Hey, have you heard that Tammy Baldwin is a lesbian? It's true! She does all sorts of lesbian things. She writes lesbian laws and wears lesbian red blazers and has a lesbian middle name and bakes lesbian cookies.
I learned that Madison's congresswoman took part in the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name from the July 22 Isthmus, which featured a hagiographic cover story detailing Baldwin's quest for higher office. Within the Madison bubble, Baldwin's sexuality has suddenly become the topic du jour again, as she looks toward a U.S. Senate run to replace the retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.
But it seems only liberals are fascinated with how Baldwin's lesbianism will play outside Dane County. Madison Democrats are afraid that the great unwashed masses of conservatives statewide will shield their eyes in horror at the prospect of a Sen. Baldwin.
But here's a little secret from deep within the conservative ranks: We don't care that Tammy is a lesbian. Not a bit.
Sure, there might be some people who won't vote for a gay or lesbian candidate. But they weren't going to vote for Baldwin anyway. There are likely just as many people who will vote for Baldwin because it feels like the right thing to do - everyone wants to be part of a groundbreaking political movement (see: Obama, Barack).
There's simply more acceptance nationwide for being gay than there ever has been before. Political and entertainment figures alike come out of the closet and the public responds with a collective shoulder shrug. Gays are treated the same as everybody else on TV, whether as heroes or villains. Perhaps the most feared killer on TV was a gay assassin featured on The Wire, where the shout of "Omar comin'!" sent everyone in the Baltimore projects scrambling. Omar is a formidable bad-ass who robs drug dealers and gives the money to poor people.
And yet it is the liberals who seem to be most enthralled by the sexuality of political candidates. Some lefty columnists in this very newspaper have openly commented about the sexual preferences of Wisconsin political figures who have chosen to keep their sexuality private. Had a conservative commenter done the same, they would be excoriated for attempting to damage the reputation of a Democratic elected official.
In fact, if Baldwin isn't elected, it won't be because of her positions on gay and lesbian issues. It will be because of her support of President Obama's health care plan, which torpedoed the candidacy of once-popular Sen. Russ Feingold. If her run is unsuccessful, it will be because voters no longer trust Democrats with handling the economy now that unemployment remains high and growth remains stagnant.
Baldwin's supporters would point to the 2006 Wisconsin constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as proof that anti-LGBT discrimination is still alive and well. Yet it seems that five years ago, voters made the determination statewide that the gay marriage debate was more about mandatory benefits than marriage itself. In poll after poll, respondents overwhelmingly support civil unions (Barack Obama's stated position, incidentally). Furthermore, younger voters are much more attuned to gay issues - it seems only a matter of time before the Wisconsin prohibition on gay marriage is gutted.
It always helps to draw your political adversaries with cartoonish pen strokes, so it makes sense that Madison liberals would fret about what farmers and auto mechanics around the state would think about a lesbian candidate. This is the Catch-22 Baldwin's supporters find themselves in: By positing Tammy as a strong statewide candidate, they have to reluctantly admit that conservatives around the state might not be homophobic troglodytes.
And as for Republicans, they better be ready. Tammy comin'.
Christian Schneider lives in Madison, works for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and blogs at christianschneiderblog.com.