Last edited: February 06, 2005

For Every Citizen?

New York Press, December 17, 2002
333 7th Ave, 14th Fl., New York, New York 10001

The Gist

By Michelangelo Signorile

"The founding ideals of our nation and, in fact, the founding ideals of the political party I represent was, and remains today, the equal dignity and equal rights of every American," George W. Bush said piously last week, criticizing Trent Lott for voicing his nostalgic yearnings for the Old South. "We must continue our advance toward full equality for every citizen, which demands...a guarantee of civil rights for all."

If Lott’s apologies for his statements were as phony-appearing as his dubious puff of hair, Bush’s promise to advance "equality for every citizen" is as empty as the top of Dick Cheney’s shiny bald head.

Bush, after all, is quite proudly against allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children who desperately need homes. And he supports the Draconian homosexual-specific Texas sodomy law that even the conservative Supreme Court that installed him as president is, at this moment, deciding should perhaps be overturned. Several of the Justices may be mighty embarrassed about the court’s notorious Hardwick decision in 1986, which has allowed the police in Texas and 12 other states to continue to barge into people’s bedrooms and haul them off to jail. But not our President, who has said sodomy laws are a "symbol of traditional values," using the very same terminology that Southern racists have used to defend segregation.

It’s always good for a few guffaws when politicians like Bush, beholden to far-right religious conservatives, talk about "equality for every citizen"—especially when you see the so-called moderate or libertarian Republicans who support such politicians momentarily skulk into a corner (all red-faced) when they hear these platitudes, knowing full well that they’ve made a deal with the devil in order to get their tax cuts, or whatever selfish thing brought them aboard. (That same scenario often has them looking the other way of racism too, by the way—until it gets just too bald-faced, as in the case of Lott’s statements, causing them to suddenly speak up loudly about someone whose nasty record has been plain as day for the past 30 years.)

But this time the platitudes were so funny that you laughed until you cried. That’s because, after his Martin Luther King Jr. moment regarding Lott’s statements, Bush signed executive orders that will allow for religious discrimination by charities that take federal money as part of Bush’s faith-based initiatives program. It’s not at all surprising, but the irony of what he was really saying seemed lost on him entirely: "I’m firmly against discrimination-and, by the way, I’m signing some executive orders allowing discrimination!"

As Congressman Jerry Nadler said in a press release, "Today, the President endorsed the practice of hanging signs on doors that say ‘No Jews or Catholics Need Apply.’ In fact, he not only endorsed it, he said that the taxpayers should pay for it."

Even that, however, doesn’t explain the entirety of what will happen under Bush’s orders. For many charities, anti-gay prejudice will now be wrapped up in the pretty package of religious freedom, and even in cities and states where gays and lesbians have worked hard to secure protections, the charities may be able to discriminate against them. That’s because Bush’s directives will allow employers to discriminate against individuals who don’t hold to the strictest tenets of the employer’s professed faith.

So, under the directives, an openly gay Catholic can be fired from a Catholic charity that gets money through the faith-based program simply because the Vatican has proclaimed that homosexuality is "objectively disordered," and thus should not be acted upon. Some people may have been worried back in 1960 that, if elected, the Catholic John F. Kennedy would be taking orders from the Vatican, but it’s "born again" Bush II who has now given the pope a direct say in hiring and firing policies in the United States.

Most alarmingly, charities that offer housing for people with AIDS will be able to even more blatantly discriminate. Under Bush’s directive, charities in the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program may be able to discriminate directly on the basis of sexual orientation, without even having to cover it with the religious patina. Thus, a gay man or lesbian working at an AIDS hospice run by a Christian charity in the program can quite possibly be fired just for being gay, theoretically, no matter what the laws are in his or her municipality or state that might protect gays.

So much for "equality for every citizen."

The Story that Almost Wasn’t

It’s been said but it bears repeating that the media were not only slow on the uptake regarding the Trent Lott story; they almost let it get away. The clubby Beltway establishment is a mix of media people and politicians, and too often they protect one another (consciously or not) unless events force them to do their jobs. And, more and more, that only happens if a story is packaged and sold—and then clubbed over their heads over and over again.

That is something Republicans, as the opposition party during the Clinton years, became adept at doing as 24/7 cable news and the Internet exploded and there was suddenly a lot of time and space to fill. What’s clear about the Lott story, which almost evaporated over a weekend, is that Democrats and liberals weren’t pushing it in part because they just don’t have the machine that Republicans have, which is fueled by talk radio. But more than that, the Democrats were just plain disorganized and feeble at the outset—surprise, surprise—with Tom Daschle making a complete ass of himself by quickly accepting Lott’s first apology.

If there truly were a cabal of liberal ideologues in the media pushing a liberal Democratic agenda, they’d have jumped on this without any prodding. The Lott story took off because of online writers, as Paul Krugman noted in the Times last week, who just wouldn’t let it go and who kept challenging the mainstream press. Krugman mentioned Joshua Marshall at, among "a few other Internet writers." One of those other left-of-center bloggers who was as instrumental as Marshall, was Atrios, aka Eschaton, at, who has fast become a one-stop shop for progressives who want to know what’s going on at any hour of the day or night and want it with a dose of punchy spin. Conservative online writers came a little later to this story (though, to their credit, they did become forceful on it, as did some of their print journalism counterparts, such as Robert George of the New York Post); the usual suspects among them and their promoters are trying to make as if they were at the very front of this blog wave.

But in the end, Marshall, whose invaluable contacts gave him documents and information (and a Larry King/Lott interview minutes before it even aired!), and Atrios, who made all the important connections to this story and focused on Lott’s past, gave this controversy its initial momentum. As Krugman noted, if not for them and a few others, Lott’s remarks might have gotten lost in the media haze, like so many other things.

[Home] [Editorials] [Lawrence v. Texas]