective office. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force had seven women executive directors in a row from the 1980’s through the 1990’s before finally hiring a man for that position in the early 2000’s. I would argue that this shift from male to female Queer community leadership, brought apart by the decimation of the male leadership due to AIDS and the need for the remaining men to confront their own sexism and admit women to leadership positions to maintain the movement at all, helped bring about the change in Queer issue priorities so that women’s issues moved to the forefront of the agenda — and marriage, an issue of greater relevance to Lesbians than to Gay men, became a principal community demand for this reason.

Equal but Unique

My argument here is that not only is the realization of same-sex marriage, so-called, impossible in the United States under current and likely future political conditions, but even if it were, “marriage” as traditionally defined would be an awkward fit for many same-sex couples, particularly male ones. Marriage comes with the expectation that the partners will procreate with each other; same-sex couples can’t do that without help from outside. Modern marriage comes with the expectation of mutual monogamy; Gay male couples in particular frequently structure their relationships in ways that allow for outside sexual experiences. Marriage, from the get-go, has been built on the expectation that one partner, the woman, is inferior to the man; same-sex relationships are based on mutual equality.

One of the ironies of the same-sex marriage movement is that all those 1,200-plus government and private-sector benefits same-sex marriage advocates rattle off as the reason they need marriage rights were created on the basis of assumptions that NEVER applied to how most same-sex couples live and are increasingly at variance with the way most opposite-sex couples live. The benefits were based on the idea that government should support relationships likely to produce children: giving the parents more money to raise their children by granting them income-tax deductions and allowing employers to deduct the costs of providing them and their children health care. The marriage benefits were also designed around the assumption that the man would be the breadwinner and the woman the stay-at-home parent; most same-sex couples have always assumed that both parties would work, and with the steady decline in U.S. wages since 1973 most married heterosexuals today find that they too must both work.

If anything, a broader look at the marriage issue reveals the utter absurdity of a society that insists on allocating tax advantages and access to health care based on whether people are in a committed relationship and whether they are raising children. The ascendancy of marriage as an issue for the Queer leadership shows how far it has drifted from the progressive roots of the Queer movement. A truly progressive Queer community would be fighting for universal access to health care, not for admission to the class of people given health coverage through their employers while more and more Americans lose coverage altogether. It would be fighting against the blatant giveaways to corporate America represented by so-called “free trade” agreements and the attack on the U.S. middle class through outsourcing. A truly progressive Queer movement would also seek to broaden the kinds of family structures offered legal recognition instead of attempting to fit all Queers into the Procrustean bed of a two-person partnership modeled on a heterosexually defined institution — marriage — built on assumptions and protocols of dubious applicability to many Queers.

If the Queer community does not cut its losses on the marriage issue — if it continues to insist on chasing the M-word with all the self-destructive fervor of Captain Ahab chasing Moby Dick — those losses will be cut for us. George W. Bush, who owed his first term as President to the gun owners in Tennessee who rejected their state’s native son, Al Gore, over their right to keep and bear arms, owed his second term to the Republican leadership’s ability to mobilize African-American clergy in Ohio to bolt from the Democrats to the Republicans over the same-sex marriage issue. The Queer leadership’s continued advocacy of same-sex marriage threatens not only its own civil rights but the overall progressive movement in U.S. politics — and that’s yet another reason we need to abandon this unwinnable issue.

Cutting our losses and accepting defeat on the same-sex marriage issue does not mean consigning ourselves to an eternity of “separate but equal” status. As I have argued above, there are plenty of reasons NOT to seek a structure for our families that copies heterosexual marriage, but instead to build our own EQUAL BUT UNIQUE institutions to safeguard our rights as individuals, as couples, as extended adoptive families, as romantic, emotional and sexual beings in ourselves and in relation to each other. The American people have told us again and again that they will not accept the term “marriage” as a description of our relationships, but enough of them WILL accept legal protections for our rights if we call them by another name. It’s up to us to abandon a fight we cannot win and be creative and committed to winning the fights we can.

APPENDIX: A Draft of a Compromise Federal Marriage Amendment

Section 1: Marriage shall be defined in the United States and in the several States exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.

Section 2: Nothing in this section shall deny to the Congress, the legislature of a State or the people of a State the power to create reciprocal rights, benefits and responsibilities for voluntary associations of adult persons ineligible for marriage as herein defined.
Why Vote, and Who For?

November 7 Election Endorsements


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Perhaps the first question to consider in this space just before an election is why bother to vote at all. Many people on the Left I respect are against voting on principle, and their objections have some merit. As the late political scientist Hans Morgenthau wrote in The New Republic in 1974, elections under capitalism will always avoid the real issues of power and wealth distribution in a country simply because “there are some issues on which the ruling class will not let itself be outvoted.” All too many citizens have reached the same conclusion, coming to the idea that since the electoral system can’t or won’t address the issues of importance to them — particularly access to decent employment and health care in an era in which the capitalist class worldwide is determined to end all this nonsense about liberal “reform” and reduce the world’s workers to subsistence and the poor to penury and desperate want — it’s not worth participating in.

But elections do matter. As the anti-war movement learned in early 2003 when it mobilized the largest numbers ever to participate in demonstrations over a single issue (the U.S. attack on Iraq) on a single day and the war happened anyway, street actions don’t succeed unless the politicians who actually make the decisions are receptive to the message of the street activists — or at least are scared that the passions of the street activists threaten their own continuation in office. If we decide not to vote as a matter of “principle,” we give up our one power actually to get back at the politicians who don’t do what we want them to do.

It’s true that in any class system politicians “govern” within a narrow band of alternatives dictated in advance by the ruling class, but even within that band there are real advantages to having one capitalist party in power rather than another. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are likely to address the underlying problems of capitalism in the U.S., but the Democrats are more likely to raise the minimum wage, appoint National Labor Relations Board members who will make it easier for unions to organize, expand access to health care, take global warming and other environmental problems seriously, protect the civil rights of people of color, women and Queers, get us out of Iraq and curb the foreign-policy adventurism and civil-liberties and due-process abuses of the Bush administration.

Not that they’re going to do that without prodding. If many direct-action activists make the mistake of assuming that because elections can’t address the real contradictions of capitalism they don’t matter at all, many electoral activists make the opposite mistake: the idea that merely electing candidates sympathetic to our issues is enough for reform. They’re wrong, and the generally disappointing record of Bill Clinton on progressive issues proves it. Even if the Democrats take control of both houses of Congress in 2006 and elect a President in 2008, that’s not going to solve all our problems. We’ll still need to be in the streets, pressing the Democrats as hard or harder than we have the Republicans, mobilizing support to get them to do the right thing and avoid being sucked into the go-along-to-get-along influences they’ll be under from major campaign donors and corporate interests to screw us over.

As a long-time Leftist, it’s been frustrating to me to see electoral and direct-action activists treat each other as enemies. The simple fact is that to get anywhere as a movement, we need to do both: we need to mobilize around elections in order to get the best people in office we can and we need to stay in the streets at all times to make sure the best people we can get in office actually do the right thing. So if your thing is marching in the streets, getting in people’s faces with chants and leaflets and generally raising a ruckus, do that; just don’t put down the people who’d rather precinct-walk and phone-bank for an electoral candidate or party. And if you’re more comfortable doing campaign work, go ahead; just don’t put down the street activists whose help you’re going to need to hold the people you’ve helped elect accountable.

