The Moustache of Wisdom is off today. In “The Mystery of Benghazi” the Pasty Little Putz has the unmitigated gall to ask this question: Why did the White House fumble the aftermath of the Libya attack? He’s being called out for the hypocritical little putz that he is in the comments. MoDo has produced a thing called “An Irish Catholic Wake-Up,” and she says bring on the turkey: when Irish eyes are smiling and mouths are running. Does that give you any idea that she’s writing about the veep debate? Me either… Mr. Kristof addresses “A Possibly Fatal Mistake,” and says the story of a seriously ill friend who quit his job and had no insurance shows me why we need Obamacare. With it, he might have gone to a doctor in time. Mr. Bruni looks at “Bachmann Family Values” (I know, ewww…) and says the stepsister of the Minnesota congresswoman looks at her moral crusades with puzzlement, and with a very personal sorrow. Let’s get the Putz out of the way:
Twenty-four hours after the American compound in Benghazi was attacked and our ambassador murdered, the tragedy seemed more likely to help President Obama’s re-election campaign than to damage it.
The White House already enjoyed more public credibility on foreign policy than on almost any other issue. When Mitt Romney reacted to the attack with a partisan broadside, portraying a news release sent out by the Cairo embassy before any violence began as a White House apology to the attackers, the president’s path forward seemed clear. He would be disciplined and careful, show anger and steel but also coolness under pressure, and let the rally-round-the-flag effect do its natural work.
What happened instead was very strange. Having first repudiated the embassy’s apology to Muslims offended by a movie impugning their prophet, the Obama administration decided to embrace that apology’s premise, and insist that the movie was the crucial ingredient in the Sept. 11 anniversary violence.
For days after the attack, as it became clearer that the Benghazi violence was a Qaeda operation rather than a protest, White House officials continued to stress the importance of the “hateful” and “disgusting” video, and its supposed role as a catalyst for what Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, insisted was a spontaneous attack.
This narrative was pushed on Sunday morning programs, on late-night talk shows and at news conferences, by everyone from Rice to Hillary Clinton to the president himself. When Obama spoke at the United Nations shortly after the attacks, the video was referenced six times in the text; Al Qaeda was referenced only once.
Eventually, the White House let the video slip quietly out of its public rhetoric, and refocused on terrorism instead. But everything else that’s come out about Benghazi has seemed much more damning because the administration practiced a strange denial at the outset. The missed warnings, the weaknesses in security, the drip-drip of detail unspigoted by reporting and Congressional hearings — all of it would have been received differently if the White House hadn’t spent a week acting as if it had something big to lose by calling terrorism terrorism.
What explains this self-defeating strategy? One possibility is that Romney’s oft-repeated “apology tour” charge is right, and this White House can’t resist the urge to appease our enemies when America comes under attack. But Romney’s portrait of Obama as Neville Chamberlain has always been just a caricature, and nobody who watched the Democratic convention should doubt Obama’s comfort wrapping himself in the mantle of the war on terror.
Another, more plausible possibility is that precisely because this White House wants to be seen as tough on terrorism, it’s loath to acknowledge the possibility that it doesn’t have Al Qaeda completely on the run.
But even this seems insufficient to explain the White House’s Benghazi blundering. Surely acknowledging the persistence of Al Qaeda wouldn’t undercut the administration’s (justifiable) boasts about having taken out its leader. Indeed, if Bin Laden’s organization is still with us, why wouldn’t Americans want to keep the president who gave the Abbottabad order so he could finish the job?
Perhaps, then, the real explanation for the White House’s anxiety about calling the embassy attack an act of terror has less to do with the “who” than with the “where.” This wasn’t Al Qaeda striking just anywhere: it was Al Qaeda striking in Libya, a country where the Obama White House launched a not-precisely-constitutional military intervention with a not-precisely-clear connection to the national interest.
In a long profile of President Obama published last month by Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis suggested that the president feared the consequences of even a single casualty during the Libyan incursion, lest it create a narrative about how “a president elected to extract us from a war in one Arab country got Americans killed in another.”
