Columns » Max Brantley

What’s a liberal to do?



Until last weekend, I was inclined to dismiss liberals' call to vote next year for a Green Party candidate or even a Republican as a protest vote of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln's wishy-washy moderation.

Beginning with water-carrying for billionaires, credit card companies and corporate farm subsidies and ending with her opposition to universal health care, Lincoln's record doesn't offer much to moderate Democrats, never mind liberals. But,  she is a Democrat. She caucuses with the party and elects a leader from that number. She might — might — show backbone on an important Obama judicial appointment some day.

It is hard for me to imagine that a Republican would be preferable, certainly not one of the assembly line-produced reactionaries who have formed a tittering queue worthy of a Miley Cyrus concert to oppose Lincoln. Politics aside,  I've also always thought Lincoln was a fundamentally decent person.

But word has began circulating among human rights activists that Lincoln opposes the employment non-discrimination act. It would bar employment discrimination against homosexual and transgender people at businesses with more than 15 employees. It has  growing support in Congress. Even Lincoln patron Wal-Mart has a policy against employment discrimination on account of sexual orientation. Obama has said he'll sign the legislation, unlike President Bush, who threatened a veto. It's written to exempt religious organizations and it also wouldn't overturn policy on gays in the military.

A spokesman contends it's unfair to characterize Lincoln as opposed to the legislation (or, presumably, to say she supports it). The senator will, the spokesman said, consider its impact on Arkansas before making a decision at the proper time. “As a woman who is breaking barriers in the U.S. Senate, she understands the principles of equality and opportunity in the workplace,” Lincoln's spokesman said. Understanding the principles and fighting for them are, of course, two different things.

A failure to endorse this legislation, which is supported by a congressional majority, is disappointing, if not wholly surprising. But it's an affront to human dignity when compounded by Lincoln's use of a cliche that comes straight from the Falwell playbook.

Lincoln commented gratuitously in a canned noncommital response to letters asking her support for the legislation, “Equal rights should not become special rights.”

“Special rights.” In the politically twisted world that crafted this catch phrase — same shop, probably, that brought us “death panels” and “death tax” — equal treatment under the law is a special right when it applies to queers. It is simple: Those who invoke “special rights” as criticism of the legislation support  discrimination against homosexuals. They want to protect those who underpay, punish, harass and fire people simply because they are gay.  What God teaches this perversion of the Golden Rule?

Many candidates, including the president, have found electoral success among middle class swing voters, people less concerned about social issues and race than peace, the economy and health care. But you'd think the only people voting in Blanche Lincoln's Arkansas were Fox News fanatics. You'd think she knows these lost causes are among the solid plurality who've told pollsters they'll vote for any of several unknown Republicans over Lincln in 2010.

Lincoln demeans herself by pandering to such voters. She might even do her cause harm. If she disgusts 3 or 4 percent of voters enough to go Green in protest,  she might lose a close election. More Lincoln talk of “special rights” and I'll be among those saying it wouldn't be much of a loss.

(At deadline, the senator's office said her canned letter would remove the phrase “due to the confusion it has caused.”)  


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