So with that, here are the Zenger’s election endorsements for November 7, 2006:



Let’s be real here. It’s a foregone conclusion that center-Right Democrat Dianne Feinstein is going to sail to re-election as California’s senior U.S. Senator — and, alas, it’s equally obvious that Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to win a full term as Governor by a double-digit margin. Indeed, after his hard-fought primary win against Steve Westly, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides’ campaign has melted down so thoroughly it’s reminded me of Mort Sahl’s joke about the “McGovern juggernaut” that came to the 1972 Democratic convention in Miami, won him the nomination — and then seemingly disappeared as McGovern lost to Richard Nixon in the most lopsided defeat of a major-party Presidential nominee to that time. (“Some of those people must still be down there!” Sahl said almost a year later.)

So if there’s ever a time and a place to cast a protest vote, these races are it. With nods to the San Diegans who are running for both offices — Janice Jordan for Governor as the Peace and Freedom nominee and Kent Mesplay, who lost the Green Party primary to Chretien but is running as a write-in on the theory that a southern Californian can mobilize more votes for the Greens in southern California than a northerner like Chretien — progressive voters should stick to the Green nominees in both races and send a message to center-Right Democrats and Republicans alike that we’re out here and we demand to be heard.

Lieutenant Governor: JOHN GARAMENDI

Secretary of State: DEBRA BOWEN

Attorney General: JERRY BROWN


Controller: JOHN CHIANG

Insurance Commissioner: CRUZ BUSTAMANTE

Though we’re endorsing Greens at the top of the statewide ticket, for the remaining state offices Zenger’s is recommending the Democratic Party slate. John Garamendi is a proven progressive with a strong pro-consumer record as insurance commissioner and also one of the most stalwart pro-environment stands of anyone in elective officer in California. Debra Bowen, unlike the Republican incumbent, has a properly skeptical attitude towards electronic voting machines and will be a champion of electoral integrity. Jerry Brown will be an aggressive attorney general who will see the job as more than just the state’s chief prosecutor. Though the other Democratic nominees for statewide office (aside from Lockyer, who’s been a good attorney general in an office from which he’s been forced out by term limits) don’t have records as distinguished as Garamendi’s, Bowen’s or Brown’s, and it’s unlikely that Bustamante will be as aggressive a regulator of insurance companies as Garamendi has been, they are still preferable to their Republican opposite numbers.

Congress and State Legislature: ANY DEMOCRAT

However blurry the differences between the Democrats and Republicans sometimes seem, they are real. It’s not so much that the Democrats are perfect (they’re not) as that the Republicans are far worse. The important thing in these races is to put the Democrats in the majority in Congress and keep them in control of the California legislature.

Superior Court Judge, Office 36: ROD SHELTON


San Diego Unified School District Board: KATHERINE NAKAMURA, JOHN DeBECK

I think the framers of the U.S. Constitution got it right where judges are concerned: keep them off the ballot, appoint them for life (unless they screw up grossly, in which case they can be impeached) and thereby insulate them from political pressures and allow them to do their job: to enforce the law and protect the rights of minorities under the Constitution. Unfortunately, that’s not how most of the states do it. California actually has one of the stronger state constitutions when it comes to protecting judicial integrity, but local judges still have to run in competitive elections hamstrung by the clash between the necessity of campaigning and the canons of the legal profession, which severely restrict what they can and cannot tell voters about themselves.

Rod Shelton deserves our endorsement not only for his own qualities but because his opponent, Larry Kincaid, has tried to politicize the campaign in ways that themselves call his ability to serve impartially into question. Kincaid wrote letters to County Supervisors Ron Roberts, Pam Slater and Greg Cox saying they should support him because they and he are all Republicans and Shelton is a Democrat. Kincaid also falsely stated that he led in the primary election (he didn’t) and that Shelton was a “liberal Democrat” who belonged to the American Civil Liberties Union (he doesn’t).

We’re also endorsing all the incumbents in the San Diego Unified School District and Community College District races. The departure of the controversial Alan Bersin as San Diego Unified superintendent has eased the political conflicts that previously roiled the district. Some of the incumbents, like John DeBeck and Peter Zschiesche, are people we’ve long supported; others, like Katherine Nakamura, are people we’ve questioned in the past but they’re still better than their opponents this time.


Proposition 1A (Transportation Funding): NO

Proposition 1B (Highway Bonds): NO

Proposition 1C (Affordable Housing Bonds): YES

Proposition 1D (School Facilities Bonds): NO

Proposition 1E (Disaster Preparedness/Flood Prevention Bonds): YES

Remember those old Star Trek episodes in which the Enterprise crew had to defeat a super-powerful computer and did so by throwing such illogical statements at it until it blew itself up out of sheer frustration and confusion? That’s what trying to come to a rational decision on this massive package of state borrowing proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger and signed onto by the Democratic state legislature is like. Aside from Proposition 1A — which puts new restrictions on the state’s ability to spend the tax on gasoline, and is yet another example of the dangerous ballot-box budgeting that has hamstrung state government generally — the bond measures 1B through 1E have two main problems.

First, because of the interest charges on government bonds over their long maturities (usually 30 years), paying for anything with a bond issue generally costs twice as much as it does to finance it on a pay-as-you-go basis. Second, in a practice Schwarzenegger pledged to stop in his initial campaign to replace Gray Davis in the 2003 recall and instead has pushed to the max, California is already massively in debt, doing the governmental equivalent of using one credit card to pay another as it borrows again and again just to keep the state government running. Schwarzenegger is running for re-election largely on the boast that he’s avoided a tax increase — but the longer the state goes without facing the fact that it can’t provide all the services its residents want on the taxes those residents have so far been willing to pay, the harsher and more severe the inevitable tax increase will be when it finally comes.

So we’re splitting the vote on the bond measures, endorsing 1C and 1E partly because they’re the most narrowly focused on specific state problems and partly because they’re the cheapest: face values of $2.85 billion for 1C and $4.09 billion for 1E compared to nearly $20 billion for 1B (virtually all of it for more freeways and streets; the pittances for public transportation were put in by demand from Democratic legislators) and $10.4 billion for 1D.

Proposition 83 (Restrictions on Sex Offenders): NO!

Proposition 84 (Water Bonds): YES

Proposition 85 (Abortion; Parental Notification): NO!

Proposition 86 (Tobacco Tax to Fund Health Care): YES

Proposition 87 (Tax on Oil Producers to Fund Alternative Energy): YES

Proposition 88 ($50/Parcel Property Tax to Fund Education): YES

Proposition 89 (Clean Elections; Publicly Financed Campaigns): YES!

Proposition 90 (“Regulatory Takings” Initiative): NO

Proposition 83 is a draconian and utterly unnecessary attempt to wreak vengeance on people already convicted of sex crimes who have completed their sentences. It adds further restrictions on where they can live — which, as some analysts have said, could actually make them more dangerous by driving them out of big cities and into rural areas where therapy and support services to keep them from re-offending don’t exist — and, worse, requires that every Californian ever convicted of a sex crime (including Gay and Lesbian people who pled guilty under California’s sodomy laws until they were repealed in 1975) wear a GPS tracker that will allow government to monitor their movements for the rest of their lives. Proposition 83 isn’t about punishing these people for the crimes they have committed; it’s about punishing people for crimes they may or may not commit in the future — which is utterly repugnant to any reasonable concept of justice. What’s more, implementing and monitoring all those GPS devices will cost nearly $1 billion -— money that can better be spent on police resources to catch, try and convict people who are actually committing crimes in the here and now.

Proposition 84 is a water-quality bond measure similar to 1C and 1E: a limited focus and a relatively small price tag ($5.4 billion face value).

