'Third Rail' no more

By Amy Hunter

Tip O'Neil famously said, "All politics is local". And it's true - in more than one context, politics is always "local" to every constituency. To some, local is the wallet, to others; it means political clout behind a particular issue. And that's where local can become broad and the narrative nasty.

Many years have passed since the Stonewall Riots, Roe v. Wade, a time when immigrants were viewed as the lifeblood of American democracy and now. By the turn of the millennium, these had all become traditional "third rails" of Democratic Party politics - a cryptic reference to the electrically charged, deadly if touched rail, which powers subway trains.

Not so any longer. All three of these politically deadly-if-touched subjects are third rails no more; rather now, they have become the very planks in the Democratic Party platform upon which unity stood at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina two weeks ago. All politics is local and local in 2012 for the LGBT community, women, immigrants, labor - an entire mosaic of democratic constituencies, is a slate of candidates, a convention, a president, and indeed, an entire national party in their figurative corner.

There were many moments that could be called pivotal at DNC 2012. One that stands out in stark relief in my mind came during Tuesday night's speech by Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick; Patrick said what many of us have been saying for three or more years already - "It's time for the Democratic Party to grow a spine". Not a particularly eloquent statement, nor was it said quietly. Patrick was literally shouting by this point in his speech, yet no one in that arena felt chastised - they felt relieved and cheered all the louder.

Finally. A platform we can all stand on together.

We no longer live in a world that is able to pay heed to the plight of one, or, for that matter, many in the same, but narrowly defined plight. Social media, the Internet, the twenty four-hour news cycle has seen to that. We are distracted, working longer and harder for less security and we just don't have the time to care anymore. So what do we do? The only way to get where we need to be is to expand the boundaries, make "local" broader, build the case for inclusion and make it stick. Ironically, the hollowing out of the middle class and the shallow, divisive, narrative predominate in American politics may have already driven us to this point - to the cusp of democratic and idealistic unification.

The long-game, played since the Reagan Revolution for narrow interests of a moneyed class has steadily pried apart the segments comprising the central core of the American body politic. Nearly forty years of Lee Atwater wedge issue politics as practiced by Frank Luntz, fueled by Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell and finally, Bush's Brain - Karl Rove has stymied social progress while Milton Friedman worshipers gathered true believers to his cause of economic liberalism and strangled the American Dream of upward mobility and accompanying class cohesion.

We should have been making progress, both economically and socially at a rapid pace, considering the potential inherent in the world's largest economy, instead the would-be masters of the universe told us that is was the gays, abortion, women's liberation, affirmative action, illegal immigrants, teachers - "it's their fault" - the other has done this to you...and now it's the tipping-point. Either side of this, the real special interest group in America, who fancy themselves the meritocratic elite inheritors of the true American legacy, yaw great gulfs of empty promises we no longer believe. No, we can't and furthermore, we don't want to be just like them anymore.

"'Were all in this together', is a far better philosophy than 'you're on your own' ", said Bill Clinton on Wednesday night of the DNC.

In one brief sentence, with just the right amount of explanation and the requisite dash good ol' boy charm, Clinton distilled the hopes and dreams of an entire nation weary of self-betrayal. With a simple statement of belief in the goodness of the American spirit, lay a path by which we could and would take back the political narrative and put forth a renewed moral imperative - we are all in this together.

In that moment, captured again for the crowd of delegates in that arena and the millions watching at home was the essence of the true American Dream and all that it implies - but mostly, that all men and women are created equal...


Amy Hunter is the chair of the Equality Michigan Pride PAC.

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