How much more, then, might the president fear a narrative about how our Libyan intervention helped create a power vacuum in which terrorists groups can operate with impunity? That’s clearly happened in nearby Mali, where the ripple effects from Muammar el-Qaddafi’s overthrow have helped empower a Qaeda affiliate. In this context, it’s easy to see why the administration would hope that the Benghazi attack were just spontaneous mob violence rather than a sign of Al Qaeda’s growing presence in postintervention Libya as well.
The only good news for Obama in this mess is the fact that Romney, always intent on projecting toughness, hasn’t attacked the original decision to go to war in Libya, or tied the intervention itself to Al Qaeda’s North African advances.
If the Republican nominee were less reflexively hawkish, the White House might be facing the more comprehensive critique that it deserves — and the story wouldn’t be about just the specifics of Benghazi, but also the possibility that Obama’s entire policy in the region has put American interests and lives at risk.
Oh, cries the Putz, if only Money Boo Boo weren’t Money Boo Boo… He is SO full of crap. Here’s MoDo:
Now you know what Thanksgiving with my family is like.
A donnybrook with Irish Catholic uncles and nephews interrupting one another, mocking one another, arguing over one another, bombastically denouncing every political opinion except their own as malarkey.
The loser of the vice-presidential debate was, of course, Barack Obama. In contrast to the pair on the undercard slugging it out, the president’s limp performance the other night was even more inexplicable and inexcusable. The president was no doubt warned not to sigh, but his entire demeanor was a sigh.
The fact that one diffident debate by the president could throw his whole race into crisis shows that nobody madly loves Obama anymore. With his aloof presidency, he shook off the deep attachments from 2008, and now his support lacks intensity.
Even if he comes out in the town-hall debate on Tuesday with Ben Affleck charm, he has a Mitt Romney problem. Will it be the real Obama or will he just be doing what the media suggest and the base demands?
In Thursday night’s hockey game of a debate, the odd semiotics were not Gore-y sighs but grins. It’s hard to imagine a politician getting penalized for smiling too much, but Joe Biden managed it, breaking out in smiles and laughter 92 times by the count of ABC News. Ever since Obama tapped him, Biden has felt that his role is to warm up Barry’s Brother From Another Planet affect. In this debate, making up for his boss’s Spockiness was critically important, so Biden overcompensated with a volcano of verbosity and gesticulating.
Biden was trying to do what Romney did well: come across as a senior partner chastising a junior associate who screwed up. For this vice president, though, less is never more. He mugged condescension as if he were the star of a silent movie. But who ever accused Uncle Joe of subtlety?
Not Sarah Palin, who told Fox News that Biden reminded her of “watching a musk ox run across the tundra with somebody underfoot.”
Still, in a political world where most leaders are so marketed and poll-tested that they show little temperament, why begrudge Joltin’ Joe an excess of it — especially when he’s confronted with such whoppers? Besides, he offered a tour de force on facts that brought the playing field to life again.
Ryan, who was a toddler when Biden first came to the Senate, seemed a little green and shaky at moments — not showing the goofy cockiness captured in Time’s photos of his dumbbell workouts. Talking budget blarney, the Tea Party’s boy wonder once more proved that he can come up with a number for any purpose.
Ryan explained Romney’s embarrassing secret tape to fat cats with this snide put-down to Joe, as he chummily called his elder: “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
Biden shot back: “But I always say what I mean.”
If Obama needed Biden on the ticket to add a little humanity, Romney needed Ryan as “a modular conviction unit,” as one Obama adviser joked. Romney, a say-anything salesman used to buying whatever he wants, hired his ideology.
Ryan is a true believer, and that’s a little awkward now that Romney is making strides by showing that he truly believes nothing — running away from, rather than toward, the hard-right stances that won him the nomination.
“Convictions aren’t helpful at the moment,” said David Axelrod, the Obama strategist. “The game right now is to try to obfuscate. Romney’s audacity in the debate was in hiding their plans. And Ryan actually believes this stuff. He argued for a Social Security privatization plan so radical that even the Bush administration called it irresponsible.”