Proposition 85 is one of those bad ideas that refuses to die — thanks largely to the cash resources of San Diego Reader publisher Jim Holman, the principal financial backer both of this and of the previous attempt to pass it, Proposition 73 on the November 2005 ballot. Though 85 eliminates the most obnoxious feature of 73 — its attempt to write a statement into the California constitution that life begins from the moment of conception, which would have automatically abolished legal abortion in California if the Supreme Court ever overturned Roe v. Wade — the rest of it is sufficiently identical that the points we made in our endorsement against 73 still go on 85:

“The problem with parental notification requirements is it’s precisely the parents who are most sexually conservative themselves, the ones likely to be judgmental and condemnatory towards sexually active children, who are most likely to raise their daughters (and sons) in a sexually naïve manner that will make them more likely, not less, either to contract or to cause an unwanted pregnancy. Parents sufficiently in touch with their own sexuality to accept their children’s inevitable maturation into sexual beings don’t need parental notification laws because their children almost certainly will have talked to them on their own. Indeed, sexually aware parents are less likely to have daughters who need abortions because either they’ve worked with their kids to counter the peer pressure on them to have sex or, if their children are going to have sex, they’ve educated and supplied them with birth control. … Under parental notification laws, teenagers will either resort to dangerous illegal abortions or ruin their lives bearing children who will be burdens on society. The one thing most of them won’t stop doing is having sex.”

Propositions 86 and 87 have become textbook examples of the kinds of campaigns giant corporations wage against initiatives which attempt to hold them to account for the damage their products cause society. The tobacco and oil companies have both hid behind nice-sounding organizational names — though if you wait to the ends of the TV ads where they legally have to announce who funded them you’ll hear familiar names like Philip Morris and Chevron — and they’ve tried to confuse the issues as much as possible, even (in the case of the opponents of 86) inventing a giant conspiracy on the part of hospital bureaucrats to fatten their own treasuries on the taxes paid by smokers. Nonsense: 86 and 87 are simple, reasonable measures that address major social problems and attempt to hold corporations accountable for the individual and social harm they cause. Vote for both and don’t fall for the corporate hype.

While we’re concerned about the regressivity of Proposition 88 — the fact that the additional property tax it charges to finance education is on a $50 per parcel basis rather than as a percentage of assessed valuation (though under California’s warped Proposition 13 definition of “assessed valuation” that would produce its own set of inequities) — for the most part this seems like a reasonable initiative and an better alternative than the massive borrowing for school construction and repair Proposition 1D would authorize.

Proposition 89 may be the most important initiative on the 2006 ballot in the long term. It would allow candidates for public office in California to opt for the so-called “clean money” system already in place in Maine and Arizona. This way, a candidate who either can’t or doesn’t want to fund his or her campaign with massive donations from wealthy individuals and (where it’s legal for them to contribute) corporations has an alternative: get enough people to sign a nominating petition and cough up a nominal sum (usually $5) to demonstrate public support, and then everything else they need to run a competitive campaign is paid for by the public — in 89’s case, specifically by the corporations that have been the main beneficiaries of California’s pay-to-play politics. An enthusiastic yes on this one …

… and a reluctant no on Proposition 90. This is one of 12 measures on various state ballots sponsored by New York real-estate developer Howard Rich and his organization, Americans for Limited Government. Its ostensible purpose is to rein in the vast and unjust expansion in the government’s power of eminent domain — their ability to force you to sell your property for a “public purpose” — allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court last year in the Kelo decision. Originally government could only take private property for genuine public purposes — to build a road, a school, a hospital, a park. Then big developers and politicians beholden to them invented “redevelopment,” a sort of law that said that as long as they could first declare that a particular community was “blighted,” government could take private property from one set of owners and give it to another to build bigger, splashier businesses and housing developments that would eliminate the “blight” (translation: drive out poor and working-class people and bring in middle-class and upper-class people) and increase the tax revenues generated by the property.

It got worse when creative legislators and developers invented “tax-increment financing,” which meant that once you seized people’s property and “redeveloped” it, the increase in property taxes generated by the new development didn’t go back into the community’s general fund. Instead it went into the coffers of the redevelopment agency, thus giving agencies like San Diego’s Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) the incentive to look for other “blighted” areas of the city and “redevelop” those as well. Originally founded to rehabilitate the Gaslamp Quarter in 1975, CCDC has become a bloated monster sucking tax-increment revenues while the city starves and heads for bankruptcy. Kelo made the situation even worse by removing the requirement that redevelopers first had to certify an area as “blighted” before they could use the power of government to take it away from its owners.

So why is a New York real-estate developer financing a nationwide campaign supposedly aimed at reining in the excesses of real-estate developers? Because of what else he sneaked into Proposition 90 and its 11 clones in other states: a doctrine called “regulatory takings” that says that if government makes any decision at all that affects your ability to profit from land you own, they have to compensate you not only for the fair-market value of your land as it stands but also for any potential profits you might have been able to make if they hadn’t regulated. In practice, this would virtually destroy environmental regulation, zoning laws and all other brakes on the power of big businesses and wealthy individuals to do whatever they like no matter what the effect on the overall common good.

Veteran environmental activist Al Meyerhoff put it best when, in an anti-90 op-ed he wrote for the September 29 Los Angeles Times, he wrote, “There will be no open and honest debate on the two very different visions raised by Proposition 90. Under one vision, we are all in this together, agreeing to use, enjoy and preserve California’s magnificent natural resources as a public trust — a concept of the ‘commons’ grounded in Roman law. We enter into this social contract because, as President Kennedy once told us, ‘in the final analysis … we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. We all are mortal.’ Under the other vision, we are each in this alone, free to exploit resources for profit or personal use — or be paid by the California taxpayer not to do so.”


Proposition A (Advisory Vote on Miramar Airport): NO

Proposition B (Voter Approval of City Pensions): YES

Proposition C (Privatization of City Services): NO

Proposition N (Community College Bonds): YES

Fifteen years ago, the last time San Diego voters had a chance to consider locating a new airport at Miramar, it would have been a good idea. The Navy was planning to close down its fabled “Top Gun” air station and the surrounding area was still relatively undeveloped. Today the Marines are firmly ensconced on the base, the build-out around Miramar has made it almost as dangerous an airport location as Lindbergh Field, UCSD students complain that they already have trouble hearing their teachers or doing their homework during Marine fly-bys and a civilian airport would be even worse, and Orange County had to abandon their own attempt to convert El Toro naval base into an airport because of all the toxic waste the military left behind. It doesn’t matter how this vote goes, anyway, because it’s only “advisory” and there’s no way Miramar is ever going to be a civilian airport because the military ain’t leavin’.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders is pushing Propositions B and C as a package, as his proposed solution to the city’s pension crisis. Proposition B would require future increases in city workers’ pensions to be approved by the voters. In 1985, after the San Diego City Council had shown itself to be dangerously irresponsible in approving rampant development in the city’s future urbanizing area, we took that power away from them and gave it back to ourselves through the ballot box. It seems eminently reasonable to do the same now that the Council has shown equal irresponsibility in approving pensions the city can’t pay for.

Proposition C is another matter entirely, a siren’s song prepared for by decades of Right-wing propaganda extolling the supposedly miraculous “efficiency” of private companies as compared to the alleged slovenliness and uncoolness of public agencies. Proposition C would allow private contractors to bid on existing city services, replacing city agencies. It’s been tried in other cities and the results have been disastrous — most notoriously in Atlanta, which hired a private company to take over the city’s water system and then found the pipes dispensing a dirty brown fluid instead of the clear liquid Atlanta’s public water department had formerly provided.

