Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A day for standing up

It's all kind of odd for an off-year election, but this has the makings of a special year. What kind of landmark it leaves will be seen soon enough, but it feels momentous. It's a collection of local races, really, but the mounting sense that they're going to represent a kind of real grass-roots change is exciting and heartening.

We all have our own special races -- I'm keeping a close eye on Washington's 8th District and Idaho's 1st District, while I think the Connecticut Senate race has been fascinating if nothing else -- but there are some races that are just special in themselves and deserve our wider appreciation. Take, for instance, Michigan.

The voters in Michigan are not only being confronted with a divisive initiative on affirmative action, but as Hans Johnson at In These Times reports, a larger trend -- which the initiative reflects -- toward the takeover of the mainstream Republican Party by its extremist elements:
Overshadowed by Ned Lamont's Aug. 8 primary win for Senate in Connecticut was an ugly ouster the same day of a moderate GOP incumbent congressman from Michigan, Joe Schwarz. In his first term in Congress, Schwarz, a doctor, backed lifting the ban on stem-cell research and raising the minimum wage. But in the low-turnout primary, he narrowly lost to Tim Walberg, a minister who took money from the anti-immigrant Minutemen and had to deny involvement in an episode of antigay vandalism at Schwarz's campaign office. Walberg’s win is the latest by a far-right insurgency in the state. Since 2000, this small group has shoehorned attacks on abortion rights, intolerance against gays, and even racist appeals into the strategy of the state Republican Party.

The power of this insurgency has also become a subplot of the race for governor this fall. Republican candidate Dick DeVos, who vows to rev up the auto industry if he beats incumbent Jennifer Granholm, has drawn fire for five-figure grants given by his wife's foundation to the antigay American Family Association (AFA). The AFA is leading a boycott against Michigan-based Ford Motor Company for including gay and lesbian consumers in its marketing campaigns. In July, the group boasted that its boycott had cut severely into Ford's sales. Last week, the company announced $5.8 billion in third quarter losses.

The allegations of kicking the carmaker and its workers while they're down are dogging DeVos all the more because the millionaire former Amway executive has appeared to welcome their plight. Automakers should "stop crabbing," he once told the Grand Rapids Press. And his wife Betsy, while chair of the state GOP in 2004, famously linked "high wages" among the state's union households to "economic problems." Yes, she actually said that.

Media Mouse has fully detailed DeVos' connections to the American Family Association. What's especially noteworthy here is the prominent role played by AFA's Michigan affiliate, which is run by a former roght-wing political operative from Idaho named Gary Glenn:
The Director of the Michigan affiliate of the American Family Association, Gary Glenn, has received considerable attention in recent years for his attacks on gays and lesbians. Glenn has opposed anti-discrimination policies of several Michigan cities by asserting that if passed, public bathrooms and showers would become co-ed. After the legislation passed in several towns, Glenn organized petitions to overturn the legislation, asserting that gays and lesbians pose a "public health hazard." He has further criticized homosexuality stating in a 2001 press release that "Under homosexual activists' political agenda, our children would face a future in which traditional marriage and families have been legally devalued, while state government -- despite the severe threat it poses to personal and public health -- not only legally endorses but uses our tax dollars to subsidize deadly homosexual behavior." Glenn also has expressed satisfaction when gay men are arrested having sex in public and further stated that according to his "files," "in almost every case ... public school employees" are involved in such acts. As recently as 2004, Glenn argued that "homosexual activity among men remains the single biggest cause of AIDS infection" despite numerous studies to the contrary. Glenn organized in favor of filters in libraries, arguing that with pornography on the Internet, libraries are "the most dangerous place for a child today."

Anyone who covered Idaho politics remembers Glenn well; his legacy in Idaho includes an onerous right-to-work law and a raft of anti-gay measures that floated through the Legislature at various times. He's also, as it happens, one of the driving forces behind the candidacy of the extremist Republican who is running against Larry Grant for the open seat in Idaho's 1st District.

Since his move to Michigan, it's obvious he has his sights set on bigger game. This includes a front group called the Council for Responsible Government that operates as a political funding "black hole," running smear campaigns on behalf of far-right candidates while ostensibly pushing for term limits.

Glenn and his operations in Michigan are only a symptom of the larger pathology that has infected the Republican Party. Everywhere you look, it's becoming clear that conservative rule in America has done nothing but empower demagogues who believe that ideology can trump policy, and when disaster inevitably results, ideology trumps reality. And increasingly, that ideology is growing hateful and malignant.

Every one of us today has a chance to say something about that. Every one of us can say that we've had enough. We may not be able to vote in Michigan or Connecticut, but our votes are still capable of being part of a greater sea change -- one that is increasingly overdue.

I'm very much looking forward to casting my ballot today.

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