The 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman kept gulping water, and once, when Biden nailed Ryan for twice soliciting the very stimulus money he condemns, he may have actually gulped. Unlike Palin, who also had to cram before her debate, Ryan did not need to memorize chunks. He actually tried to learn about all the parts of the world he had never followed closely. On Afghanistan, he spouted so many obscure geographical references, from Zabul to Kunar to the treacherous eastern provinces, he sounded like Google maps.
Ryan had intensive coaching from Dan Senor, the senior adviser, to debate Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But he still clearly knew far less about the globe than both Biden and the moderator, Martha Raddatz, ABC News’s senior foreign affairs correspondent.
(I knew Raddatz would be tough because I once saw her dress down a male clerk at a Marriott hotel in Saudi Arabia who told her that women were not allowed to use the gym.)
Ryan ended up simply parroting Senor, who made his name as spokesman for the botched Iraq occupation. That’s a scary thing unless you want to go back to the messianic mind-set of imprinting our “values” in the Islamic world, an attitude that brought us interminable wars and trillion-dollar deficits.
Ryan echoed the bankrupt neocon philosophy of going to war to prevent war. With Iran, he said, the best thing to do is threaten war. “The key is to do this peacefully,” he said, sounding as woolly as Paul Wolfowitz. Ryan didn’t seem to understand what much of the world does: The administration has worked with allies to strengthen sanctions, which have turned Iran into an economic basket case.
Biden also boxed Ryan into looking as though he wants to send more American troops to Afghanistan and to intervene in Syria, which isn’t so appealing to war-weary America.
Ronald Reagan knew how to bluster for peace. Neocons do not. When they run the show, threatening a war is followed by going to war and that is followed by bollixing up the war and that is followed by our troops’ dying at war and money-pit nation-building to end the war, and that is followed by economic disaster for America.
Amped to make up for all of Obama’s missed shots, Biden went on a one-minute scream-of-consciousness about the 47 percent cited by Romney as moochers, the 30 percent cited by Ryan as takers, Scranton, his parents, the Buffett rule, Social Security, veterans, the 47 percent again, Grover Norquist, the middle class, a fair shot, Wall Street vs. Main street, and $500 billion in additional tax cuts for 120,000 wealthy families. Practically in one breath. Whew.
Biden’s weakest moment was on Libya, where he stumbled as he claimed that the White House didn’t know about requests for more security for diplomats there. It is likely true that such an appeal never made it through the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy to the West Wing. But the vice president should have been prepared to answer questions about a blunder that has scuffed the administration’s national security luster.
Certainly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been doing a good imitation of her predecessor James Baker in keeping a distance from trouble. On Friday, she finally spoke up.
“Diplomacy, by its nature, has to often be practiced in dangerous places,” she said at a forum here. “We will never prevent every act of violence or terrorism or achieve perfect security.”
The president’s advisers now realize they will need a much better explanation by Tuesday, when Romney is certain to press Obama on the issue.
Mittens has been doing better with women since the first debate. Raddatz didn’t dwell on women’s issues, which denied Biden a chance to home in on Ryan’s chillingly retro positions.
Ryan, who has long opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest, said, “The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”
When Raddatz asked Ryan if those who believe abortion should remain legal should be worried if the Republican team wins, Ryan basically said yes.
“We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision,” he said, though he and other Republicans for decades have pined for a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade. He added, “People, through their elected representatives and reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process, should make this determination.”
Biden, for once, wasn’t smiling.
I don’t know what she watched, or what she was drinking at the time. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
My wife and I attended my 30-year college reunion a couple of weekends ago, but the partying was bittersweet. My freshman roommate, Scott Androes, was in a Seattle hospital bed, a victim in part of a broken health care system. Strip away the sound and fury of campaign ads and rival spinmeisters, and what’s at stake in this presidential election is, in part, lives like Scott’s.
