Nothing occurs in isolation. Writers, readers, fans live their lives within the same political, economic and environmental changes as the rest of the world. The Debarkle story is a political story about science fiction fandom and so some chapters will divert from the main story to look at events elsewhere, either other issues within fandom or broader political issues too broad to easily encompass within other chapters.
Our story so far has brought us to the year 2008, which was an election year in the USA. It was also an Olympics year and 2008 saw Beijing host the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. The Channel Island of Sark becomes the last territory in Europe to abolish feudalism. Bitcoin is invented. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Apple’s iPhone turned one year old, as did Amazon’s e-reader the Kindle and Facebook opened its first international headquarters and was growing rapidly. Also, the io9 website started.
In this chapter I’m going to survey two of the issues of the day in 2008 America but through a distorted lens. The focus is on the battle for marriage equality and the 2008 US presidential election through the eyes of three Gen-X men all involved in the world of science fiction & fantasy publishing. Two sat on the right of American politics (Larry Correia, Vox Day) and one, close to its centre (John Scalzi). They are not intended to be a representative sample of the US public or of the science-fiction community. Rather, I want to look at these events at this point in time with this tiny and distorted sample to consider how the politics beyond fandom was shaping the views of three people.
These two issues were hardly the only ones being discussed. The sub-prime mortgage crisis that had begun in 2007 was already escalating into a much wider financial disaster. The sudden economic fragility was also highlighting how vulnerable many Americans were to healthcare costs. The Iraq war had proven to be an interminable conflict which, after initial victory, had descended into civil war and humanitarian abuses. Covering all of these issues is not possible within a single chapter and while the growing global financial crisis was a key part of the changing political landscape, for the coming phase of America’s culture war it was an underlying rhythm but not the main theme.
Note that some of the views expressed are politically extreme and in particular some quotes and posts contain overt homophobia.
Activists had been campaigning for the right to marry to be extended beyond heterosexual couples from at least the 1970s. Those campaigns had been met with a legislative counter-reaction with sets of laws affirming that a marriage had to be between a man and a woman (with the less obvious implication that the previous long-standing laws did not sufficiently state that). The 2000s saw a renewed legislative push to recognise a broader set of relationships and a reactive set of legislation in conservative states banning the concept. In 2008 the Supreme Court of California ruled against the states existing law that forbade same-sex marriages, In response, a ballot initiative called Proposition 8 was put forward to amend the state constitution so that it would affirm “”Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”. To add to the inherent divisiveness of adding active discrimination to a state constitution, the ballot initiative would be held on November 4 along with Californian state legislature elections, federal legislature elections and the US presidential elections.
America’s right-wing regarded marriage equality as a powerful wedge issue and even attributed George W Bush’s successful 2004 re-election to the voter pushback against marriage equality.
“The day after the Massachusetts Supreme Court created “gay marriage” I said that Bush would have an easy victory – not a landslide, just one that wasn’t subject to 2000-style recounts – and that’s pretty much what happened. Ohio, you’ll note, had a marriage amendment on the ballot which brought out the social conservatives who obviously weren’t interested in the Constitution Party. I think it was only as close as it was because the stock market has been flat throughout the campaign.”https://web.archive.org/web/20160112212639/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2004/11/forget-pollsters-listen-to-me.html
Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain spoke openly in support of the measure as did former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Bush’s second term had left many on the right of the GOP feeling alienated from the party (see later in this chapter) and an overt socially conservative measure that had some broader appeal might help with voter turnout nationally even if Proposition 8 itself was purely a matter for California.
The Democratic Party’s response was more wishy-washy, although Barack Obama having previously stated his opposition to marriage equality, spoke against Proposition 8. Opinion was shifting though, not fast enough for the ballot measure but definitely changing. In March of 2008, John Scalzi discussed how science-fiction had helped him conceptualise changing attitudes.