Private companies who seek contracts under measures like Proposition C generally promise to deliver services at lower costs to city taxpayers. Since they also have to make a profit — their whole reason for existence — there are only two ways they can squeeze enough money out of the operation to charge the city less than it was paying its own people and still make money. One is to reduce the quality of the service; the other is to slash the pay of the workers.

Usually, when cities privatize services, most of the same people who worked for the city agency end up doing the same work for the private company — only they do it for dramatically lower wages, fewer (or no) benefits and no pensions. Indeed, Mayor Sanders’ advocacy of Proposition C suggests that this is his long-term solution to the city’s pension crisis: privatize everything, get rid of the pensions the city had promised its workers (promises that wouldn’t be binding on their new “private” employer) and thereby get out of the unfundable pension obligations while the workers are left either with inadequate 401(k) plans or no retirement benefits at all.

Finally, Proposition N is a local bond issue to build and rehabilitate community college facilities. It shares with the other bond issues we are endorsing a relatively low price tag and a narrow focus on genuine and immediate community needs.

Local Volunteer Speaks on Katrina Cleanup

Volunteers Came Through When Government Didn’t, Brown Says


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

For Jim Brown, his two stints as a volunteer in the effort to clean up New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina wound from Encinitas, where he lives, through Dallas and Crawford, Texas. Brown attended the 2005 Veterans for Peace (VFP) convention in Dallas and there met a woman the world would soon come to know: Cindy Sheehan. “She showed up and said, ‘I’m tired of talking, writing and sitting down,’” Brown recalled. “’I’m going to take that Bush guy face-to-face. I’m going to Crawford, Texas tomorrow. Is there anyone who wants to join me?’”

About 50 people from the VFP, including Brown, took her up on her suggestion. They joined about 50 other anti-war activists in Crawford — and were watched over by “200 policemen, Secret Service officers, and media,” Brown said. Told by the local police and sheriff’s deputies that they couldn’t be any closer to the Presidential compound than a ditch 200 feet away, Brown started asking the local authorities why not. “I asked, ‘Is that why you signed up to be a sheriff’s deputy, to ride heard on a bunch of old veterans in a ditch?’”

Sheehan’s installation on the outside of Bush’s ranch in Crawford, dubbed “Camp Casey” after her late son — whose death in combat in Iraq had been the impetus for Sheehan’s whole effort — grew until by the end of her two-month stay, “There was a huge amount of gear on three trucks, including wireless transmission for phones and computers, as well as a large supply of food, water and medical supplies,” Brown recalled. As Camp Casey wound down there was a major debate about what to do with all this stuff, almost all of which had been donated from across the country. At first the consensus was leaning towards sending it all to Washington, D.C., where Sheehan was planning to lead another camp-out action against the war. Then, at the end of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans — and the plans quickly changed.

“A lot of people there lived in New Orleans or on the Gulf Coast,” Brown recalled. “They said, ‘Cindy, you go to D.C. We have to go to New Orleans.” Going there wasn’t easy — Highway 10, the main thoroughfare in and out, was blocked, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had men with guns stationed on all the entrances to the city stating that no one would be allowed in or out. But the Veterans for Peace found a working entrance to the city — Pontchartrain Highway, ironically the circumference road around the lake whose flooding had created the waves that destroyed so much of New Orleans — and got past the FEMA guards because one of the VFP volunteers had a contractor’s license.

They showed up on the doorstep of Malik, an African-American activist and former Black Panther who headed up an organization called Common Ground. “We showed up on his doorstep with medical equipment, food and water,” Brown recalled. “It was all grass-roots organizations the first few days. The Red Cross and FEMA weren’t there.” Brown said that even the major TV networks were being kept outside the city for the first few days, but because they had all the high-tech communications equipment left over from Camp Casey, “We could get news out.” Filmmaker Michael Moore heard about the crisis and raised $1 million for the effort, and other donors started contributing as well.

Brown wasn’t part of the initial VFP crew of volunteers in New Orleans. He was sent for later, and for an interesting reason: he makes his living as a roofing contractor in Encinitas, and as part of his job he had taken a California-certified course on how to remove mold from a home. With many of the homes in New Orleans totally or partially flooded, so that even when the waters receded they were wet, mold was one of the biggest cleanup problems they faced — and one of the most serious health hazards. Among the things Brown had learned in that course was that about 10 percent of the population, mostly people with asthma and other respiratory conditions, get sick around mold — and 1 percent of the population gets so sick they fall over.

“VFP put the call out on the Internet, and thousands of people came forward and went to New Orleans to help,” Brown recalled. “They wondered who could tell them what to do, and one of them remembered hearing me speak in Crawford and remembered I was a mold guy. They paid my way down and I said, ‘I’m not going unless you show me everything.’” According to Brown, “In California your average mold-removal job has hundreds of mold spores in a house. Here you had hundreds of thousands, and occasionally even a million.”

Brown showed about an hour’s worth of slides from the times he spent in New Orleans — a stint in November 2005 and another in March 2006 — and much of his talk was about the wide gap between the enthusiasm of the volunteers and their lack of training and proper safety equipment. If you’re doing something as tricky and potentially hazardous as mold removal — not only to yourself but to everyone else around you — you’re supposed to be dressed in a full Haz-Mat suit and a respirator mask. Many of the volunteers — including Brown’s own son — didn’t realize the importance of proper protection and went to work in street clothes and either no protection at all or just a plain cotton mask, which doesn’t keep out bacteria or mold spores.

One family in particular, an African-American couple to whom Brown gave the pseudonym “Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Jones,” especially moved him. “This family’s house filled up with mold 10 feet high,” he recalled. “They had just paid off their mortgage and had a mortgage-burning party — and Katrina hit two days later and the insurance company did not pay them anything. If you didn’t have flood insurance, they didn’t pay you for the flood damage. If your roof came off, they wouldn’t fix it. If you think insurance will pay you off in a big disaster in southern California, you’ve got another think coming.”

Without any insurance money or other help, the Joneses determined to fix and clean their house themselves. “He didn’t have a pension or a savings account, just his home,” Brown recalled. “His wife said, ‘I’ve been to the hospital twice. It feels like there’s a hand in my chest,’ She’d had respiratory problems before and I couldn’t bear to see her suffer from the mold in the house.” Jones had tried to fix up the house as best he could and had had his wife stay in the cleanest room available in it — but she’d still got sicker and sicker, Brown explained.

Help finally arrived in the form of a FEMA trailer, Brown said. Mrs. Jones was able to move into one and live in a clean environment while her husband continued to work on their house and finally got it clean enough to live in. “I came back a few months later, the house was fully fixed up and she survived,” Brown said, “but she wouldn’t have if she’d had to continue staying in that house.” Brown said he expects many New Orleanians to have long-term health problems similar to those faced by the New York City cleanup crews sent into the World Trade Center site after 9/11, who also entered an environment full of toxins and weren’t given proper protective gear or even warned about the potential dangers.

Brown said that contrary to the popular belief elsewhere in the country, which was that the Black parts of New Orleans flooded while the white parts stayed dry, “Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water, and it wasn’t just the poor places. It was about half Black and half white. The difference was the whites had assets. They had money, they had other places to live, and they had cars. The only assets Black people had were the homes they owned, and 80 percent of them were renters and didn’t even have that. They have been parceled out all over America.”

