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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cullen It In

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 8:03 AM

Wondering what Lynn Cullen is up to these days? Fans will be distressed to hear that, since being ousted from WPTT earlier this year, she's been reduced to hanging out with the likes of ... me. 

Last week, Cullen and I did one of those John McIntire-organized panel discussions in the Cultural District. It was less successful than some of the previous ones I've done -- one of those things where the number of panelists nearly outnumbers the number of people in the audience. On the bright side, I was sitting right next to Lynn Freakin' Cullen. And in tough times like these, I find her wry, even antic, outrage especially appealing.

In such circumstances, my role is to to sit quietly and let the stage lights reflect off my giant forehead, bathing Cullen in a warm glow as she holds forth. That gives me a lot of time to listen to what people are saying -- and judging from her remarks, Cullen wants to put aside the partisanship that characterized her presence as local radio's "Lone Liberal."

When the topic was a controversy like evangelical minister Rick Warren's participation in Barack Obama inauguration, for example, Cullen expressed impatience with pundits on both sides of the debate. Pundits "make their living" exaggerating the importance of such issues, she contended ... but Obama's election proved that Americans across the political spectrum want to put aside such divisiveness. 

Of course, cynics might contend that Cullen wants to drop partisanship now only because the president-elect is a Democrat ... whereas when George Bush was in office, her criticism was unrelenting. Or they might say Cullen is only dropping the partisan shtick because, since she's no longer on the radio, it's no longer how she makes her living. But I don't agree. Based on stuff Cullen said before and after the discussion, and her obvious passion all evening long, I have a feeling she really is sick to death of it.

Anyway, put aside whether Cullen really means what she says about post-partisanship: It's obvious that Obama meant it. And honestly, I've never been sure that was such a great thing. I was one of those people who always found Obama's post-partisan appeal to be kinda vacuous. That said, I'm a little surprised that anyone else is surprised by what's happening.

When Obama would talk about how there were no red states or blue states, and promised to reach out to people in the former ... just who did we think he was talking about? Did we think he was going to transcend partisan differences by including only the people we already agreed with?

A lot of us, I think, interpreted his post-partisan message in partisan terms -- when he complained about divisiveness, that message resonated in a special way with everyone who'd been scapegoated over the past 8 years. When he talked about inclusion, we assumed he only meant us -- because we thought that we were the only ones who felt excluded. 

And right now, there are people who still feel that way -- including some of Obama's glbt supporters. (Local blogger Sue Kerr's nuanced take is here.) They wonder why Obama is trying to console the feelings of evangelicals, of all people. Haven't they been calling the shots for the better part of a decade already? And this isn't just an issue for pundits to kick around. There are glbt folks out there for whom outrage over Rick Warren isn't just a way to make a living -- it's about the very fabric of their lives.

It's easy for straight white male like me to applaud Obama's outreach to evangelicals as a political masterstroke. I may even be right in hoping that this is a largely symbolic gesture that -- who knows? -- may make it easier for him to pass health-care reform, or even civil unions. Cullen (who called herself "the original Fag Hag" during the panel discussion) is right that Obama deserves a chance to actually, you know, get into office before we open up on him.

On the other hand, it seems deeply unfair that the first people to be sacrificed in the name of "post-partisanship" are the people who've been the most demonized by partisans on the other side. 

In any case, I hope 2009 redeems Obama's decision, and the hopes so many of us, including glbt voters, vested in him. I hope we don't replace bitter partisanship with bitter post-partisanship.  And I hope Lynn Cullen regains an audience commensurate with her talent.

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