We were sitting at home election night when the phone rang and it turned out to be Jim Holt, or the electronic version of Jim Holt, assuring us that he was immovably opposed to same-sex marriage and he knew we were too and would prove it by voting for him. He had us wrong.
We hung up quickly — even the recorded voice of Jim Holt is not something you want in your home for long — and gave thanks for mixed blessings. Sadly, proposed Constitutional Amendment 3, a spiteful measure, was approved by the voters. It prohibits not only gay marriages but civil unions that would allow homosexual couples some of the same legal protections enjoyed by their fellow Americans who happen to be heterosexual. A form of legalized bigotry, Amendment 3 will eventually be repudiated by Arkansas voters, just as they eventually repudiated the segregationist measures that an earlier generation of demagogues fooled them into adopting.
The good news, and it is very good news indeed, is that the popularity of Amendment 3 did not extend to state Sen. Holt, who opposed U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, or to state Rep. Marvin Parks, who challenged U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder. Though Parks and Holt attached themselves to the anti-gay measure like ticks on a hound, both were thrashed.
Their campaigns seemed devoted almost exclusively to gay-bashing; certainly they had nothing to commend themselves for public service. Holt is an odd and unproductive member of the Senate; Parks is best known for the ingenuity and diligence with which he pursues public money for his own use, while voting against taxes to aid schoolchildren, the sick and the elderly.
Unappealing as they are, Holt and Parks are just cruder versions of the sort of candidates that the Republican Party puts forward throughout the South. Republican strategists made a conscious decision some years back that they would gain dominance in the South by becoming the party of Keeping the Black Man in his Place, but without the dogs and the fire hoses that had brought such unflattering attention to the region previously. This from the party of Lincoln. But what does the loss of a soul matter if you gain electoral votes?
The big Republican, George W. Bush, is a product of this strategy too, though he’s a little smoother than some of his party mates. As of this writing, late on election night, it is still not known whether Bush or John Kerry will win the presidency. Be sure that if it’s Bush, he will pursue programs not so very different from what Holt and Parks would do. The sun will shine even more brightly for rich white men and religious fundamentalists. Everybody else — people of color, gays, women, the working class, union members — will find themselves still more closely confined to the shadowy side of the street. Grim thoughts.