I am really hoping that Cory Booker is not gay. If he is, then his statement that “So what does it matter if I am?” (1) in response to ongoing rumors about his sexuality is an answer that fails to fully embrace his individualism. However, if this is his answer as a straight man, then it strikes a strong blow for the politics of inclusion by demeaning the question. It states that being gay is not a character flaw or something that has to be denied.
Opposing Booker in the race to become New Jersey’s next Senator is “Tea Party candidate” Steve Lonegan. (2) Among Lonegan’s previous verbal gems has been his assertion that as “a white guy running in the state of New Jersey” he has a handicap. (3) This ignores the reality that the current governor and the previous holder of the seat he seeks are both white men. Certainly the voters of the state have not been shown to have a history of racism against whites and the males of the state have already broken the glass ceiling. The statement does expose a propensity of this wing of the party to play the race card to a segment of the population who fear the changes that our shifting population will bring.
Lonegan has also not shied away from playing to the fear of social change. In a recent interview he weighed in on the subject of Booker’s sexuality by saying “It’s kind of weird. As a guy, I personally like being a guy.” (4) He continued by offering to put up his “fetish” against his opponents, seemingly in a comparison of which one has more manly interests. If his fortunes do not improve in the polls, I wonder if he will next challenge the Mayor of Newark to an arm wrestle, or better yet, a pissing contest.
In trying to pivot away from the controversy that his comments caused, Lonegan called a news conference to say that he does not “care if Cory Booker is gay or straight. The problem is he is too liberal for New Jersey.”(5) He has also called the election “a referendum on the entire Obama agenda.” (6) Given the candidate’s current standing in the polls, this seems to be a strange place to plant his Gadsden flag in the sand. Maybe it should not be too surprising as the teabaggers only seem to recognize elections that they win as indicating the will of the electorate. Otherwise, the results were due to a swarm of “low information voters” who only voted the wrong way because they did not know any better.
Last weekend I attended a town hall meeting of my congressman. While there were too many people in attendance to give everyone a chance to speak, a lottery system was in place to give everyone an equal opportunity to have their say. This was not good enough for the Tea Party contingent that was present and insisted on shouting their questions from the audience. Even those who won a turn at the podium were not interested in political discussion as they would turn their back on the Congressman as he gave his answer. Audience members loudly booed so the answers could not be heard.
This tendency to blatantly disregard anyone with whom you disagree is detrimental to our democracy. The republic was established with protections that over time have prevented the majority from infringing on the rights of the minority. However, in the end elections must be allowed to have consequences, even when a vocal minority does not agree with the results. Protest and debate strengthens our country; gridlock in our government tears us down.
The fact that an organization as divisive as the Tea Party would use the Gadsden flag as their emblem is in itself ironic. This flag is a descendant of Ben Franklin’s political cartoon which depicted the colonies as a snake cut up into eight pieces and included the message to Join or Die. It was “an early symbol of a shared national identity.” (7) The message of “Don’t Tread On Me,” like the original Tea Party, was directed toward a monarchy that did not allow them to have a say in their governance. The Revolutionary War was not fought so that we would have “No Taxation.” The full demand of our Founding Fathers was “No Taxation Without Representation.”
The Tea Party’s familiarity with present day realities is no better than their sense of history. The acronym in their name may stand for “Taxed Enough Already,” (8) but “federal taxes on middle-income Americans are near historic lows.” (9) To appease the Republican members of congress, “40% of Obama’s stimulus package involved tax cuts.” (10) By one author’s estimate (from before Romney’s career ending foot in mouth injury), 47% of Tea Party members do not pay any federal income taxes. (11)
Perhaps instead of deriding their opponents as sheeple who cannot think for themselves, they should question who is benefiting from pulling their strings. Businesses that profit from the current shadow economy get to maintain the status quo if they can sell opposition to immigration reform to a group afraid of change. Unchecked capitalism increases profits while endangering the very people who agitate for a limited government. Reducing taxes will not help people who are not currently paying taxes, but it will result in reducing the services in which they rely. It may not be government who is doing the treading.
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