Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lipstick Liberal

There are liberals whose progressive streak is more substantial than skin deep. Then there are those liberals who wear liberalism superficially, like lipstick.

Recently a friend from District 19 approached me to say that Council-at-Large member Megan Barry called asking her to mobilize neighbors to direct 19's hesitant CM, Erica Gilmore, toward supporting the non-discrimination bill sponsored by Barry and due for second reading next week. Being the good progressive, I would usually support this bill openly and enthusiastically. CM Gilmore would by now have grown weary of phone calls and e-mails urging her to vote with Barry. Enclave would have a long subject thread on it.

People who read me know that I lock on issues like a fully-loaded American Stratfordshire Terrier.

But not this time. Not on this bill. But not because of the issue.

My motivation is my belief that CM Barry is a lipstick liberal, prompted less by abiding progressive principles and more by safe choices and prospects of kowtowing to the Mayor's office.

CM Barry seems to be burning all of her political capital on this issue. She's not used any for the ones for which I've advocated. In fact, after her early opposition to bargaining with Predators, issue after issue she has receded into the background rather than taking a strong progressive stand (unless Mayor Karl Dean does so). Barry baited us to join the fight against Tygard's LEDs, then she switched to acquiescence. At her inexplicably least liberal moment, she supported the Mayor's regressive stormwater fee structure that taxes smaller, greener property owners more than the big, blacktopped boys. And then she had the audacity to blame another council progressive for making her vote unprogressively.

If she were a man I'd call her "Mini-Karl." Perhaps "Mini-Karlene" is fitting.

I'm sorry, fellow liberals, but it is the ethos of the nondiscrimination bill sponsor that has been the obstacle to my ringing endorsement of it. Any encouragement to support the Barry bill comes across like Lt. Kaffee cajoling LCpl. Dawson to accept the government's plea bargain instead of fighting the good fight. I feel like I'm being asked to make one safe choice after a string of risky ones many consider untouchable. And like LCpl. Dawson (whom writer Aaron Sworkin describes as "a man who would rather die than breach military protocol"), I feel like shoving my hands in my pockets and balking in spite of my commitments to progressive issues like nondiscrimination.

So, I haven't written CM Gilmore to encourage support and I don't know if I'll join this fight. I see a certain wisdom in choosing to sit this battle out.

Frankly, politics and social justice are mutually bound mechanisms. Ideals are fine, and as Reinhold Neibuhr wrote, they leaven politics. But they are no substitute for balance and mutuality. Many of those supporting Barry's bill have not been supportive of my issues like providing more family-friendly urban environments with strong schools and welcoming parks. They've been quiet on saving Bells Bend and opposing LED billboards. Local politics is not a single-issue, zero-sum game. It comes down to "you support my issue, I'll support yours."

Single-issue arguments do not motivate me to mobilize, especially given the lipstick liberal disposition of the bill sponsor. You want me to support this bill? I would like nothing more than to trump council conservatives after the conservative fiascoes of the previous council. But I'm going to need more than appeals to conscience.

Either express support for the issues I believe in or find a substantive liberal sponsor who is not just using a single progressive issue cosmetically to satisfy her future Democratic Party aspirations. I require something more profound than the triflings of lipstick liberals to pull me on board.


  1. I believe that's American Staffordshire terrier. But for some reason, I was able to take your meaning anyway... ;)

  2. From the way you tell the story, a friend in District 19 asked for your help in getting Gilmore to support the bill. Yes, Megan Barry contacted your friend, but I'm guessing that your friend truly supports the bill and is not a robot that does everything Barry says. Why not contact Gilmore because you support your friend's efforts?

    Obviously, you have the right to pick which issues to devote your time, but your logic for not contacting Gilmore strikes me as petty. If the bill doesn't pass, it won't be your fault, but nor will it make Barry more likely to support your issues.

    I may be wrong, but I'm assuming that you're not in a category that would be protected by the ordinance. If that's the case, enjoy your privilege. Must be nice.

  3. I understand what you're saying here Mike. When Barry needs the votes its 'rally around progressive friends' but when you need her support its all so politically considered. It's not about trading votes and support per se - its about a progressive agenda and not just her agenda. I am disappointed in her as well. She's not really so good at helping many neighborhood leaders who supported her feel supported in return.

  4. I too am disappointed with Megan Barry and her lack of courage and leadership on progressive issues. It seems she is content to bask in the idea that she is perceived as progressive, but doesn't feel the need to follow through on anything of substance. I for one am tired of supporting people who campaign one way, then once elected act as if they are ashamed of progressive ideals and won't work to develop and implement a truly progressive agenda. And rumor has it she is one of several people being considered by some disgruntled powers that be to take on Jim Cooper in the next election. Sad that once again we'll have only gutless people to choose from.