Scott and I were both Oregon farm boys, friends through the Future Farmers of America, when Harvard sent us thick envelopes. We were exhilarated but nervous, for neither of us had ever actually visited Harvard, and we asked to room together for moral support among all those city slickers.
We were the country bumpkins of Harvard Yard. Yet if we amused our classmates more than we intended, we had our private jokes as well. We let slip (falsely) that we kept deer rifles under our beds and smiled as our friends gave them a wide berth.
Scott was there when I limped back from the Worst Date in History (quite regularly), and he and I together worked our way onto the Crimson, the student newspaper. He had an omnivorous mind: Scott may be the only champion judge of dairy cattle who enjoyed quoting Thomas Macaulay, the 19th-century British historian. Scott topped off his erudition with a crackling wit to deflate pretentiousness (which, at Harvard, kept him busy).
By nature, Scott was even-keeled, prudent and cautious, and he always looked like the mild-mannered financial consultant that he became. He never lost his temper, never drove too fast, never got drunk, never smoked marijuana.
Well, not that I remember. I don’t want to discredit his youth.
Yet for all his innate prudence, Scott now, at age 52, is suffering from Stage 4 prostate cancer, in part because he didn’t have health insurance. President Obama’s health care reform came just a bit too late to help Scott, but it will protect others like him — unless Mitt Romney repeals it.
If you favor gutting “Obamacare,” please listen to Scott’s story. He is willing to recount his embarrassing tale in part so that readers can learn from it.
I’ll let Scott take over the narrative:
It all started in December 2003 when I quit my job as a pension consultant in a fit of midlife crisis. For the next year I did little besides read books I’d always wanted to read and play poker in the local card rooms.
I didn’t buy health insurance because I knew it would be really expensive in the individual policy market, because many of the people in this market are high risk. I would have bought insurance if there had been any kind of fair-risk pooling. In 2005 I started working seasonally for H&R Block doing tax returns.
As seasonal work it of course doesn’t provide health benefits, but then lots of full-time jobs don’t either. I knew I was taking a big risk without insurance, but I was foolish.
In 2011 I began having greater difficulty peeing. I didn’t go see the doctor because that would have been several hundred dollars out of pocket — just enough disincentive to get me to make a bad decision.
Early this year, I began seeing blood in my urine, and then I got scared. I Googled “blood in urine” and turned up several possible explanations. I remember sitting at my computer and thinking, “Well, I can afford the cost of an infection, but cancer would probably bust my bank and take everything in my I.R.A. So I’m just going to bet on this being an infection.”
I was extremely busy at work since it was peak tax season, so I figured I’d go after April 15. Then I developed a 102-degree fever and went to one of those urgent care clinics in a strip mall. (I didn’t have a regular physician and hadn’t been getting annual physicals.)
The doctor there gave me a diagnosis of prostate infection and prescribed antibiotics. That seemed to help, but by April 15 it seemed to be getting worse again. On May 3 I saw a urologist, and he drew blood for tests, but the results weren’t back yet that weekend when my health degenerated rapidly.
A friend took me to the Swedish Medical Center Emergency Room near my home. Doctors ran blood labs immediately. A normal P.S.A. test for prostate cancer is below 4, and mine was 1,100. They also did a CT scan, which turned up possible signs of cancerous bone lesions. Prostate cancer likes to spread to bones.
I also had a blood disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation, which is sometimes brought on by prostate cancer. It basically causes you to destroy your own blood cells, and it’s abbreviated as D.I.C. Medical students joke that it stands for “death is close.”
Let’s just stipulate up front that Scott blew it. Other people are sometimes too poor to buy health insurance or unschooled about the risks. Scott had no excuse. He could have afforded insurance, and while working in the pension industry he became expert on actuarial statistics; he knew precisely what risks he was taking. He’s the first to admit that he screwed up catastrophically and may die as a result.
Yet remember also that while Scott was foolish, mostly he was unlucky. He is a bachelor, so he didn’t have a spouse whose insurance he could fall back on in his midlife crisis. In any case, we all take risks, and usually we get away with them. Scott is a usually prudent guy who took a chance, and then everything went wrong.
