By David Phelps
"O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure?" (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1)
And so, it has come to this. Twelve months after we first heard the name "Monica Lewinsky," the President of the United States stands impeached on grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice. In its dying moments, a deeply polarized lame-duck 105th Congress was unable to resist carrying out the bidding of the handmaidens of the conservative right.
Let no-one mistake or be blind to the true motivation behind this impeachment of the President. Despite their high-sounding rhetoric and frequent references to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, on December 19, 1998 a cadre of right-wing, back-room political schemers hijacked the democratic process to thwart the popular will of the American people.
In doing so, the cabal headed by Tom Delay, Trent Lott and Bob Barr, have finally - and ruthlessly - revealed their true intent: to undo through intrigue and partisanship what they could not achieve through the legitimacy of the ballot box. Those of this junta who are members of the House of Representatives argue that they voted not to remove the President, but simply to impeach him. It is the Senate - in all its dignified and majestic glory - that makes the decision as to whether William Jefferson Clinton should be sent packing from the White House. So their argument goes. How subtle, how ingenious, how condescending. They speak of representing us - and treat us as fools!
But it is not just those leading this gross manipulation of the democratic process who deserve our contempt. After all, we know how Senator Trent Lott truly feels about gays and lesbians. We know how Congressman Bob Barr - despite his weak denials - takes comfort in speaking at organizations promoting white supremacy. We know how Majority Whip Tom Delay feels about a woman's right to choose. There is special place in political hell reserved for them, and one day they will enjoy it.
No, those who deserve our anger and our contempt are Members of the House of Representatives like Republican Brian Bilbray, who claims to serve voters from San Diego in the Congress. This past November, in the Congressional elections, Bilbray was almost turned out of office after facing a determined challenge by Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund candidate, Christine Kehoe. A highly respected member of the San Diego City Council, the openly lesbian Kehoe came within three percentage points of sending Bilbray back to his surfboard and the San Diego waves fulltime. Bilbray's recent actions have his district's voters wishing she had done just that.
In the days leading up to the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, Bilbray milked the public and media speculation on how he would vote for all it was worth. As a so-called "moderate" Republican, he claimed to be agonizing over his duty to his constituents and his duty to the country.
Finally - and with little surprise - he announced at a San Diego airport press conference that he would, indeed, vote for the articles of impeachment. With a catch in his throat, he explained how his son had come to him, concerned that his vote for impeachment would cost him his seat at the next election - and how he had told his son that winning or losing was not important.
Please! Let me remind Representative Bilbray - and those of his colleagues who, through their crocodile tears, have adopted a similar position - what the Founding Father of his own party once said. In 1859, while speaking in Columbus, Ohio, Abraham Lincoln said, "Public opinion in this country is everything." Let them heed these words, let them dwell on these words, let them ponder these words. It is their hope that, by the year 2000 when, once again, they must face the judgement of the voter, memories will be short and their vote for impeachment forgotten. I, on the other hand, think Lincoln knew what he was talking about.
If the voters in Bilbray's district had known on November 3 what they know today about his attitude toward impeachment, would he have been re-elected to Congress? I believe not. Given the outstanding qualifications of Christine Kehoe, her activist style, her commitment to the San Diego community and her constituents, I believe the voters would - and should - have made another, more informed choice. And I also believe that the voters will not forget.
But the voters did not know on November 3, and so, by re-electing Brian Bilbray and his ilk, extremist Republicans were able to retain narrow control of the House of Representatives. Ignoring the strong voter message of "move on and focus on real issues," the conservative clique chose to use the dying days of the 105th Congress to move their radical right agenda forward.
The irony for those of us who are gay and lesbian is that we understand all too well the fundamental issue at stake here. It is not whether this is a matter of great constitutional import or whether the fabric of American justice is being ripped asunder. Fundamentally, it is that the radical and religious right is driven crazy by what takes place in our bedrooms.
The radical religious right cannot abide the thought or notion that there are many of us who: (a) like to do it in other than the missionary position; (b) who like to do it in other places than just the bedroom; (c) who like to do it with those of the same sex; and (d) who like to do it when it's not only dark.
As a result, these right wing zealots - who would bring back pond dunking, burning and branding if they had half a chance - have created an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred toward those of us who believe consensual sex between adults is nobody's business but our own. However, we try and accommodate this intolerance by implementing such incongruous policies as "Don't ask, don't tell" in our military ranks, a policy where the government and the Congress encourage our servicemen and women to lie about their sexual activity. Ironic? Hypocritical? I think so.
Those who voted for impeachment may hope their constituents have short memories. I hope not. I hope we remember the vote our representative cast on this historic occasion. I hope, as gays and lesbians who understand what it is like to have our private life held up to public display, that in the year 2000 we will vote for candidates who have no interest in the prurient details of our personal lives but will, instead, get on with the truly important business of this great Republic.
Over - and out!
David Phelps serves on the Advisory Council of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.