Earlier this week, our 13-year-old son Julian asked Sandy and me if we remembered where we were when we first heard about the attacks on September 11, 2001. Of course, we both remembered that fateful morning with tragic clarity. Julian remarked that he doesn’t remember hearing anything about the attacks back then. We knew why. Julian was five years old and in preschool. At drop-off that morning, the parents and teachers went through the motions in stunned silence, exchanging knowing looks but having no capacity or desire to explain what we were feeling and why to our (we now know, not-so) innocent children.
On this day of the eighth anniversary of that horrific morning, Julian and I did talk about what happened then. I recounted how the nation and the world felt united in an outpouring of compassion and disbelief. In the days following the attacks, we felt common humanity with virtually the entire world community. It seemed that we had an almost universal consensus condemning the attacks and a will to end terror and put a stop to the nations and groups who sponsored and supported such brutality. And then we invaded Iraq and elevated the Bush Doctrine, and everything pretty much went to hell in a hand basket. Slowly and painfully, our nation is recovering from September 11, 2001, but we may yet never recover from the wrong-headed aftermath.
As I listened to President Obama’s health care address to Congress Wednesday night, it felt so good to be proud of our President again, yet the legacy he inherited is proving to be almost too much to overcome. The most toxic, racist, mean-spirited fringe of the far right have more power over our national discourse than ever in modern history. Rep. Joe Wilson’s unprecedented breach of civility in his “uncontrolled” outburst is just the tip of the iceberg. But if we fail to steer clear of this virulent political atmosphere, our agenda of human and civil rights for LGBT folks in this country will be the Titanic. If Obama’s plan for reforming health care runs aground, you may as well head for the lifeboats. (Okay, I’ll stop now with the ocean disaster metaphors.)
The same forces who are apoplectic at the idea (THE IDEA!) that health care would be provided to undocumented workers are the same forces who fight against any progress or reform in favor of rights and security for LGBT folks. A lack of humanity and compassion does not suddenly emerge with the appearance of a U.S. birth certificate. If you are queer in this country, these folks hate you every bit as much as they hate an undocumented laborer worried about how she will get medicine for her baby. Obama must win on health care reform—because as LGBT people, we need that reform as much as anyone, and because his entire national agenda of greater inclusion, security, and humanity for all of us hangs in the balance.
Obama’s far right opponents have made very clear that taking him down on health care has nothing to do with actual health care, but everything to do with branding his administration a failure and halting any future progress on every issue we care about. We can’t let that happen. This is a classic win/win. If Obama wins, we win.
As Julian and I talked about the terror attacks from eight years ago, I told him how immeasurably I believed former President Bush’s course of action compounded the tragedy of that day. He said, “Well, maybe now things will be better.” I hope so deeply that Julian’s wish will come true. Our commitment must be in making that wish a reality—for us and the world we imagine might be possible.