Right-wing lawmakers keep passing discriminatory legislation, but it’s the liberals who don’t vote that bear the blame

Haberman-Hardy-By now, we’ve all seen the news about the Indiana Legislature passing a so called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and all the backlash that led to efforts to “clarify” the bill.

You’ve also probably heard that the Arkansas Legislature passed a very similar bill. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was paying attention to Indiana though, and refused to sign it into law.

The truth is that these laws have little to do with religious freedom and everything to do with discrimination. Unfortunately, as long as you wrap discrimination in religion or in the flag, the citizenry will buy it. Remember that whole “Patriot Act” thing?

These bills are about making sure individuals and businesses can refuse to bake same-sex wedding cakes and deny services to LGBT people based on a “deeply held religious belief.”

In other words, it’s OK to discriminate against LGBT people if you can quote scripture while doing it.

After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, there was a lot of talk of companies and events refusing to do business in or with the state. Everyone from the head of Salesforce to George Takei began calling for boycotts of all things Hoosier.

I admit at first I insisted the same thing: Make the state pay for its bigotry and intolerance and do it through the pocketbook.

But beyond that knee jerk reaction, I think this highlights a much more important issue. The question on everyone’s lips has been, “Who elected the idiots who passed this law?”

I can give you a quick answer that will please few folks, but is the truth: It wasn’t the progressive voters of Indiana, and it wasn’t the LGBT people of Indiana. If Indiana is anything like Texas, and I think it is, these lawmakers were elected by the very focused and very driven far right-wing voters who got out and actually cast their ballots during the mid-term elections.

They voted in the state races, which get far less attention than the glamorous notional ones. They voted in the local elections, which most people ignore.

So the real answer as to how this law got passed is this:  Liberals stayed home.

Progressive voters handed the legislature over to the far-right, so what did we expect? I say we, because here in Texas, we face the same thing. Our legislature is packed with “idjits” who are more than willing to do the bidding of the far-right, since that is who elected them.

And they are anything but “idjits” with the possible exception of Louis Gohmert. They are shrewd politicians, and when they pass crazy laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, they get a double win: They satisfy their “base” (the largely rural “values” voters), and yet do little to interrupt the flow of funds into the pockets of large corporations and, in turn, into their own campaign coffers.

A secondary effect is the squabbling it causes among the progressive voters, who immediately begin pointing fingers and causing a ruckus that will, in the end, have no tangible effect.

After the publicity dies down, the law will most likely be of little consequence and the electorate will fall back into the comfortable apathy that is their normal state most of the time. Part of that apathy is driven by the myth that “Our vote doesn’t count” and that “All parties are the same.”

These are self-fulfilling prophecies that we maintain by the very apathy they are intended to engender. It’s a negative feedback loop that reinforces the myth, and the right-wing knows it and exploits it with absolute artistry.

Additionally, the Republicans have been working hard at the “long game” and have successfully gerrymandered the states to favor their candidates.

They have also passed a series of laws to suppress liberal votes and essentially rig the elections.

And where have we been during all this? Arguing among ourselves. Having endless discussions of the nuances of the issues and being distracted by whatever red herring the GOP tosses out next.

We have to stop being distracted and start playing the long game as well. That means voting as a block. It means using our considerable power to actually influence long-term policy and stop bickering over short-term road bumps.

It means we need to get down in the trenches and work for candidates who support our rights and our agenda.

It means we have to do more than spout our moral outrage, and start demonstrating our moral fortitude.

It means paying attention for longer than it takes for the next Facebook meme to hit the Internet, and start participating in the politics that affect our lives.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member for the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 3, 2015.