“One other thing. I can’t remember which book it was — I think it was 2061 — he had one character (I think it was Heywood Floyd) talking to another character, who was gay and celebrating an anniversary, and Floyd mentioned something about the gay character being in a relationship longer than most married couples he could think of. I do believe it was the first time I had ever thought about the idea of same-sex couples living as married couples, and I think I recall thinking that seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Leave it to science fiction, and to Arthur C. Clarke, to drop a then-radical social idea into my head and make it seem perfectly normal. And of course now same-sex couples can get married, in several countries including in the US (albeit in the latter case in only one state; even so).”https://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/03/19/what-else-i-was-going-to-say-about-arthur-c-clarke/
In particular, Scalzi was angry that Proposition 8 would end the actual marriages of people who had married after the State Supreme Court ruling:
“They need to recognize what it is that they’re doing, not to some potential marriage, but to a single, actual marriage that exists, now. I’m going to bold this next part, because I think it’s that important: If the people voting for Proposition 8 couldn’t stand personally in front of a married couple, tell that couple they shouldn’t be married, and say that it is their right and duty to destroy that marriage, they should not vote for Proposition 8. It’s really as simple as that.”https://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/10/30/what-prop-8-threatens-existing-marriages-you-dont-say/
That the ballot measure was a direct attack on the families of ordinary Americans, differentiated only by their choice of partner, is a mental shift in how people thought about marriage equality (as is the term “marriage equality”). The arguments for the proposition framed matters in terms of abstract legal concepts or in terms of vague social harm or judicial overreach.
However, Scalzi was far more disappointed in a different science-fiction writer’s opinion on the topic:
“Somewhat related to this, Orson Scott Card brings the economy-sized jug of crazy sauce to the same-sex marriage discussion with this gem of a column. Whether he’s declaring that same-sex marriage marks the end of democracy in America, or hinting that married heterosexuals should overthrow the government because now gay people can marry, or just flat-out declaring that “biological imperatives trump laws” — I think I’ll call this the “forcible insemination get-out-of-jail-free card” hypothesis, because, hey, men got imperatives — this is OSC at his most foamy, and you really don’t want to miss it. As much as I admire OSC as a writer, and I really do, as a social thinker he’s far deep into my “oh, bless his heart” territory, and it seems unlikely he’ll be making a run for that border any time soon.”https://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/07/30/no-fair-youre-saying-what-the-amendment-does/ 
The Hugo winning author, Orson Scott Card, was also a member of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. The LDS was a major donor for the Proposition 8 Yes campaign. Although Roman Catholic groups were bigger donors, the LDS’s involvement in the campaign received a lot of coverage. In particular, 45% of out-of-state donations to the Yes campaign came from Utah. The No campaign, on the other hand, received many donations from California’s tech industries.
Proposition 8 passed on November 4 but it was a pyrrhic victory. The bitter campaign had brought out votes but had also shifted opinions in a different direction. The LDS in particular garnered a great deal of negative publicity as a consequence. The fierce and alarmist opposition to marriage equality was designed to mobilise turn-out but over the longer term, it self-characterised the opponents of marriage equality as fear-mongering opponents of individual liberty.
Larry Correia didn’t get to discussing his church’s involvement until 2009 and did so in a characteristic manner.
“The SLCPD is going through extra riot training. They’re really excited about having the opportunity to baton some drag queens. If we’re really lucky, the professional protestor class from Seattle will show up and start tossing Molotovs. Ironically though, this is Utah, not Hippieland, so that should prove really interesting.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2009/02/23/gay-protestors-to-descend-on-lds-general-conference-in-april/
The propaganda war on marriage equality had backfired and the victors, by overstating the impact of marriage equality , were alienating centrist views and highlighting the implied prejudice in their arguments. However, others on the right drew a different message. Proposition 8 passed in a vote on the same day that the Republican Party lost the Presidential election. Commenting on an article critical of social conservatives, Vox Day came to this conclusion:
“In my opinion, David Frum’s analysis is factually incorrect and logically incoherent, and an intelligent observer will note that while the Republican pragmatists and moderates were obliterated – again – on Tuesday, it was culture war issues that not only triumphed in Democratic strongholds such as California, but downright dominated in battleground states that went for Obama such as Florida. This isn’t to say a cultural approach is a certain vote-winner in all circumstances; voters tend to be skittish of altering state constitutions and usually prefer to steer clear of the more comprehensive abortion bans, but there’s no question that the anti-homogamy, anti-abortion wing of the Republican Party is far more popular than the banker’s bail-out wing or the Israel First feather.”https://web.archive.org/web/20140618083207/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2008/11/battle-for-republican-soul.html
For Day, “culture war” was the required strategy for the right.
The US Presidential election
As early as 2004, Vox Day was expecting the 2008 election to be a contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush but he was open to the possibility of the eventual candidates (Obama and McCain).
2-1 Hillary Clinton
5-1 John Edwards
8-1 Random Democratic senator
9-1 Barack Obama (or whatever his name is)
3-1 Jeb Bush
5-1 Random Republican governor
6-1 Rudy Giuliani
9-1 John McCain”
For Day, Bush versus Clinton would be the epitome of a broken system — the defining proof of American decline. It would be a theme that would come up again.