Another common misconception about Katrina that Brown corrected was that it was not the Mississippi River that flooded New Orleans: it was Lake Pontchartrain, to the north of the city. “The Mississippi River levees did not break,” he said, “but New Orleans sits at the bottom of a natural bowl between Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi to the south. When it starts to fill up, the city’s canals are supposed to drain the water and dump it out into the river. What happened was the surge of water from the lake knocked out the canals.”

Among Brown’s grimmer recollections were passing auto dealers and seeing rows and rows of new cars, “all dingy because they all flooded.” He said he saw that not only on his first trip in November but again in March. He also saw garbage dumps with rows and rows of refrigerators awaiting disposal. Residents who’d had refrigerators, washers and dryers in their homes were told to take them to dumps because the flooding had made them nonfunctional and impossible to repair — and when the refrigerators were trucked to the dump sites they still had food in them. Workers had to be warned not to open the refrigerator doors because if they did, they’d be assaulted by the putrid smells of all that rotting food.

Brown’s slide show contained images that ranged from an otherwise intact home that had had a tree fall through its roof — a common sight in post-Katrina New Orleans — to the side of rock legend “Fats” Domino’s house, on which a fan with a spray can had painted a premature obituary. Domino was airlifted out of the region and survived, though the flooding of his home destroyed his three grand pianos and all the music awards he’d won over the years. Indeed, even the destruction wrought by Katrina showed the importance of music to New Orleanian culture; Brown said you could hardly pass a house that had flooded without seeing ruined pianos, guitars, string basses and other instruments — which, as an amateur bassist himself, hit Brown particularly hard.

According to Brown, none of the government agencies — federal, state or local — were any help. Virtually all the early cleanup and aid work was done by volunteers, mostly sent by churches all over the country — though Brown himself worked with Common Ground, which he described as “more rough-and-tumble” than the church groups. “I spent a lot of time setting up tool libraries and getting people the proper masks,” he said. “We have been trying to embarrass the government. Fortunately, it’s starting to happen.” He mentioned that 10,000 FEMA trailers sat unused in a lot in Arkansas during the entire crisis (they’re now being sent to Indian reservations), and that the entire contract for the trailers was given to a former Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer who charged the government a $10,000 markup per trailer for units that ordinarily sold for $15,000 to $25,000.

“Half of the workers in New Orleans who are being paid to rebuild are Latinos, and half of them are undocumented,” Brown said. “One-fourth of them are Black and one-fourth are white. Roofing contractors came down hoping for a lot of contracts and couldn’t get them because people down there are always holding out for a cheaper deal. There were people charging $2 per square foot just to put blue tarpaulins over a roof — and that’s the going rate for actually rebuilding a roof. They would haul out trash for $2 per cubic yard and FEMA was paying $25 per cubic yard.”

One reason it was costing so much was the so-called “tiered contract system,” which the U.S. is also using in Iraq. The federal government would contract with a large company like Halliburton and that company would hire a subcontractor, who would hire another subcontractor, and frequently three or four companies would take their cut of the government money before any of it filtered down to the people who were actually doing the work. “The government spent a lot of money but probably wasted half of it,” Brown said. “They said they wanted to put in $110 million, but they only put in one-tenth of that, and half of that was flood insurance they’d have had to pay anyway.”

Asked what the future of New Orleans is likely to be, Brown said, “I think the cleanup is going to be a slow project. It’ll take 10 years but it will happen because they need that town. It’s 20 percent of the U.S. oil and gas industry and 20 percent of American trade. But if Black people don’t move back soon, it won’t be an African-American city anymore. It’ll be what Mayor Ray Nagin called a ‘chocolate city,’ half Black and half White. I’d like to see a Civilian Conservation Corps organized not only to clean up New Orleans but to train an entire generation of Americans to build things and work with their hands. Also, all the National Guard troops from Mississippi and Alabama who are in Iraq would rather be back home than doing nothing in Iraq and watching their mommas go down the river.”

One thing about Katrina that gives Brown hope for the future is the extent to which Katrina mocked the pretensions of the Right that “big government” is a mid-20th century anachronism, the “private sector” is always more efficient and “the market” can take care of everything. He talked to the people who came down as volunteers from church groups and said that, contrary to what one might think — that the speed with which the churches acted compared to the slowness and inefficiency of the government’s response might reinforce their pastors’ Right-wing political messages about “faith-based institutions” being superior to government — the volunteers’ view of the figurative and literal rot brought on by Right-wing neglect was moving them politically to the Left. “I think we’re training a whole generation of progressives there,” Brown said.

Senator Barbara Boxer Speaks at Claire de Lune

Promotes Book, Urges Votes for Democrats Nov. 7


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calfornia) spoke at the Claire de Lune coffeehouse in North Park October 19, ostensibly to promote and sign copies of the newly released paperback edition of her 2005 novel A Time to Run. But most of the people who attended and asked her questions weren’t interested in Boxer the novelist; they wanted to hear her talk about the Bush administration, whether Democrats will regain a majority in either house of Congress in the November 7 election, and what they might do differently if they did.

A Time to Run wasn’t Boxer’s first book. Shortly after her election to the U.S. Senate in 1992 — after an unusual race in which California’s other Senate seat was also open and she and Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic nominee for the other seat, coordinated their campaigns and cross-endorsed each other, which their Republican opponents couldn’t do because they had dramatically different positions on abortion — she wrote a nonfiction book called Strangers in the Senate. The book was a response to the hype surrounding 1992 as “The Year of the Woman” in the U.S. Senate. “We tripled our number of women Senators — from two to six,” Boxer ruefully noted.

The cover of A Time to Run contains Boxer’s name in large type and below it, much smaller, the name of her collaborator, Mary-Rose Hayes. Often that’s a giveaway that the celebrity author contributed little more than her name and maybe a basic idea, and the collaborator did most of the actual writing. Not this time, Boxer insisted. She said she spent five years working on A Time to Run solo “and still didn’t get it right, so I asked my publisher for a collaborator.” After Hayes came on board, it still took two more years to finish the book to Boxer’s satisfaction before it was published. Boxer cited Richard North Patterson as a favorite writer of hers in the thriller genre and a role model for the style of A Time to Run.

The book follows three friends — two women, one man — who meet in college and follow different paths, politically and personally, as their lives separate and then reunite on a collision course. “I wanted to explore why people become conservative or liberal,” Boxer explained. She noted that conservative critics had complained that the liberal character is the most likable one in the book and that she triumphs in the end. “Even in fiction they don’t want us to win!” she said.

Boxer read a short passage from the book that takes place on August 8, 1974, the night Richard Nixon announced his resignation from the presidency rather than face near-certain impeachment and removal from office over his role in the Watergate cover-up. “I wanted to set the book during Watergate because it’s when I got into politics,” Boxer explained, “but if any time since has reminded me of Watergate, it’s now. We have a President who lied us into a war and refuses to reconsider his policy.”

The questions Boxer faced from the audience ranged from the war in Iraq and the Democrats’ chances in this year’s election to concerns about computer voting systems and the erosion of civil liberties and due-process rights under the Bush administration and a Republican-dominated Congress. On the war, Boxer said, “Our military in Iraq cannot win this situation. We know from Bush’s own intelligence agencies that our presence in Iraq is a recruiting tool for the jihadists. The American people see this isn’t working.”

Boxer said the best possible outcome for Iraq is a constitution that divides the country into three “semi-autonomous regions” — Shi’ite Arab, Sunni Arab and Sunni Kurd — comparable to U.S. states, with the regional governments responsible for maintaining order and revenue from “oil and other resources distributed by the federal government.” She cited Sandra Mackey’s book The Reckoning, a history of Iraq that notes that the country was first founded in 1920 by the British, who were anxious to install a cooperative government that would allow British companies to run Iraq’s oil industry, and to forestall any unified resistance “they put together all the regions that hated each other” and called that “Iraq.”

