Thursday, October 14

Another Name for "Moral Clarity"

I will refrain from giving a lengthy account of my impressions from the final exchange between John Kerry and George Bush (Steve Bates and many others have done this work well), but I would like to respond to the piece of Republican spin (which I heard repeated in an interview on BBC radio last night) that says that, of the two favored candidates for the executive office, George Bush shows greater "moral clarity."
I was struck by just how little clarity George Bush provides on one of the issues he has made the biggest stink over: homosexuality and rights for same-sex couples. Here is a Reuters account of the exchange in question:

Asked by the debate moderator whether he thought homosexuality was a matter of choice, Bush said, "You know, Bob, I don't know. I just don't know."
The moderator's question went right to the heart of the issue. If being gay is less of a choice than it is a discovery, then is there any reason why we should treat gays as a threat to civic and religious institutions? And the President's reply? The President just doesn't know... Such a reply would be understandable if one allowed that moral issues rarely admit of clarity, but the fact is, this President is leading a charge (that has already been firmly rebuffed by both houses of Congress) to amend the Constitution so that gays are definitively excluded from hundreds of rights that currently favor married heterosexual couples. So, I ask, is this clarity? Rushing to amend the Constitution over a matter of which the President says he does not have a clear understanding? Doesn't that look a lot more like stupidity? Or, worse, political maneuvering that hopes to cash in on widespread homophobic notions while at the same time preaching "tolerance" and "respect"? There's another name for that. It begins with an "h."

Following the President's admission of ignorance, he said this:

"I do know that we have a choice to make in America and that is to treat people with tolerance and respect and dignity. It's important that we do that."
If this is clarity, one would hope for tangible legislative proposals that would not only preach "tolerance and respect and dignity" but reflect these principles in law. But for that, one has to look to Bush's opponents, Edwards and Kerry, who want to grant same-sex couples specific rights (while still not permitting them a government-sanctioned contract to be called "marriage"). As Kerry said,

"You can't disallow someone the right to visit their partner in a hospital. You have to allow people to transfer property, which is why I'm for partnership rights and so forth."
When asked the question about the nature of homosexuality, Kerry, whom the Republicans relentlessly depict as being indecisive and unclear, said,
"I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not choice."
As I see it, it took moral clarity for Kerry not to equivocate on this issue. Bush, by contrast, tried to position himself on the fence with an astounding claim to ignorance, a hollow statement about "tolerance" and other ideals, and an impotent — and, strictly speaking, irrelevant — call to "protect marriage" (as if, in denying gays marriage by means of a Constitutional amendment, we would be "protecting" marriage, an assumption even the right-wing commentator David Brooks finds ridiculous).

On a personal note, I asked a gay friend of mine about this issue a few weeks ago; the following is copied from our e-mail:

Me: what would your response be to someone who told you that homosexuality is merely a personal choice that one can reject?

He: Hmm, well, I suppose I would say, "Why would I choose to be in such a condemned, hated minority when I could live a perfectly "normal" life as a heterosexual and avoid all the pain, heartache and self hatred which accompany being homosexual?" In other words, I would not have chosen such an existence if I could have helped it, so I have come to accept the nature of who I am and try to live as happily as I can despite the vitriolic hatred spewed by those who don't understand.
As I see things, if there is moral clarity on the issue of homosexuality, it can be found in my friend's words. The far-right wing of the Republican Party has pushed Bush into a thoroughly indefensible position and, lacking moral — and logical — clarity, Bush is rushing to stain our Constitution with ignorance. In fact, things are probably worse than that. It is most likely that Bush is merely pretending, for his short-term political gain, that the amendment of the Constitution is a vital issue, since no one in their right mind would give the proposed amendment a chance of passing. So, I say, let's not let Bush jostle for political gain by appealing to voters’ fears. Let’s not take him seriously when he toys with the role of ‘moral activist’ with respect to our Constitution. And, in all matters, let's not let George W. Bush get away with implying that he represents "the main stream" as he did so fraudulently in his televised comments last night.