However, Vox Day’s preferred candidate for the Republican party nomination was Ron Paul. At this point, Day was still overtly describing himself as a libertarian.
“People often try to blame me for comments that are made here. This is an intellectually shabby tactic, as there are literally hundreds of thousands of my own words from which to choose, and yet they still have to try to put words in my mouth in order to attack me. But like Ron Paul, I am a practicing libertarian; a failure to respond to a comment is as likely to mean that I think it is completely insane as it is to indicate that I agree with it. (Most likely, it means I think it’s obvious, idiotic or irrelevant, but then, I AM a superintelligence.)”https://web.archive.org/web/20160112225917/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2008/01/andrew-nails-it.html
As a libertarian, we might have expected Larry Correia to also be keen on Ron Paul but he certainly was not enamoured of many of Paul’s supporters. On The High Road forum in 2007, Correia expressed his frustration with the way conspiracy theorists were flocking to Ron Paul’s support.
“Okay, Paul supporters, when you start bringing up the Illuminati, Bildeburgs, the NWO, Adam Weisphet, the Masons, Black Helicopters, Cecil Rhodes, the Gnomes of Zurich, The council of 300, cattle mutilation, the illuminated ones, and the Reptoids of the Hollow Earth, the average American voter is going to look at you like you are a freak and a kook. And since you’ve appointed yourself as an evangelist for Ron Paul, by extension, you paint him as a freak and a kook.”https://www.thehighroad.org/index.php?threads/fred-thompson-mega-thread-merged.278967/page-3#post-3417472
At the start of the year, John Scalzi also reviewed the prospective candidates. For him, the least objectionable Republican was John McCain. McCain’s main advantage was that he wasn’t George W Bush.
“In a matchup, I’ll take any of the top Democratic contenders over any of the top Republican contenders, because aside from the fact that there are no Republican candidates who I have any interest in voting for (I find McCain the most congenial to me philosophically and the only one who, should he win, won’t have me looking somewhat wistfully at the New Zealand immigration site to see if I have enough points to qualify), there’s also the simple fact that no Republican administration is going to be as motivated as a Democratic one to stop doing all the fucktarded things the Bush Administration has done over the course of the last seven years. Sorry, guys, the dude has trashed your brand.”https://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/01/11/your-big-fat-election-brain-dump-11108/
Indeed, none of the three was particularly enamoured with George W Bush. In what was already a hyper-partisan political atmosphere, it is notable how much Bush had burned through whatever goodwill there was towards him.
Larry Correia’s impression of Obama was initially limited:
“So why am I talking about Disney channel cartoons? Because they are shockingly similar to the crap I’ve been watching on the national news all week. Barack Obama is such a light-weight, that the only way I could see any sane person voting for him is because they despise Hillary. Does that man actually have any positions, other than walking up rainbows to eat fluffy cloud cake?”https://monsterhunternation.com/2008/01/10/a-little-bit-of-political-ramblings/
Once Obama was the candidate, the fear-mongering shifted gears. Larry Correia in a post entitled “Barack’s Brown Shirts’, warned his readers that Obama would set up a rival organisation to the military:
“Barack despises the military. Why else does he need a rival organization founded in his image? I haven’t seen this speech get any attention at all, but he’s talking about an expansion of governmental power that would make the Department of Homeland Security look like your neighborhood’s Girl Scout Program. ZERO MEDIA SCRUTINY.Barack despises those of us in fly-over country, out here clinging to our guns and our religion. Do you really think, even for a split second, that he respects the things that you volunteer for now? Of course not. Unless you’re marching for gay marriage for terrorists… Despite the fact that Americans are the most generous people in history, we’re still too stupid to manage our own affairs, and we have to be told what to do.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2008/07/07/baracks-brown-shirts/
The claim was one that had been circulating based on very selective quoting of a speech by Obama in which he called for an increase of recruitment to programs like the PeaceCorps. A spoiler for those readers still living in 2008, Barack Obama did not actually end up creating a Brown Shirt-like security organisation in either of his two terms.