Asked why only she and one other senator, Tom Harkin, supported the effort of senator Russ Feingold to censure President Bush for wiretapping U.S. citizens without legally required court warrants, Boxer said, “I’ve got news for you. Democrats are not perfect, but we have awakened. If you listen to us today, you’ll see a very different group of people.” She talked about how, under Republican control, Congress has become so toothless that during her tenure as national security adviser in Bush’s first term, Condoleeza Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee exactly once to talk about the war in Iraq. Boxer recalled her confrontation with Rice, which made headlines nationwide: “I told her, ‘Your devotion to the President is overwhelming your commitment to truth.’ She said I was impugning her integrity. I wasn’t; I was just stating a demonstrable fact.”

When a long-term voter said that she was frightened at the extent of the loss of civil liberties and rights under the Bush administration, Boxer said, “You have every reason to be frightened, but you’re here, you’re with and you’re fighting back. People who sleep through this election deserve what they get. Under this new military tribunal bill, people can be held forever, even if they’re American citizens. They’ll just say, ‘Our information is that you’re not.’” Boxer expressed confidence that, even though the bill states that the federal courts no longer have jurisdiction over anyone the President declares to be an “enemy combatant,” the courts will find that unconstitutional and “give this guy his comeuppance,” but she stressed the importance of electing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate as the only effective way to start putting the brakes on the Bush administration.

“You don’t know the half of Abu Ghraib,” Boxer said. “I went into a secret room to look at the pictures that haven’t been released to the public. I didn’t want to. It was like going on a treadmill test. After 10 minutes I was completely beside myself and I had to leave. What’s happening to my country, to my people, that they could do this? They lost their way because the people at the top — President Bush, defense secretary Rumsfeld, attorney general Gonzalez — said the Geneva Conventions were ‘old’ and ‘quaint,’ that it’s a war and we can do what we want.”

The question on electronic voting came from a woman who had talked to other members of the audience before Boxer arrived and said she’d been an activist on the issue for some time. Boxer said that in California, at least, a rule made by former secretary of state Kevin Shelley and continued by his successor, Bruce McPherson, provided “that anyone who wants a paper ballot can have one. I think that’s very important. Plus we can vote by absentee,” in which case you get a paper ballot automatically. Earlier, however, the woman had expressed concern that San Diego County’s registrar of voters wasn’t ordering enough paper ballots for voters who wanted that option, and said in some precincts voters who don’t apply for absentee ballots might show up at the polls and have either to wait hours for paper ballots to arrive or to take their chances with the touch-screens.

“I think we should do away with all this electronic voting,” Boxer said. “It doesn’t make your life any easier. I love high-tech, but in this case we can’t make it work any better.” She said that she, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Congressmember Stephanie Tubbs-Jones had written a bill demanding that all voting machines used in federal elections leave a so-called “paper trail” — a written record of a vote the voter can examine to make sure the machine registered his or her intentions properly, and which could also be used for recounts — but the Republicans currently in control of both houses of Congress “won’t even hold a hearing on it.”

An audience member who’d seen the film Iraq for Sale asked Boxer how she would deal with the corruption and collusion between government officials and private companies documented in the film. “Money in politics is horrible,” Boxer said. “Ever since I’ve been politically aware I’ve been for public financing. There is no question that the government is for sale.” She cited the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which in order to satisfy the large pharmaceutical companies was written to prevent Medicare from using its purchasing power to bargain with drug companies for lower prices. “I win because I’m not afraid to stand up to them,” Boxer said. “I blame the special interests, but I also blame the people for not waking up to what’s going on. It’s why we don’t have affordable health care. … Complaining about corruption is O.K., but you also have to support the candidates who stand up to the special interests.”

Again and again, Boxer stressed the necessity of electing Democratic majorities in Congress as the only way to slow down the Bush administration and its agenda. “I’m focused on one thing: November 7,” she said. “The only way to check the President is to have a Congress that won’t be compliant, won’t be servile, and will do its job. … This is our challenge to take our country back. Whatever we have to do, we will do. Don’t think about 2008. Don’t think about the future. Think about November 7.”

Over 500 Attend “World Can’t Wait” Anti-Bush Protest

Speakers, Organizers of Oct. 5 Event Divide over Electoral Politics


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Over 500 people attended San Diego’s “World Can’t Wait” protest at Horton Plaza October 5, part of an international call to “drive out the Bush regime” and end George W. Bush’s presidency before his term expires on January 20, 2009. But speakers at the afternoon rally that climaxed the event differed widely on whether the end of the Bush regime could best be hastened by voting for Democrats in this November’s election or some unspecified escalation of the protests that avoided engaging the election at all.

The disagreement was apparent as soon as the rally started, when the two people sharing MC duties came down on opposite sides of the electoral question. Though he acknowledged that there are uncertainties about whether election results really reflect the will of the people voting, especially now that so many elections are conducted by computer without a so-called “paper trail,” Matthew Cappadocía said that the solution was to mobilize so many anti-Bush voters that there would be no way pro-Bush forces could steal the election.

“We can’t have these elections constantly won by a margin that is so small you can’t really even measure it,” Cappadocía said. “We need a major movement of people to come out in an election where the end result is known, and if it doesn’t come out the way it’s supposed to, we must rise up! We must bring this injustice to a level of attention where the whole nation knows that we are counting the votes, we are looking at the votes, we’re looking at who’s counting the votes and what that end result is.”

Cappadocía’s co-MC, Aïda Reyes, immediately expressed a different point of view. “The ‘World Can’t Wait’ is not about the elections,” she said. “Both of the parties have screwed us all and are screwing the planet. Excuse me, that’s what I’m thinking. You probably think I’m too radical. … We cannot wait until 2008 for the elections, two more years, to have something done. There won’t be a world, guys.”

“World Can’t Wait” promoted a massive worldwide mobilization on October 5, issuing various statements and calls to action. “We come from different political viewpoints but we all agree: we must bring the Bush program to a HALT,” said one of the documents passed out at the rally and march. The leaflet called the demand for Bush’s mid-term removal from office “an audacious and historic venture born of urgent necessity,” but was vague on precisely how the organizers proposed to drive Bush from office early.

The call included seven accusations against “Your Government,” most of them common criticisms of the Bush regime’s practices and proposals. They included the “murderous and utterly illegitimate” war on Iraq, the use of torture against detainees, the act of detaining people at all “on the merest suspicion” without bringing them to justice, the influence of Christian Fundamentalists on the Bush administration that is “moving [the government] each day closer to a theocracy,” attacks on science “that doesn’t fit its religious, political and economic agenda,” worldwide attacks on women’s right to birth control and abortion, and the “culture of greed, bigotry, intolerance and ignorance” allegedly being fostered by the Bush administration.

“It’s time to feel powerful,” said Jeeni Criscenzo, peace activist and Democratic nominee against Republican incumbent Darrell Issa for a Congressional seat in North County. “It’s time to not stop. We have one chance for a revolution by election in 33 more days. Don’t let them tell you that your vote doesn’t count, because we can win by an overwhelming majority. All right: how do we get an overwhelming majority with what, what have we got here, less than 1,000 people? Every single one of you has to go out and knock on every neighbor’s door and call everybody, and argue with your relatives who think George W. Bush is wonderful. Get loud, get passionate, get strong! You have 33 days to do a peaceful revolution.”

