In the name of full disclosure, before I begin, the research and writing of this piece was anteceded by two very personal encounters of mine with the Tea Party movement.
The first such experience was in April 2008, while I was covering the Republican presidential primary for a paper in southern Pennsylvania. Dark-horse Republican candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul was making a stop in Gettysburg, Penn.partly because of its historical significance, partly because Paul is an alumnus of Gettysburg Collegeand I was sent to cover his speech.
The Paul rally was a profound moment in my political life. Not because of what Paul said or stood for, but for how his supporters acted.
The event was electric, a palpable collective of excitement surged through the building. It was a feeling that, until that moment, I had never thought possible in U.S. politics.
Just two years later, while working for a Democratic state senate candidate in the Chicago suburbs, I found myself being told by a police officer not to worry. I was told that they would keep a car around our campaign office to make sure that the harassera local "patriot"did not come back or, in his words, "become violent."
Perhaps because of this, I think the best adjective to describe the Tea Party movement is "schizophrenic." Read more story below....
Leading the movement is a group of Republican ex-officials that should make anyone within the LGBT community cringe. There's former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with her Christian-right pedigree; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is on record as being against same-sex marriage and gay adoption; and FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey, who, as a congressman, voted for a ban on gay adoption and once, in 1995, infamously used a three-letter word beginning with the letter "F" to refer to openly gay congressman Barney Frankand it wasn't "fun."
So the head of the Tea Party movement seems intolerable for the fiscally conservative LGBT electorate and with reports of anti-gay slurs and rhetoric at Tea Party rallies across the nation the body seems to be off limits as well…
…but what about the limbs?
Running in the Ninth Congressional Districta district that includes much of Chicago's North Side as well as Evanston, Skokie and Lincolnwoodis Tea Party-sponsored Republican challenger Joel Pollak.
There's a definite Libertarian flare to Pollaka smattering of von Mises economic principles here, a touch of Ayn Rand objectivism there. However, Pollak is not your stereotypical Tea Party candidate.
Pollak started off his political life in the Democratic camp, working as an intern in then-Democratic Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun's office. Pollak then went to work as a speech writer for South African politician Tony Leon, the former leader of the anti-apartheid and liberal-leaning Democratic Alliance party.
Pollak is Jewish, pro-choice and an immigrant; an open supporter of the Employment Non-discrimination Act, same-sex civil unions, and an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) . And, although he is morally opposed to the idea, Pollak is in favor of a state's right to legalize same-sex marriage.
There are a couple issues for Pollak, however, if he wants the support of LGBT voters come Nov. 2. He is running against a very pro-LGBT incumbent in Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and he does look like something of an anomaly or oddity within the Republican party at presentbut his very existence raises a much more important point to this election cycle: The LGBT electorate cannot support the Tea Party movementnot as a whole, anyway.
The Tea Party movement is not a solid force, not a third party or new wave to standard Republican thinking; it's a political backlash to the current economic times.
This is not something new in U.S. politics. As liberal strategist James Carville famously put it during the 1992 presidential election, "It's the economy, stupid."
It's the one absolute in our political system: Bad economies hurt the ruling party. And with so many important issues still on the table for LGBT AmericansENDA, marriage, adoption and DADTblindly voting for the scatterbrained knee-jerk reaction to a lagging economy seems, as Schakowsky puts it, "dangerous" for LGBT voters, even the most conservative ones.
A candidate's Tea Party seal of approval, therefore, should be as unimportant a label for Chicagoland gay voters as their hair color. Instead I suggest LGBT voters, both liberal and conservative, heed the words Pollak spoke to me in an earlier interview: "All voters, no matter their political leanings, should decide their ballots on a candidate-by-candidate basis."
It may seem simple and boring, but it's a system that has worked to educate voters for more than 100 Illinois elections and it will work again in 2010.
Chasse Rehwinkel is a Chicago-based writer and contributing reporter for Windy City Times. Currently, he works with the Illinois State Senate Democrats as a campaign field organizer.
ALSO IN THIS SPECIAL SECTION:
ELECTIONS '10: Windy City Times' General Election Guide www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29128
ELECTION: Guide to the gays - The Nov. 2 general elections feature several openly gay and lesbian candidates for office. www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29129
ELECTIONS '10: printable charts - Windy City Times' General Election Issue includes interviews and printable charts www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29130
ELECTIONS '10: LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR Sheila Simon on her office and equality www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29131
ELECTIONS '10: GOVERNOR Scott Lee Cohen on LGBTs, comeback www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29133
ELECTIONS '10: Readers weigh in through letters www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29134
ELECTIONS '10: VIEWS Bill Brady http:// www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29140
ELECTIONS '10: VIEWS Don't tread on LGBT voters? www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29141