Note to Progressives: “Be More Like Madonna”

Be Like Madonna

If freedom and capitalism got drunk and had passionate sex, their love child would be Madonna.  And whether you admire or despise their spirited baby girl, let’s agree – Madonna is independence gone wild, liberty run amuck in a corset.

I have a suggestion for progressive liberals that they likely don’t want to hear.  When dealing with our opposition, it’s time to be less politically correct and more like Madonna.

You don’t have to wear a cone shaped bra or gyrate your hips.  I am not asking you to hump the dance floor or grab your crotch on national TV.  I’m simply saying, however you choose to do it, if you’ve got the guts and the urge – speak out, speak often, and speak loudly.  Your voice is needed now more than ever.

Our opposition needs to be challenged and provoked, so lets give Republicans in power something to actually be outraged about. The days of placating conservative hypocrisy and tantrums aren’t acceptable anymore.  The facts are in: the planet is on fire, the middle class has been evacuated, and the luxury yachts bobbing offshore have a maximum capacity of 1%.

Welcome to the apocalypse, the dramatic conclusion of trickle down economics and manufactured morality.  Given the dire circumstances, dancing may seem ill-fitted or inappropriate, but it’s time to fight crazy with crazy, so here’s my advice to my progressive sisters and brothers (and I’m looking at you, Harry Reid)…

Figuratively squeeze into a pair of pink leotards with a plunging neckline, grab your crotch with one hand, extend a middle finger with the other, and tell Republicans in Congress, “Filibuster this.”

However you choose, it’s time to be heard… Speak.

A recent paper found that both conservative and liberal politicians undervalue how liberal their constituents are.  Conservative politicians, specifically, underestimated local support for universal health care and same-sex marriage by as much as 20 percent.

While this disconnect is the result of multiple factors (special interests infiltrating government, the Orwellian mind grip of the conservative entertainment “news” industry, politicians beholden to the donor class, etc…), I place equal blame on progressives, the enablers of our existing political paradox.

Somewhere along the way, we progressives stopped “burning our bras”.  We became less outspoken, substituted our passion for good manners and prudence.  We allowed our opponents to define us, to make “liberalism” a dirty word.  We forgot an important lesson, one that history proves we’re destined to learn again and again…

The conservative moral majority is a myth.  Despite what we’ve been conditioned to think for the past 30 years, the United States is ultimately a progressive nation.  If we weren’t progressive: slavery would be legal, women would be unable to vote, being gay would still be outlawed throughout the land, and Barack Obama wouldn’t have been elected President… twice.

By definition progressive means, “making progress toward better conditions. Favoring or advocating change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are…”

Polls consistently show that Americans largely approve of liberal policies. On fiscal and social matters alike, majorities support:

  • Marriage equality
  • Cap and Trade
  • Tax increases to offset the national debt
  • Gun control regulation
  • A woman’s right to choose
  • Campaign finance reform
  • Immigration Reform
  • A Public Option to compete with Health Insurance providers
  • Heck, even legalizing marijuana recently tipped in the Progressives favor

Yet here we are, a nation of hippies (apparently) beholden to an intransigent Republican party that defiantly refuses to compromise with the progressive majority.

Conservatives in power would sooner self-inflict another recession than close a single corporate tax loophole or raise another dime in taxes for the rich. Despite their contributions to the debt (unpaid wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest, and a financial crisis caused largely by deregulation) the GOP insists that the poorest and sickest among us must foot the bill for the Republican fraternity’s binge spending and recklessness.

The only thing more offensive than Republican obstructionism is progressive America tolerating Republican obstructionism.  The recent study only highlights the greatest failure of the modern progressive, what was once our greatest strength – Our ability to be noticed and be heard, to matter… which brings me back to Madonna.

Madonna is the baby boomer that never stopped burning her bra, the hippie still singing about love and peace…. star of the 30-year musical, “The Progressive Activist”.

  • Madonna challenged George W. Bush on Iraq, when many liberals cowered from the fight and found it unpalatable to speak out against the war.
  • Madonna spoke out for gay rights and AIDS research, before it was chic… before even President Reagan had the courage to publicly acknowledge the epidemic.
  • And yes, perhaps most trying of all, Madonna has challenged her sex.

Personal taste aside, Madonna is by most measures “a liberated woman”, living proof that it’s okay to be powerful and girly. People can debate otherwise, but I nonetheless applaud Madonna for being unabashedly unashamed of being a woman. I, for one, take comfort in watching Madonna emasculate her conservative detractors, one poignant crotch grab at a time.

Liking Madonna is not a prerequisite for progressive liberals, but make no mistake – Madonna is emblematic of the progressives’ paradox. Liberals yearn to be a nation more inclusive and kind, yet we discount and hush progressives like Madonna, because let’s face it – Madonna doesn’t fit the conservative mold.

If progressives surrender to Republican hostage taking and conservatives ideals, it won’t be Barack Obama or Madonna’s fault.  “Failure” will be progressives’ to own.  Our generation will be known as “the generation that stopped fighting for the dream”, or perhaps most chilling of all, “the generation that succumbed to dreams and never woke up”.

Be more like Madonna.  Fight crazy with crazy.  Squeeze into a pair pink leotards with a plunging neckline, grab your crotch with one hand, and extend a middle finger with the other.