The Mitt Romney philosophy, as I understand it, is that this is a tragic but necessary byproduct of requiring Americans to take personal responsibility for their lives. They need to understand that mistakes have consequences. That’s why Romney would repeal Obamacare and leave people like Scott to pay the price for their irresponsibility.
To me, that seems ineffably harsh. We all make mistakes, and a humane government tries to compensate for our misjudgments. That’s why highways have guardrails, why drivers must wear seat belts, why police officers pull over speeders, why we have fire codes. In other modern countries, Scott would have been insured, and his cancer would have been much more likely to be detected in time for effective treatment.
Is that a nanny state? No, it’s a civilized one.
President Obama’s care plan addresses this problem inelegantly, by forcing people like Scott to buy insurance beginning in 2014. Some will grumble about the “mandate” and the insurance cost, but it will save lives.
Already, Obamacare is slowly reducing the number of people without health insurance, as young adults can now stay on their parents’ plans. But the Census Bureau reported last month that 48.6 million Americans are still uninsured — a travesty in a wealthy country. The Urban Institute calculated in 2008 that some 27,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 65 die prematurely each year because they don’t have health insurance. Another estimate is even higher.
You want to put a face on those numbers? Look at Scott’s picture. One American like him dies every 20 minutes for lack of health insurance.
Back to Scott:
For seven weeks they kept me alive with daily blood transfusions. They also gave me chemotherapy, suppressing the cancer so that my blood could return to normal. I was released June 29, and since then have had more chemo and also hormone therapy to limit the cancer growth.
But the cancer has kept growing, and I went to the E.R. again on Sept. 17 when I found that I was losing all strength in my legs. They did an M.R.I. and saw that there were tumors pressing on my spinal cord. They have been treating me with radiation for three weeks now to shrink those tumors and will continue to do so for another week.
I submitted an application to the hospital for charity care and was approved. The bill is already north of $550,000. Based on the low income on my tax return they knocked it down to $1,339. Swedish Medical Center has treated me better than I ever deserved.
Some doctor bills are not covered by the charity application, and I expect to spend all of my I.R.A. assets before I’m done. Some doctors have been generously treating me without sending bills, and I am humbled by their ethic of service to the patient.
Some things I have to pay for, like $1,700 for the Lupron hormone therapy and $1,400 for an ambulance trip. It’s an arbitrary and haphazard system, and I’m just lucky to live in a city with a highly competent and generous hospital like Swedish.
In this respect, Scott is very lucky, and the system is now responding superbly and compassionately. But of course, his care is not exactly “free” — we’re all paying the bill.
Romney argues that Obamacare is economically inefficient. But where is the efficiency in a system that neglects routine physicals and preventive care, and then pays $550,000 in bills as a result? To me, this is repugnant economically as well as morally.
In the Romney system, people like Scott would remain uninsured. And they would be unable to buy insurance because of their cancer history.
Obamacare does address these problems, albeit in a complex and intrusive way, forcing people by a mandate to get insurance. Some will certainly fall through the cracks, and in any case the Obama plan does little to address the underlying problem of rising health costs. But do we really prefer the previous system in which one American in six was uninsured like Scott, all walking the tightrope, and sometimes falling off?
As my classmates and I celebrated our reunion and relived our triumphs — like spiking the punch during a visit by the governor — I kept thinking of Scott in his hospital bed. No amount of nostalgic laughter could fill the void of his absence.
Back to Scott:
This whole experience has made me feel like such a fool. I blew one that I really should have gotten right. You probably remember that my mother died of breast cancer the July before we started college. She watched my high school graduation from the back of an ambulance on the football field at our outdoor graduation. Six weeks later she was dead, and six weeks after that I was on an airplane that took me east of the Mississippi for the first time in my life.
Her death at 53 permanently darkened my view of life. It also made me feel that I was at high risk for cancer because in my amateur opinion I was genetically very similar to her, just based on appearance and personality. And much of my career has been in actuarial work, where the whole point is to identify risks.