“My personal political leanings are pretty darn obvious to anybody that reads this (I own a machine gun store, not a lot of Democrats in that line of work) so you can be relatively certain that I don’t like Barack Obama, but I think I actually hate him. Well, I suppose somebody could say that by saying that, I’m racist or something, but hell, I’m blacker than Barack Obama. My Mom’s from Africa and I at least grew up poor. Let me see, how many times have I gone windsurfing on Maui… uh… NONE, but I have witnessed a crack dealer in Birmingham beat a man with a baseball bat and push him off a 2nd story balcony, so maybe Barack can educate me on the “Black Experience”. No, I hate him because he’s a socialist idiot pretty-boy waste of precious oxygen.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2008/04/02/why-i-would-rather-gouge-my-eyeballs-out-of-my-skull-than-vote-for-barack-obama/
I don’t believe Larry Correia has ever expanded on the statement that his mother is from Africa and as a counter-argument to be called racist “I’m blacker than Barack Obama” is not a good example of debate technique
Mind you, Correia wasn’t exactly happy with the Republican nominee either:
“On the other hand, McCain is a joke. The best the Republican party could come up with is basically a democrat. Our main strategy for winning this election is that Barack will be too crazy for the democrats and independents that aren’t mentally ill, and they’ll vote for McCain. That’s one hell of a plan. McCain is proud of the fact that he “reaches across the aisle” and “brings people together”. Listen, John, we really don’t want to be brought together with Kennedy or Feingold. We want them to GO AWAY and quit destroying our country.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2008/05/10/this-week-in-the-news-2/
Correia regained some enthusiasm once Sarah Palin was picked to be the Republican Vice Presidential candidate:
“I’ve already heard people saying that McCain was just “pandering” to the Republican base by, you know, picking an actual conservative republican. So out of the 4 people involved, we’ve got a Marxist, a Socialist, a Conservative Democrat, and finally we’ve got an actual Republican. This has to be terribly shocking for the media. For the first time in this campaign, I’m actually excited. John McCain actually picked a Republican. Maybe the press can go back to saying he’s a maverick again.”
The defining far-right conspiracy theory of the Obama Presidency would prove to be the ‘birther movement’. However, during the 2008 election, it was not a major focus for Vox Day. In August, after Hillary Clinton had conceded but before the Democratic National Convention, Day was confident Obama would lose.
“If I were a Democratic strategist, I’d be thinking very, very hard about out how to get Obama off the ballot at or before the convention. If he’s this close to McCain in the polls after 18 months of nothing but favorable press, I think he’s in very serious trouble. Remember, at this point, Michael Dukakis was 16 points ahead. Moreover, the idea that Obama would crush McCain in the debates has pretty much vanished thanks to more idiotic off-the-cuff remarks in the last six weeks than Dan Quayle made in his entire political career.”https://web.archive.org/web/20100113101522/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2008/08/equality-day-conspiracy-theories.html [content warning for jokes about domestic violence]
In that same piece, Day makes a short reference to the possibility of Obama not being eligible through being born abroad. It wasn’t until 2009 that Day would start to really focus on the idea that Obama’s birth certificate was fake. By late October, Day was convinced that Obama was going to lose. Also, throughout Day’s 2008 election coverage there is a sense of this Presidential election not being the main event. Neither Obama nor McCain was Day’s expected candidates and both candidates were not quite “rebel” candidates but also not quite the obvious picks of the party hierarchy. The growing financial crisis also meant that Day expected whoever won to be a one-term President.
“The economic situation means that whoever wins this year is likely to be a one-and-done president. Palin is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012, so unless the New York-Washington Republican axis can blame a McCain loss on her somehow – which is absurd in light of the stock markets’ meltdown, if Obama wasn’t such a ridiculous candidate McCain would be losing in a huge landslide – she will be the favorite to win the general election. So, expect a significant part of the “conservative” commentariat to devote itself to destroying Sarah Palin over the next few years while attempting to build up other, less conservative figures in the mode of Giuliani and Romney.”https://web.archive.org/web/20160112232018/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-they-hate-palin.html 
Barack Obama would go on to win about 53% of the popular vote and over 60% of the electoral college in a commanding and decisive win .
Naturally Larry Correia was very unhappy with the results:
“All of the ageing liberal supreme court justices will retire now, so that Barack can replace them with 3 twenty-year old Ruth Bader Ginsbergs. Regardless of his crappy presidency, we’ll be dealing with that legacy FOREVER. The only good thing that may come from this is that the republcans might be forced to grow a pair. They abandoned their morals in order to be just like the democrats, and they paid for it. We need leaders. We need people with actual morals and a concrete philosophy. We need our party to step up and quit being more of the same.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2008/11/05/well-this-sucks/
Vox Day took comfort in the Republican defeat as he had never liked John McCain in the first place. The defeat of McCain was for Day, a defeat for the section of the Republican party he most disliked.
