What words of wisdom would Jimmy have given me about the fight for marriage equality? After much reflection, I think he would have told me that this is a fight that we simply can not afford to have this year.
I've been thinking about this all day. Even as I type these words, I know I'm running the risk of getting body slammed in the comments. So be it. But stick with me for a moment before unsheathing the flamethrowers and knives.
Jim Capazolla (on the right in the picture) was quite literally my best friend on the planet at one time. I've never been the type of person that had a lot of close friends - many acquaintances, of course - but few close friends and confidantes (especially male) to whom I could literally bare my soul.
If Jim's name sounds familiar, it might be because you're an old timer in the progressive blogosphere. From 2002 until his death in 2007, Jim was the erudite proprietor of Rittenhouse Review, which quite literally blazed the trail for places such as DKos, Eschaton, and many other leading liberal online outposts. He operated with an economy of words like a world class neurosurgeon wields a laser scalpel - carefully, with precision, and always displaying a genuine passion for the craft. In other words, he was one of the founding fathers of the progressive blogosphere. And he was a gay man.
The fact that Jimmy was gay is completely inconsequential. The fact that he was the most intelligent human being that I've ever had the pleasure of knowing is very consequential to this diary, because he was a thinker. And he played the long game. As I wrote in my online eulogy to him:
Jimmy was a guy who had been through the worst that life could throw at him, but still maintained a finely-honed sense of humor. Personality-wise, we were very much simpatico, which is probably why we hit it off so well almost instantly. We stayed at Drinking Liberally long after others had left on a couple of occasions, and he shared some of his life stories that really moved me. His personal tales taught me a lot about the human spirit.One thing he said to me back around 2005 resonated so clearly with me then, and has guided much of my life since. I'm going to paraphrase here a bit, since memory fades and I don't recall his exact words:
"Richard, I've done a lot of things in my life, some good, some bad. Some things I'm proud of; a lot of things I'm not. But I've done what I've needed to do to survive and live to fight another day."By the time Jim said that to me, the gay progressive blogosphere was expanding dramatically. AmericaBlog had quickly developed a very large and activist audience. Andrew Sullivan was making online waves, both good and bad. JoeMyGod was beginning to get traction. And Jim didn't have much of anything good to say about any of them at the time.
In the past 24 hours since North Carolina Amendment 1 passed, I have really tried to connect with how Jim would feel right now. I think he'd be doing a slow boil, but it wouldn't be an explosive response. My sense is that he would tell me that those of us who support marriage equality were being baited by conservatives and fundamentalists alike in order to serve a darker purpose in this election year. He would point to steady, but slow, progress that is being made by the LGBT community on all issues relating to equality and non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. He'd wax philosophically about SCOTUS being on a track to take up Proposition 8 arguments. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and DOMA repeal were merely a glimmer in Jim's eye a half a decade ago. I have no doubt that he'd recite verbatim poll after poll that makes it clear that the tide has changed. And the struggle continues, small victory by small victory.
Mostly, though, he'd tell me that this is a battle that progressives simply can not afford to be baited into this year, and that it's a bridge that's still just a little too distant. The stakes are so much larger than any single state. This is no less than a cultural paradigm shift that must happen on the national stage. And now that the Obama administration is firmly behind same sex marriage, the issue needs to be returned to a simmer.
As I said before, Jim Capazolla played the "long game". He would not agree with David Corn that "gay marriage was a looming dilemma for the President". Any dilemma that's looming is little more than a straw man that exists within the confines of a beltway punditocracy more interested in generating a controversy stitched together from the worn cloth of moral fabric than in honestly addressing this kind of cultural issue.
I am not a gay man. But through my good friend Jim, I learned the value of strategic political thinking. And I think that Jim would say today, through an LGBT lens, that the most important thing right now is to get Barack Obama re-elected. Good things will flow from that for the LGBT community, especially if there are some progressive congressional coat tails.
The marriage equality issue itself is not going to get the President re-elected. But as a centerpiece of debate for the next several months, it could cause him to lose. That's not Debbie-downerism, but rather political reality in a severely polarized nation that Jim would be the first to acknowledge.