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.