There's something about Minnesota U.S. House candidate Michele Bachmann that sets me off. It's not just her homophobia, which causes her to claim with serene illogic that, if her state does not ban same-sex marriage, public school students will be encouraged to try homosexuality (as if any law could stop them should they wish to). It's the smug, fanatical, Stepford-wife expression in her AP photo that makes me want to slap her.
Needless to say, we cannot slap our way out of anti-gay initiatives and candidates. Anger may motivate action, but it makes a lousy political philosophy. One of the keys to a winning strategy for gay equality is to avoid giving the religious right any fodder for their fetish of portraying themselves as victims. After all, I don't really mean to slap anyone, much less push their kids to try gay sex -- or straight sex, for that matter. On the other side, however, the theocons do indeed mean to deny us and our families the equal protection of the law -- which requires them to lie.
Given the relentless attacks on gay families by Republicans (a few Democrats have played the game, but they cannot compete with the GOP), it may be tempting to respond in kind. Michael Rogers of blogACTIVE, to cite one gay radical, is at least bipartisan in his outing of closeted politicians. But the boorishness of his tactics, which perversely rely on homosexuality having negative associations, serve only to discredit and degrade the gay rights cause. What is needed to combat right-wing zealotry is not left-wing zealotry, but greater efforts to mobilize the American center.
The tone and framework of our advocacy should be designed to enlighten and persuade people, not indulge ourselves. If a particular attack, such as against RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, feels satisfying but turns people off, what does it accomplish? A witty riposte hits home much more effectively. For example, when anti-gay Rev. Lou Sheldon last week endorsed President Bush's attempt to ''clarify'' the Geneva Conventions, Andrew Sullivan suggested a new bumper sticker: WWJT, for ''Who Would Jesus Torture?''
My nomination for the least convincing subject line of the year goes to the Log Cabin Republicans for their Sept. 15 action alert, ''Help Republicans Keep Control of the U.S. Senate!'' They were celebrating Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee's victory over conservative challenger Stephen Laffey. Unfortunately, the Senate is not controlled by people like Chafee.
As an activist who puts issues ahead of party, I have worked quite amicably with Log Cabin for many years, and even wrote several articles for their centrist think tank, Liberty Education Forum. But the value of having allies on both sides of the aisle is far outweighed at this point by the need to put brakes on our president's recklessness and incompetence. (Sorry, but some bluntness about what is going on is unavoidable.) I respect Log Cabin's efforts to reform their party from within, but they are so marginalized that the only way they could hope to gain any traction would be after major GOP losses over multiple elections. With these considerations, it would be insane for gay people not to support Sheldon Whitehouse and other Democrats in November.
President Bush has used the war on terror to divide Americans for political gain when he should have been uniting us. The fundamentalism, nativism and xenophobia that Bush has unleashed (and which even turned against him in cases involving immigration and port security) are the same impulses that work against gay people. Like demonized foreigners, we represent ''the Other'' against whom voters are encouraged to direct their fears and frustrations. In any witch hunt, GLBT folk are not safe.
When Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage -- both in 2004 and last June -- he stressed the need for civility and respect, while refusing to mention the people he sought to write out of the Constitution. This is the Bush family's compassionate conservatism: Dress up wedge politics in fine words and euphemisms.
To be sure, our national discourse is hampered more by the constant stream of invective in everything from books to blogs than by false politeness. Bomb-throwing, while entertaining, is a diversion from the task of considering what we truly stand for. America's soul is at stake as we face this question: Are our vaunted national values to be a self-congratulatory banner or a stern guide and measure of our behavior? I believe the answer leads inevitably to a partisan conclusion.
As Congressman Barney Frank told PlanetOut before the Millennium March in 2000, ''What I say about partisanship is that it's a betrayal of your commitment to gay and lesbian rights to start out with a partisan orientation. But it's an equal betrayal if the facts lead you to a partisan conclusion to withhold that conclusion.''
If we are concerned about our nation's drift toward tyranny and theocracy, then we must ask ourselves what price we are prepared to pay for our liberty. Disillusionment and disengagement from politics are poor substitutes for electing to Congress those likeliest to resist a president who has shown he considers himself above the law. That is the bottom line in this midterm election. We do not need to reciprocate our adversaries' slanders against us. It is enough for us to describe their actions and methods unflinchingly and judge which party will leave us better off. The answer is clear. Vote Democratic.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.