Want to know if you've drifted into the divisive political extreme? If you celebrated the resignation of Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign this week, you fit the bill. You're part of the problem of division in this country. It's people like you who have driven people like me from both the Democratic and Republican parties. And it's episodes like this that continue to fracture our society.
When Grenell, Mitt Romney's openly gay advisor on foreign policy, announced his resignation this week, partisans on both the left and the right cheered. HuffPost Gay Voices editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile called it "a big win for progressives and for gay journalists and commentators, as well." Yes, a leader of the gay community called what he believes to be the firing of a gay man a "win." On the other end of the spectrum, religious conservative ideologue Bryan Fischer agreed with Signorile (we don't see that statement much!) in that Grenell's departure was a "huge win."
When the far right and the far left both claim victory on any issue, that's trouble for the rest of us. What's been lost is the middle of the country, the fair-minded people who met Grenell's hiring with a so-what shrug and his departure with a frown. But American political discourse is no longer about fair-minded Americans. The far left and far right have both made sure of that.
The extremes of both sides were desperately afraid of what Grenell's appointment could have meant. "Personnel is policy" was the mantra used, and they feared the very same thing: Somehow this one appointee was going to demand marriage rights and hang a rainbow flag outside a Romney White House. The far right feared this would be a shift in Romney's supported policy. But no matter whom Romney hires, it doesn't change the candidate's vocal support for a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage (which, by the way, is an empty, divisive campaign issue because it will never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen). Meanwhile, the far left was afraid that the hiring might lure some gay votes away from their candidate, Barack Obama. Did the Human Rights Campaign laud Romney's hiring of an openly gay man who wanted to marry his partner? No. Instead, the divisive left trotted out Barney Frank to give them cover, saying Romney deserved no praise for the hire. While they never even mentioned the hire on their blog, after Grenell resigned HRC suddenly found its voice on the issue, wagging a finger and using it as an example of how "dangerous" a Romney presidency would be. Both conservative Christians and the country's largest "gay-rights group" were happier that a gay man had been perceived to be "fired" than when he was hired. That's divisive extremism. That's tearing the country apart.
Chris Matthews got one thing right on Wednesday, when he said that this incident shows that "parts of the Republican Party are hostile to gays." Yes, parts are quite hostile. But who doubted that? No fair-minded American did. Of course, parts of the Republican Party are hostile to gays; some want us killed! Yet people on the far left, like The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur, feel the need to paint the entire party as an anti-gay, Nazi-type party ready to raid people's homes. They're ecstatic about Grenell's resignation, because they twist it into more red meat for their constituents.
While the "far dividers" pop champagne corks, those of us in the center are left another step further away from both sides. If the political spectrum is a circle, those on both sides celebrating Grenell's departure are now closer to one another than they are to me, my parents, most of my friends... and Ric Grenell. They are left squabbling over victories and perceived advances on their gay and anti-gay territory. They don't argue over milestones; they quibble over baby steps this way and that. The political climate for their constituents -- most gay people on the left and most religious Christians on the right -- hasn't changed one bit in my lifetime. No logical person can say that the Republicans are better on advancing gay-rights issues than the Democrats; and no logical person can say that the Democrats are better at protecting conservative religious freedom than the Republicans.
I understand this mentality, because I was part of it once. Through part of my adult life, I was happier to see "the other side" fail than to see compromise and growth. I happily picked a side and fought for it. But in the last few years, each side has grown further away from me. Like more and more people, I've since abandoned "my side" for the middle that represents most Americans.
In the aftermath of Grenell's resignation, both sides equally mistake the facts and use deception to make their point. They both claim Grenell was forced out by Romney. The facts suggest that Grenell chose to resign despite the Romney campaign and high-level Republicans asking him not to. Did they handle the situation well? No. Caught between the divisive extremes, they quieted Grenell for a while despite many in the GOP begging them not to. But this signals no move to the right by Romney on the issue of hiring gay people, despite both HRC and the AFA wishing it did.
They also both try to claim that Grenell was originally hired to lure gay voters, but facts suggest that Romney tapped Grenell because he was an ardent supporter of the campaign, had the endorsement of some powerful people, and is damn good at foreign policy. There was never going to be advocacy or speeches by Grenell on gay-rights issues. He was to be a foreign-policy advisor, not a Pride parade organizer.
Now we're left in another predicament because the "far dividers" in our country got what they wanted. The predictable comments on this item will demonstrate my point better than I could. The country hasn't grown, policy hasn't advanced, and nothing good has come from this, yet both sides claim victory.
And fair-minded Americans get left further in the rear-view mirror.