My political awakening came while sitting with the most unlikely person in the most unlikely place. I was in the Billy Crystal Room of the New York Friars Club (yes, there's a place in the world where a room is named for Billy Crystal) talking to George Takei -- better known as Mr. Sulu, helmsman of the Starship Enterprise. With him was Brad Altman, the man Takei will marry in September, thanks to a wise decision in May by the California Supreme Court. Takei had accepted an offer to be the victim of a pseudo-celebrity roast by the Friars, and as we talked just before the volley of gay jokes, Asian jokes and gay-Asian jokes commenced, Altman interjected rarely. When he did he was nervous -- a sharp contrast to his Victorian-voiced partner -- leaning into the digital recorder as if unsure of its origin. Then I mentioned Barack Obama's comments at the Saddleback Church faith forum Aug. 16, where the candidate defined marriage as being "between a man and a woman" and extolled civil unions as an acceptable alternative for gay couples.
"We heard what he said," Altman announced as he straightened his spine. This, it seemed, was a subject to better ignite his passion than whether he would wear a white or black jacket on his wedding day. As with any good couple, Takei took the remark as a hand off and ran with it.
"I'm going to refer back to our history," said Takei, who was held with his family at a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. "At one time, in a portion of our country, we had two water fountains. The water from those water fountains was the same. The quenching of the thirst that people got from those two water fountains was the same. But the refreshment that people got was completely different, because one had over it the sign, 'colored,' and the other said, 'whites only.'"
That was the moment my Obamania was cured.
I was a shameless sucker for Barack Obama, and as he espouses what he knows are morally corrupt stances toward gay rights and offshore drilling, it's hard to remember why. The best I can figure, I wanted my own Kennedy -- a man younger than my parents who demonstrated the reverse of the contempt for skilled rhetoric that the Boomer high-office aspirants before him flouted. Obama is certainly that, a hyper-intellectual (though not an unapologetic one) whose ability to inspire we have not seen in two generations and may not see for another two. If only he were willing to inspire anyone to do anything other than vote for him.
The presumptive nominee's waffling since becoming the presumptive nominee has been positively Clintonian -- a word sane people, decades from now, will call dirty. I care not for the dozens of low-level party insiders who claim Barry and the media trampled their girl. Their girl was a fraud, one who pointed to eight years that were essentially moderate Republican rule as if she'd been Franklin Roosevelt's wife, not Bill Clinton's. They can keep those eight years. The goal-line fumble on health care, the rolling back of abortion access for women and the irreparable damage done to my home state of Florida through NAFTA are unforgivable. The PUMAs would have us believe two conflicting arguments: Hillary's time as First Wife counts, but her husband's support of now-controversial legislation such as NAFTA does not. They may as well head to Denver with signs that read, "I believe in Harvey Dent."
But just as the Clintons betrayed women and ignored African Americans, so is Obama now turning his back on gays and environmentalists. An energy policy that does not tow a hard line against offshore drilling, which the candidate knows will not help working people's pocketbooks, is not an energy policy to get behind. And a candidate who cannot speak the truth -- that "civil union" is code for separate but equal -- is not a candidate to vote for. I'll do so, of course (the alternative is too frightening to consider), but with some hesitation, and not before giving that "Nader/Gonzalez" box a long, sad look.
Thank you, Mr. Sulu.