Dancing through a difficult election season.
—by Amy Brunvand
On election night 2012 I was too scared to go to bed until I was absolutely sure that Barack Obama was going to be President of the United States for the next four years. As the Mitt Romney campaign confidently gloated that they were going to put gay people back in the closet, women back in the kitchen, sick people in the emergency room and children of immigrants back wherever their parents came from, I started reliving nightmares about that other election when I went to bed happy believing that Al Gore, Master of the Macarena, had won in Florida. I usually like politics. A lot. But 2012 was sheer misery.
In retrospect the joy was still there, if only I had remembered to watch for politicians dancing.
Last July the New York Times reported that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), looking sharp in pearls and a cream-colored pantsuit, had been spotted kicking up her heels at the wedding of Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and his partner, Jim Ready. Pelosi, according to the account, stayed up late grooving to a gay-friendly playlist that included hits like “It’s Raining Men”* and ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” Mr. Frank was the first congressman to publicly announce that he is gay, and his was the first ever same-sex wedding of a sitting member of the U.S. Congress. Frank said it would be good for his congressional colleagues to interact with a married gay man, and Pelosi called it a landmark for expanding freedom.
If former Massachusetts Governor and erstwhile presidential contender Mitt Romney had had his way, there would have been no wedding to dance at. In 2003 after the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided that gay people had a legal right to marry, Governor Romney tried to block the decision. When he couldn’t outright stop gay people from marrying each other, Romney decided to keep gay couples out of Massachusetts by resurrecting a 1913 law intended to prevent interracial marriage. It’s hard not to think of Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama’s mom, who married a black man in 1960 when many states still enforced laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
August found Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Africa dancing with dairy farmers in Malawi, and then in Johannesburg, South Africa dancing to the classic Kenyan pop song “Malaika” and, astonishingly, doing a bump-and-grind with pop star Judith Sephuma. The usual killjoys complained that she was undignified, but in the videos Hillary looks really, really happy and, yes, graceful.
In September Elizabeth Warren (the new junior senator from Massachusetts) delivered an electrifying speech at the Democratic National Convention and laid it on the table regarding corporate personhood. Responding to Mitt Romney’s assertion that “Corporations are people, my friend,” Warren stated unambiguously, “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance.”
In October, one month before the election, the majority of Americans thought Barack Obama was the likely victor of a presidential dance-off. An ABC-Washington Post poll revealed that 51% of registered voters would like to see Barack Obama on “Dancing with the Stars” while only 26% cared to check out Mitt Romney’s dancing skills. Likewise, 46% of voters believed Obama was likely to have a better music playlist (only 30% wanted to hear Romney’s tunes). Even Ann Romney didn’t make her husband sound like much fun. When Jay Leno asked her if Mitt is a good dancer she replied, “You know Jay, um, he has gotten to be a better dancer,” to which Leno cracked, “That is a political answer.”
On the night before the election, radio host Tracy Caruzo at WZID-FM in New Hampshire interviewed President Obama. He asked, “We saw you and Mrs Obama dancing at the inaugural party four years ago. If you are reelected, might you and the First Lady bust out your take on the Gangnam Style dance in January?”
“I tell you what,” Obama replied. “I just saw that video for the first time, and I think I can do that move. But I’m not sure that the inauguration ball is the appropriate time to break that out. Maybe do it privately for Michelle.”
Too much information, Mr. President. But I’ll bet she’d like it.
And then on election night, my friend who lives in Washington D.C. emailed a brief message: “YES! HELL YES! On my way down to the White House.” He sent back a report of absolute pandemonium, hugs, kisses, honking horns, flashing cameras, and people dancing in the streets with electric, pulsing, unbridled joy.
The next day I read that voters had approved gay marriage laws in Maine, Maryland and Washington State, and rejected an anti-marriage amendment in Minnesota. It seems that, after all, we are one election closer to the day when dancing at a friend’s wedding is just an expression of happiness and not a political statement.
*Oddly, In August, Fox News played the gay anthem “It’s Raining Men” to introduce Mitt Romney’s five (count them: five) sons.