I read Nassim Taleb’s book “The Black Swan” and imbibed his idea that you should keep an eye out for low-probability events that have potentially big consequences, both positive and negative. You insure against the potentially negative ones, like prostate cancer.
So why didn’t I get physicals? Why didn’t I get P.S.A. tests? Why didn’t I get examined when I started having trouble urinating? Partly because of the traditional male delinquency about seeing doctors. I had no regular family doctor; typical bachelor guy behavior.
I had plenty of warning signs, and that’s why I feel like a damned fool. I would give anything to have gone to a doctor in, say, October 2011. It fills me with regret. Now I’m struggling with all my might to walk 30 feet down the hallway with the physical therapists holding on to me so I don’t fall. I’ve got all my chips bet on the hope that the radiation treatments that I’m getting daily are going to shrink the tumors that are pressing on my spinal cord so that someday soon I can be back out on the sidewalk enjoying a walk in my neighborhood. That would be the height of joy for me.
When I make mistakes, my wife and friends forgive me. We need a health care system that is equally forgiving.
That means getting all Americans insured, and then emphasizing preventive care like cancer screenings. Presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt have sought to create universal health insurance, and Obama finally saw it achieved in his first term. It will gradually come into effect, with 2014 the pivotal year — if Romney does not repeal it.
In some ways, of course, America’s health care system is superb. It is masterly in pioneering new techniques, and its top-level care for those with insurance is unrivaled. Sometimes even those without insurance, like Scott, get superb care as charity cases, and I salute the doctors at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle for their professionalism and compassion toward my old friend.
But it would have made more sense to provide Scott with insurance and regular physicals. Catching the cancer early might have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in radiation and chemo expenses — and maybe a life as well.
So as you watch the presidential debates, as you listen to those campaign ads, remember that what is at stake is not so much the success of one politician or another. The real impact of the election will be felt in the lives of men and women around the country, in spheres as intimate as our gut-wrenching fear when we spot blood in our urine.
Our choices this election come too late for Scott, although I hope that my friend from tiny Silverton, Ore., who somehow beat the odds so many times already in his life, will also beat this cancer. The election has the potential to help save the lives of many others who don’t have insurance.
In his hospital room, my old pal is gallantly fighting his cancer — and battling a gnawing uncertainty that he should never have had to face, that no American should so needlessly endure. This is all heartbreakingly unnecessary. I’ll give Scott the final word.
From my 12th floor room I have a panoramic view looking east from downtown Seattle toward the suburbs to the Cascade Mountains. My visitors are often struck by the view.
Through my window I watch a succession of gloriously sunny days and I wonder if this will be my last Indian summer on earth. I still have hope and I tell myself that medical science has come a long way in the 34 years since my mother died, but I can’t help feeling that I’m walking in her footsteps.
And now here’s Mr. Bruni:
There are many people who are hurt by Michele Bachmann’s divisive brand of politics, but perhaps none in quite the way that Helen LaFave is.
The two women once shared confidences. They’re family. Some 40 years ago, Michele’s mother married Helen’s father, and when Michele was in college, the house she returned to in the summer was the one where Helen, then finishing high school, lived. Helen craved that time together.
“I remember laughing with her a lot,” she told me in an interview on Thursday in her home here. She remembers Michele’s charisma and confidence, too. “I looked up to Michele.”
As the years passed they saw much less of each other, but when their paths crossed, at large family gatherings, there were always hugs. Helen was at Michele’s wedding to Marcus Bachmann and got to know him. And Michele got to know Nia, the woman who has been Helen’s partner for almost 25 years.
Helen never had a conversation about her sexual orientation with Michele and knew that Michele’s evangelical Christianity was deeply felt. Still she couldn’t believe it when, about a decade ago, Michele began to use her position as a state senator in Minnesota to call out gays and lesbians as sick and evil and to push for an amendment to the Minnesota constitution that would prohibit same-sex marriage: precisely the kind of amendment that Minnesotans will vote on in a referendum on Election Day.