“Thank you, Jeeni, so much, but you know what? They cheat!” Reyes said immediately after Criscenzo stopped speaking. “Look at the 2000 election. Four million of us more voted for Gore. They cheat. It went to the Supreme Court, Florida, whatever. Look what happened here in San Diego three times. They cheated. They took away Donna Frye from us and they put in Sanders, a Republican. O.K. O.K. with voting, but you know what? They don’t play fair. No matter how much we want to think they are respectful for our rights, they don’t give a f--- — I don’t like to say it in English — they don’t give a f--- for what we think. We don’t have the money. We’re not the corporations.”

USCD microbiology professor Milton H. Saier, Jr. gave a talk on the Bush regime’s war against science, criticizing it both for refusing to acknowledge genuine science like global warming and for putting bogus information on government Web sites, including allegations that abortion heightens a woman’s risk of breast cancer and statements that condoms are ineffective in reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The group then broke for a march through the Gaslamp District, where they were greeted with supportive honks from passing drivers — and accosted and heckled by people who had been drinking at sidewalk cafés.

Upon the group’s return to Horton Plaza, Planned Parenthood spokesperson Carolyn Desert urged people to vote against Proposition 85 on the November 7 ballot. Similar to a measure California voters defeated a year earlier, this would require that the parents of a girl under 18 seeking an abortion be notified in advance. This would be a bad idea, Desert explained, because “three out of five teens who become pregnant already tell their parents,” and the two-fifths who don’t “don’t for a good reason: they fear for their own safety. The bottom line is that, while parents wish to be involved in the health of their teens, you cannot make a law that mandates parent-child communication. Not all families are safe, and not all children can talk to their parents. In the real world, some teens live with real violence.”

After a brief appearance by a spokesperson for Amnesty International, the next speaker was local attorney Randall Hamud. He talked about his experiences representing accused terrorists and the abuses of the recently passed Military Commissions Act, which put Congress on record as supporting the contention of the Bush administration that it should have “carte blanche to declare anyone to be an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ if he or she may ‘purposely or materially support terrorism or hostilities against the United States.” Pointing out the vagueness of that language, Hamud suggested that what the 500 attendees at World Can’t Wait were doing right then — “requesting the impeachment of a President” — might be defined as “hostility towards the United States” and be grounds for extensive detention without legal rights and ultimate trial before a military tribunal.

But, like Criscenzo, Hamud also closed his speech with an appeal for people to vote for Democratic candidates in the November 7 election, despite the fact that many Democrats — particularly U.S. Senate candidates in closely contested states — voted for the Military Commissions Act. “I don’t care if you disagree with [the Democrats] as far as their personal or political agenda is, we need to take one or both houses away from Bush,” Hamud said. “We need to seize back the government through the Congress. This Congress has been milquetoast. It’s deferred to him on everything. It’s created an autocratic presidency. We need to reverse it. We have one final chance to do that this November. I urge all of you: do not hesitate to be active in the Democratic party. Walk precincts, call voters, get out the Democratic vote, just as the Republicans are trying to do to continue the fascist practice of this regime.”

Once again, as she had done after every speaker who’d endorsed participating in the election and voting for Democrats, Reyes criticized Hamud as soon as he finished speaking. “Me personally, we have a saying in Spanish: ‘The Republicans hit you with a bare hand, and the Democrats just use a club,’” Reyes said. “That’s my thinking only. I’m probably too — I don’t know — too crazy. But, whatever you believe, I voted for Donna Frye three times, and look what happened. I don’t trust them.”


First Openly Gay Congressmember Dies at 69


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

In one of those ironic coincidences that if a screenwriter tried to insert it into a film script, his or her producer would say, “Oh, come on, nobody in the audience is going to believe it,” former U.S. Congressmember Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) Studds (D-Massachusetts), who acknowledged his homosexuality after a House page he’d had sex with in 1973 “outed” him 10 years later, died at age 69 of a blood clot in his lung on October 14, right at the peak of the scandal surrounding former Congressmember Mark Foley (R-Florida), who resigned his seat after reports of his own sexual approaches to Congressional pages via e-mails and instant messages were published.

Not that Studds’ and Foley’s experiences were all that similar. Studds, as far as is known, had one consensual sexual affair with a 17-year-old page in 1973, shortly after he won his first Congressional election; Foley hit on multiple male pages with a compulsiveness recalling former Senator Robert Packwood’s (R-Oregon) approaches to women. Foley quit Congress as soon as the initial revelations came out; Studds stuck it out, accepted censure from his colleagues, kept his seat and won re-election in 1984 — thereby becoming the first House candidate to win even after he was known to be Gay. He remained in Congress until his retirement in 1997, and as a resident of the one U.S. state in which same-sex couples can marry he took advantage and wed his long-time partner, Dean Hara. Indeed, in a sign of how far we’ve come, the Associated Press obituary on Studds identified Hara as “his husband.”

I interviewed then-Congressmember Studds on September 19, 1986 when he came to San Diego to speak at the San Diego Democratic Club’s annual Freedom Banquet. In a pre-banquet reception he was asked about fellow Congressmember Robert Bauman (R-Maryland), who’d been “outed” cruising a Washington, D.C. restroom in the early 1980’s. Studds said he’d known Bauman for years because they both represented coastal districts and frequently worked together on fishing legislation important to both their constituencies -— but neither had had any idea that the other was Gay.

The initial version of this interview was published in the final issue of the San Diego Gayzette, a feisty Queer paper which came out from 1982 to 1986. Christine Kehoe, who later moved into politics herself as a San Diego City Councilmember, State Assemblymember and now State Senator, edited it for most of its final two years. The version below, however, is a new one, freshly edited from my original transcript.

Zenger’s: The obvious question I suppose everybody asks is that you came out rather accidentally, as a result of revelations in 1983. How did that affect your life, and do you think you ever would have come out openly without that happening?

Congressmember Gerry Studds: The second half I can address. Would I have done it if it had not been for that? I don’t know the answer to that question. I’d thought a great deal about it, but I kept coming up against an irony. That was, how does one call a press conference to make an announcement that will make headlines, inevitably, about a subject the principal point of which is its irrelevance? Then you’ll be making a statement about something which is fundamentally irrelevant; in fact, that would be the statement one was making. But, ironically, one would do it in the glare of publicity and headlines.

I could never figure out how that could be done. I think I had come to a point where I could have done it if I could have figured it out. Perhaps I would have. Certainly my own life had changed dramatically in the preceding five years or so, prior to 1983. Had that not been the case, I would not have survived — literally or figuratively — the events of that year.

Zenger’s: You told the Advocate that your life had been “wrapped up in self-pity and not functioning at all as a human being” before that. How precisely did being in the closet affect you, and did that change when you came out?

Studds: The before part of that question is a phenomenon that’s well known to virtually any Gay person, unless he or she is lucky enough to have grown up from a very early age in a totally open and accepting environment, which I think is very rarely the case. Perhaps someday it will be.

We’ve all been through that in one way or another over some period of time. Any Gay person who, having been through that and then, in his or her own way and in his or her own time, makes the statement, comes out, whatever the phrase may be, finds that whatever else it does, it transforms your life in virtually every respect. Every Gay person who’s been through that knows immediately what that means.

Zenger’s: How did it affect your relations with your colleagues in the House?

