We’ve been pounding on Tim Burgess. (Be sure to read Erica C. Barnett’s newslead in today’s paper—link coming soon.) Burgess is challenging incumbent Seattle city council member David Della. We don’t much like Della—does anyone outside of a Della campaign commercial truly like David Della?—and were leaning toward endorsing Burgess. We were, past tense, until we learned that Burgess’ firm had done hundreds of thousands of dollars of work for Concerned Women for America, one of the more toxic right-wing, anti-gay, anti-woman organizations in the country.
It was just business, Burgess supporters countered, and we shouldn’t condemn Burgess for taking all that right-wing money—money his firm helped CWfA raise—because, like, again, it was just business! And Burgess always secretly hated Concerned Women for America and Burgess stands for everything the Concerned Women for America stands against and Burgess supports same-sex marriage and Burgess is for abortion rights and he’s not a religious bigot himself and blah blah blah.
But how to square that with the op-ed Burgess wrote for the Seattle Times after the 2004 presidential election? He identifies himself as one of “Seattle’s faith-driven values voters,” ticks off his values-voter bonafides (“I go to church, read the Bible, pray, try to live a Christian life, and even—don’t leave me now—vote for Republicans sometimes…”), and offers up some advice to Democrats on how to reach “people like me.”
We take our faith and citizenship seriously. In fact, for many of us, our political views are shaped and guided by our religious faith….
We worry about the vulgarity and coarseness of our culture and the “values” preached to our children day after day on television, in movies and magazines, and through music lyrics. We despair at the level of coarseness in our political discourse, too.
Admittedly, we struggle with a lot of pressing issues. We don’t like abortion. We value the sacredness of marriage between a woman and man. We recognize that not everyone agrees with us and we know the law isn’t a good mechanism to resolve these issues, but moral persuasion is.
I want to put Burgess’ op-ed in context.
It appeared in print on January 26, 2005. That was ten or so weeks after George W. Bush was reelected; less than a week after George W. Bush was sworn in for his second term. It ran when the Rove machine looked invincible, before Republicans lost the mid-term elections in ‘06, back when the phrase “permanent Republican majority” could still being used without sarcasm.
You remember the 2004 election, right? Remember the emotional aftermath? George W. Bush was reelected, Republicans gained seats in the House and Senate. Bush’s victory—excuse me, Karl Rove’s victory—was credited to religious “values voters.” You know, voters like Burgess. Anti-gay marriage amendments passed in 14 states—every state with one on the ballot—and in the days immediately after the election Democrats were being urged to abandon gays and lesbians just as they had abandoned gun control. Because Democrats had to curry favor with an ascendent religious right, with red-state America, with “values voters.”
With Tim Burgess.
Folks do remember the 2004 election? Remember how upset you were? How hard you worked? How drunk we all got at Chop Suey on election night after Ohio went—or was stolen—for Bush? How estranged you felt from your fellow Americans over next days, weeks, months? Remember this map?
Remember this Stranger cover?
And here’s what was on the cover of The Stranger the week that Bush was sworn in for his second term, the same week Burgess’ op-ed appeared in the Seattle Times:
At at time when most Seattle voters were contemplating suicide and/or a move to Canada, there was Burgess, giddily pouring salt in our wounds. Democrats, liberals, progressives, secular voters, and gays and lesbians—real Americans, not despicable theocrats—were still reeling from the one-two punch of Bush’s reelection and his swearing in. And Tim Burgess selects that precise moment to jump up on a soapbox and scream, “Hey, I’m a values voter!”
And to let us know that he, like other values voters, opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.
I want to zero in on the marriage issue and the rhetoric Burgess used in his op-ed:
We value the sacredness of marriage between a woman and man.
There’s not a lot of wiggle room here for Burgess. To write in January of ‘05 that you valued “the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” was to use explicitly right-wing code. It meant—it still means—that you oppose same-sex marriage. Period. To say that “marriage between one a woman and a man” is sacred is as good as saying that marriage between two men is profane, a moral scandal, and an attack on “sacred” traditional, opposite-sex marriage.
Sorry, Burgess supporters (hey, Tina!), but there’s no other way to interpret Burgess’ statement about marriage in that op-ed. “Values voters” like Burgess, and “family values” groups like CWfA, have made themselves all too clear: marriage is zero-sum game. Same-sex marriage, according to groups like Concerned Women for America, undermines the sacredness of opposite-sex marriage. Only by banning same-sex marriage—and demeaning and oppressing same-sex couples—can the “sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” be upheld. Burgess used loaded language in that op-ed, and his meaning was unmistakable: Burgess not only opposes same-sex marriage, but he views it as an unholy, unchristian assault on “sacred” opposite-sex marriage.
And, I’m sorry, but Burgess didn’t misspeak or use religious-right code unknowingly. Burgess helped Concerned Woman for America craft their message and fund-raising appeals for nine years. Burgess was in the pay and pocket of the religious right. So at time when the flames of the culture war were burning out of control, at a moment when same-sex couples were under attack, Burgess decides to throw a little more fuel on the fire. He chooses that moment to attack vulnerable same-sex couples in Washington state—and he uses the rhetoric of religious bigots everywhere to do it.
And now this guy wants to sit on the city council in Seattle—you know, Seattle, the U.S. city with the highest per-capita concentration of gays and lesbians outside San Francisco. But check out this Burgess’ campaign flyer. Burgess doesn’t identify himself not as a “values voter” anymore, but as a leader with “progressive values.” He’s also for “a strong supporter of marriage equality,” and says he “supports a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.”
What happened between January of ‘05, when Burgess wrote that he, like other “faith-driven values voters,” doesn’t “like” abortion (who does?), and valued the “sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”? Hell if I know. Tim’s campaign materials don’t offer up any hints about how he went from holding an anti-gay marriage position—and a propensity for using anti-gay, right-wing rhetoric to advance it—to being a “strong supporter” of marriage equality. And Burgess’ once-voluble supporters in the gay and lesbian community have gone conspicuously silent. (Hey, Tina!)
So we’re going to ask Burgess. We’re having him in today to speak with us—with me, Erica C. Barnett, and Josh Feit—and we’re gonna find out how Burgess evolved from an anti-gay-right-wing-rhetoric-spewing “values voter” to a “progressive values” candidate in two short years.
UPDATE: Folks in comments are offering up suggestions for questions we might want to ask Tim Burgess. If you’ve got a question for Burgess, please add it to the list.