“It felt so divorced from having known me, from having known somebody who’s gay,” said Helen, a soft-spoken woman with a gentle air. “I was just stunned.”
And while she never doubted that Michele was being true to her private convictions, she couldn’t comprehend Michele’s need to make those convictions so public, to put them in the foreground of her political career, and to drive a wedge into their family.
She told Michele as much, in a letter dated Nov. 23, 2003. She sent copies to her four siblings, her father and one of Michele’s brothers, and kept one herself. In the letter she described her “hurt and disappointment that my stepsister is leading this charge.”
“You’ve taken aim at me,” Helen wrote to Michele. Referring to Nia, she added: “You’ve taken aim at my family.”
Michele, she said, never acknowledged the letter in any way.
Helen has spoken with journalists only a few times in the past and never at length. During the Republican presidential primaries this year, she got caller ID to screen all the entreaties from reporters looking for nasty quotes about Michele. She didn’t want to play that game or upset her family, which has been divided on same-sex marriage.
But the imminent referendum, which she described as Michele’s “very, very sad legacy,” compelled her “to speak out for fairness for those of us who are being judged and told our lives and relationships are somehow less,” she said.
I’m encountering her kind of newfound boldness more frequently than I expected and writing about same-sex marriage more than I anticipated, as surprising voices weigh in, like the professional football players who took up the cause last month.
Helen lives a quieter life than Michele. She’s 52 and works as a communications manager for a Minneapolis suburb. Nia, 55, is a physical therapist.
They never hid their relationship from their families, Nia said, though they also didn’t force long-winded discussions about homosexuality. Their philosophy, she said, was simply to “put it out there, show ’em who we are and love ’em where they’re at, and everything will fall into place.” Their goal was one of “killing them with kindness.”
They thought that was happening. At get-togethers, Nia received hugs from Michele, who traded an “I love you” with Helen, as the two always had.
But in between Michele’s election to the State Senate in 2000 and her upgrade to the United States House of Representatives in 2006, she nabbed attention and amassed a fan base among religious extremists with her homophobic pronouncements.
She publicly described homosexuality as “personal enslavement,” referred to the heartache of having “a member of our family” who was gay and suggested that gays and lesbians wanted to recruit impressionable youngsters, saying: “It is our children that is the prize for this community.”
In her letter Helen appealed to Michele to rethink what she was doing, explaining that she and Nia were motivated only by mutual caring and respect and that marriage, if legal, would grant couples like them the rights, responsibilities and financial protections that foster stability.
“Some people, you included, feel like you know the truth about my relationship,” she wrote, adding: “I think you also believe you know what God thinks of it.”
“Neither you nor I know,” she went on to say. “I suspect that we’re both certain in our minds, but we don’t know.”
When Michele spoke at a State Senate hearing in 2006 about her desire for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, Helen showed up, along with several relatives who supported her.
“I wasn’t looking to make a public statement,” she told me. “I just thought: I’m going to go there and sit there so she has to look at me. So she has to look at Nia. I wanted her to see: this is who you’re doing this to. It’s not some anonymous group of people. It’s not scary people. It’s me. It’s Nia.” She paused, because she’d begun to sob.
“I just wanted her to see me,” she said, “because it just feels, through the whole thing, like she hasn’t.”
Michele, now waging an unexpectedly tight re-election campaign for her House seat, didn’t respond to a request for an interview for this column.
She and Helen have seen each other at family events twice in the last year or so, Helen said, but Helen hasn’t insisted on a talk, because it seems pointless to her. On one of those occasions, she recalled, Michele said “I love you,” and Helen said it back. But Helen’s more confused by that than ever.
As a congresswoman, Michele got tickets to President Obama’s inauguration and gave a pair to Helen and Nia, knowing they’re Democrats and had rooted for him. Helen thought that was kind, if not necessarily encouraging.
She hopes to marry Nia in Minnesota someday. I asked if she would invite Michele to the ceremony.
She fell silent a few seconds, then shook her head. “I don’t think it would be a very good fit,” she said.
Hypocrisy. With Republicans it’s a feature, not a bug.