“It must be understood that the East Coast elite would far rather lose the White House, House and Senate than lose its influence over the Republican Party. This is why, after a decade of advocating the abandonment of principle and political pragmatism in the name of retaining power, these impractical pragmatists are unembarrassed to continue advocating the very policies that were responsible for the Republican Party going from national dominance to abject defeat. If Republicans are wise enough to reject these “opinion leaders” and insist upon standard bearers who actually reflect the core values of the party’s base, don’t be surprised to see a few supposedly staunch Republicans defecting to the Democratic Party.”https://www.wnd.com/2008/11/80571/
Day, like Correia, was keener on Sarah Palin as a candidate or more generally as a template for a different kind of Republican candidate.
“The battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican Party has begun. Sarah Palin only represents the first of what promises to be many internecine battles. And if she has any thought of leading the Republican Party against an incumbent Obama, she would do well to begin with demonstrating her strategic competence by leading the GOP’s conservatives against the liberals and moderates who have inerrantly steered the party into disaster and defeat.”https://www.wnd.com/2008/11/80571/
Larry Correia and Vox Day’s politics differ but in 2008 both were people who claimed to be libertarian and who regarded the Republican Party as a potential brake on the politics of the left. Consistent through the issues of 2008 was a dissatisfaction with the Republican Party. In particular, it was Sarah Palin’s quixotic Vice Presidential campaign that was the aspect of the election to appealed to both of them. Palin barely registered in John Scalzi’s coverage of the election and beyond the Republican party, she was often seen as a figure of fun and lacking in credibility. However, even her missteps operated in a way that helps confirm and affirm the beliefs and political emotions of a section of Americans. She might not have been a good candidate but for a culture war, she was, for some people, the right genre for a candidate.
Next Time: Another ‘meanwhile’ diversion as we delve into the labyrinth of RacelFail2009
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Apple_Inc._products#2005%E2%80%932009 , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Kindle#First_generation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindle_Direct_Publishing and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook#2006%E2%80%932012:_Public_access,_Microsoft_alliance,_and_rapid_growth .
-  https://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/01/02/promising-to-do-to-science-fiction-what-gawker-did-to-celebrity/
-  https://www.history.com/topics/gay-rights/gay-marriage
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_California_Proposition_8#History_of_the_ballot_initiative
-  https://www.usnews.com/news/campaign-2008/articles/2008/06/27/mccain-supports-efforts-to-ban-gay-marriage
-  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73Q4V8WNF6k as Gingrich keeps turning up, I thought I’d mention him here as well
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20080731210556/http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/1051404.html
-  The quote contained a link to Card’s column which is now only available in archive version. Content warning https://web.archive.org/web/20080822082726/https://www.mormontimes.com/ME_blogs.php?id=1586
-  https://www.mercurynews.com/2008/10/24/opponents-of-gay-marriage-ban-ride-wave-of-donations/
-  https://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/11/07/fighting-bigotry-with-snark/
-  To quote Orson Scott Card’s editorial “Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.”
-  https://monsterhunternation.com/2008/08/28/politics-makes-my-brain-hurt/ “And I’m no Republican shill. I think George Bush was domestically weak, not a true conservative, but I could admire his stance on killing terrorist scumbags. I think John McCain is basically a middle of the road democrat, but at least he’s a grown up and not-a-Marxist. “
-  https://www.factcheck.org/2008/11/obamas-national-security-force/ and he covered it again here https://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2008/07/26/ive-been-taken-to-task-by-an-obama-disciple-bring-it-on/
-  Correia may have been trying to reference a claim made by Shelby Steele that Hillary Clinton was blacker than Obama https://prospect.org/article/black-get/ Disgraced Illinois politician Rod Blagojevich made a similar claim https://www.politico.com/blogs/ben-smith/2010/01/blago-im-blacker-than-barack-obama-024029 and I initialy thought Correia was referencing that but the dates (2008 for Correia and 2010 for Blagojevich). For fans of foreshadowing, Blagojevich’s statement was made while on the set of Celebrity Apprentice.
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_citizenship_conspiracy_theories
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20160112232009/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2008/10/death-by-ice.html
-  It feels strange now to recall that Giuliani was once perceived as a moderate figure
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_United_States_presidential_election#Results