Studds: These relations are better, more cordial and stronger than they have ever bee, believe it or not. I’m not sure I fully understand, but I can certainly figure some of the reasons. I have to believe that I’m a good deal more pleasant to be around than I used to be — clearly, as you can see, hysterically funny. Any person who’s at east and comfortable with himself, and has a reasonable amount of self-respect, is infinitely more pleasant and agreeable to be around, and in turn elicits more respect from others. The transformation of himself is obvious, and to a certain extent contagious.

Zenger’s: As the only openly Gay Congressmember, do you consider that you have a special responsibility to come out on issues like Gay rights and AIDS, and do you think you’re taken more or less seriously on those issues because of your being openly Gay?

Studds: I don’t know if there’s a special responsibility. I’d like to think that the responsibility to speak on issues like that is inherently a human one, not a Gay one, and that one’s response would not vary according to one’s sexual preference. I myself spoke out on issues like that long before 1983, as did the members of Congress whom I respect most.

Whether or not other members look to me particularly on these issues, I don’t know. Clearly, those who are friends in a personal sense would do that, and clearly, when I speak on that, I speak with a certain authority, a certain presence. I suspect I’m listened to more so than I otherwise would have been, clearly. But I hope I’m listened to on questions of marine environment, where I also have a specialized knowledge. I listen to a farmer, who talks about things he knows about. I speak from a personal knowledge and concern, and people respond to that, I think.

Zenger’s: In recent months, we’ve seen a lot of reverses and some very successful attacks on the position of Gay people in society, things like the Supreme Court ruling in the Hardwick case [the 1986 decision which upheld state sodomy laws as constitutional, later reversed in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas], the Justice Department opinion on the civil rights of AIDS patients, and the confirmation of Justice Rehnquist as Chief Justice. How have you dealt with these things personally, and what do you think you, in your political position, can do about them?

Studds: I think one can make the case, and I’ll say this again tonight, that this is either the best of times or the worst of times. It’s probably both. My own inclination is not to belabor the components of the argument that it’s the worst of times, several of which you just cited. It’s a very easy case to make. It’s particularly easy for a Gay person to make, because our lives have been replete with evidence of that unfairness and that injustice and that misery of it all. We’ve all been through that at one stage or another, and most Gay people probably still live lives that are not fully happy ones.

But I think things are changing for the better far more rapidly than I thought I’d ever see them change in my lifetime, , notwithstanding all the tragedies. You obviously could have added AIDS itself into that list of arguments that this is the worst of all possible worlds, but there are other things in life one can use to accentuate the affirmative and positive. Certainly my own experience tends to make the case, without for the moment suggesting that the horrors of the world, and particularly as they’re visited on Gay people in this, as in most cultures we know about, are not very real and painful.

But I think changes are coming. I think we see them, even in that horror of AIDS. I think we see the silver lining in that component of education which inevitably comes with that. Granting the unspeakable tragedy of AIDS, along with it comes a reference, worked through every day in the press, to the existence of a whole set of folks to whom there was no reference whatever in the press in the first 30 years of my life. We didn’t exist. I was over 30 years old before I met another Gay person, and I certainly didn’t read about them in the paper, or anywhere else.

I just think that the perception of society as a whole has changed. There is a large, significant Gay community. Its presence cannot be denied, and to the extent that increasing numbers of men and women who are part of it are free to proceed about their business openly, whatever it may be, these changes will accelerate.

Zenger’s: You got your political start as a young man working in Eugene McCarthy’s Presidential campaign in 1968, which was thought of as a kind of symbolic affirmation of what is thought of as the spirit of the 1960’s: the sense of idealism, the sense that anything is possible. We’re moving now in a much more conservative time, a much more materialistic time, which has been euphemistically referred to as a success-oriented period. How do you see the political universe as having changed, and how has that affected you personally?

Studds: I have to tell you that I shy away from generalizations like that. I also refuse to accept the label “conservative” for what’s going on in America today. If the people in Washington who are generally described as, and who ascribe to themselves, the label “conservative,” are conservative, then the English language has lost all meaning. Everyone knows it hasn’t been spoken for years in Washington, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to give up on it.

If Ronald Reagan and Ed Meese and Anne Burford and James Watt and that crew are conservatives, then I think there’s no point attempting to converse through that medium of the English language, because it means nothing. So I won’t let anyone, whether it’s in the context of a political debate at home or a forum in Washington or anywhere else get away with suggesting that that is anything that can be called “conservative.”

I think people have forgotten that he Reagan administration is far from the mainstream of his own political party, and his own political party is a minority in this country. So what we’re ruled by for the last six years is a minority within a minority, far from the broad bipartisan consensus of what government in this country is all about, developed over a great many decades.

No one took Ronald Reagan particularly seriously, at least in the rest of the world outside of California, until late 1979, or I guess maybe early 1980, when it became clear that he really was a serious candidate for the Republican nomination. I don’t think most of the country believed that. I don’t think most of the Republican Party believed that. He was a fringe, he speaks for a fringe within the Republican Party, which in turn is a minority within the nation. And those of us outside of California looked with some bemusement on the fact that a state as large as this could take him as seriously as it did.

We’ve learned our lesson the hard way, obviously, since then, but the fact remains, although he may have made some points about the gullibility of people from time to time, and he may have strained Abe Lincoln’s observation that you can’t fool all the people all the time, nonetheless the fact remains that he and h is folks are ideologues on one extreme of the American political spectrum, and the country will gradually return to some semblance of normalcy when he finally departs, hopefully without too much lasting damage either at home or abroad. Whatever he is, he’s not a conservative. I’m one of the few genuine conservatives left in Washington, as a matter of fact.

Zenger’s: If Ronald Reagan is a fringe ideologue in the American body politic, how come he won both his Presidential elections by such substantial majorities, and the second one by a 49-state landslide?
Studds: Yes, that’s an interesting question. You might ask an interesting corollary to that question, both of which would take a lot longer than you and I have to even begin to discuss, which is how come, in the last election for example, in 1984, notwithstanding all the difficulties I had in the year preceding that, Ronald Reagan carried my district in ’84, as he did in ’80, by the largest percentage in the state of Massachusetts, but the very same day that my district was voting by a substantial margin for Ronald Reagan, it voted by a slightly larger margin for me.
Now, you figure that out. Thousands and thousands of people in the same 30 seconds voted for me and for Ronald Reagan on the same ballot in the same moment. I don’t think you can explain or understand that by looking at the politics of Ronald Reagan or the politics of Gerry Studds. I think you have to look at the gut reaction of very complex human emotions, that package of complex emotions that comes through to a voter, and how it responds to the complexity of other human beings. It’s a very important question, and we’d better understand it at our peril, or we’ll find ourselves subjected to more of the kind of demagoguery that has characterized the Reagan administration.

Zenger’s: After the 1984 election, Congressmember George Brown, a veteran liberal Democrat from Orange County, had a similar electoral result to yours. Reagan carried his district by an overwhelming majority, but Brown also won by an overwhelming majority, and he said, “Well, the voters have made it very clear. They want Ronald Reagan to be President for four more years, and they want me in there to keep an eye on him.”

Studds: That’s part of it, but I think that’s only part of it. I didn’t want to suggest that either our plurality or his was that overwhelming in our district — he took 55 percent, we took 56 percent — but we got a few hundred more votes than he did, and that’s how I always love to respond. People say, “Well, how about the mandate?” I say, “Which one, his or mine?”

People are not ideological, for the most part. They don’t spend their lives that way, they don’t think that way, and they don’t vote that way, which is one of the things I find refreshing about America. Our tradition is a singularly nonideological one, which is another way in which Ronald Reagan stands outside of it.