However you choose, join me in telling Republicans in congress, “Sequester this.”

It’s time to be heard… Speak.

“I can’t keep on waiting for you. I know that you’re still hesitating.

Don’t cry for me. I’ll find my way. You’ll wake up one day, but it’ll be too late.”

~ Madonna

gp(page_divider2)Progressive politics and the politics of Madonna are the subject of “Guy Penn & the Gospel According to Madonna” written by Damon Wallace. 

For updates, follow along through facebook or Twitter.

Revisited A Decade Later: “American Life”

“I’d like to express my extreme point of view.  I’m not a Christian, and I’m not a Jew.  I’m just living out the American Dream, and I just realized that nothing is what it seems.”

~ Madonna 2003


March 2013 marked the 10-year anniversary of “Shock and Awe”, the launch of the US invasion of Iraq, and the launch of Madonna’s music video, “American Life”, protesting the invasion of Iraq.

Madonna’s 2003 “American Life” video was a commentary about the “social disease” plaguing America leading up to the war. In the video, looking more like the yet-to-be famous Sarah Palin, Madonna croons about living the American dream from jumbotrons at a fashion show. Meanwhile, between cutaway scenes of bombs exploding, models in military-chic uniforms work the runway before the paparazzi and unimpressed affluent audience.

At the time of the video’s release, the backlash was so brutal and unrelenting that for the first time in her outspoken career, Madonna retreated from her detractors and withdrew the video (to see uncensored version click here). On the subject, she said in a statement,”Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video.”

A decade later, there’s something haunting about “American Life”. Knowing what we know now, Madonna’s then controversial video seems more like an accurate foretelling of the past decade than the distasteful, unpatriotic betrayal critics made the video out to be in 2003.

When the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, I recall how Main Street looked like a 4th of July parade, minus the crowds.  There were US flags, yellow ribbons, and yard signs urging neighbors to “Support the Troops”, but all the action was happening indoors, where Americans were feeding on the 24-hours news coverage of the unraveling war.

Sitting here today and looking back, the greatest atrocity of the Iraqi War is not the manipulation of Americans, the war profiteering, or the deceitful lies that led us to Iraq in the first place. Other than the loss of so many lives, what I find most sobering is how disconnected Americans became from both wars, myself included.

Other than writing this post with a sanctimonious tone, what did I do to support the troops?  Nothing.  Not one protest, care package, donation, or yellow ribbon.  Although I wished for the troops safety, I, like most Americans, ultimately got distracted as the war progressed.  Sure, I scoffed at the mess when it spiraled out of control, demanded change I could believe in, but in the end – I was removed from the horrors of war, a complacent member of the audience, attending the “American Life” fashion show.

american_life(madonna)Thinking back to the reaction against Madonna and other artists, like the Dixie Chicks, who dared to express their opposition to the war, I wonder now – What if I had been more outspoken?  Does it pay to speak the truth in the land of the free?

If Madonna is any indication, arguably “no”. For all intents and purposes, “American Life” marked the demise of Madonna, the American radio star. Preceding the controversy, Madonna had 12 number 1 songs and over a dozen more Top 5 Billboard hits.  Following the controversy, however, Madonna had only 1 song in top five (thanks to Justin Timberlake).

Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that Madonna became “radio irrelevant” after speaking out against the war.  Maybe you can dismiss 20 years of record-breaking success between the years of 1983 – 2003 and call it a fluke, but doing so would mean ignoring Madonna’s success outside America between the years of 2003 – 2013.

  • “Hung Up”, which was released in 2005, is one of the best selling singles of all time by any artists. While the song only peaked at #7 in the US, it broke the Guinness Book of World Records for reaching #1 in 41 other countries simultaneously.
  • Madonna’s 2012 “MDNA” World Tour is the 2nd highest grossing tour for a female solo artist of all time (1st place was achieved by Madonna in 2008 with her “Sticky and Sweet” tour).

The purpose of this article is not to say Madonna is awesome (although there is clearly some of that).  Regardless of whether you love or despise Madonna, as a matter of principle, I’d like the record to show…

Regarding the War in Iraq, Madonna was right, and George W. Bush was wrong.  When we didn’t want to hear it but needed to listen most, Madonna spoke the truth.  And in return, boys and girls, the King’s minions banished the Queen of Pop from the airwaves, where she’d reigned for 20 years.

In 2003, then President of the United States, George W. Bush, manipulated Americans into supporting the invasion of Iraq.  In the aftermath of 9/11, his administration preyed on our grief, fears, and patriotism, and lied about weapons of mass destruction, defrauding the citizens and ideals he swore to preserve and protect.

In rallying for unity, America sacrificed freedom and censored opposing views, discounting the very essence of the democracy that President Bush was peddling for Iraq.

Since the War in Iraq began over 100,000 people have been killed, including over 4,000 Americans.  Perhaps by 2023, once the ground stops shifting beneath me, I’ll have a better vantage of the war’s historical significance.

screen-capture-26In the meantime, this much I’ve learned…

Like it or not, in the past decade war became increasingly fashionable, and although there are obvious exceptions, on the whole, the American public became disengaged from the wars.

Had we been more engaged, we might have demanded justice and insisted that elected politicians atone for war crimes.  But we didn’t.  Because doing so, we were led to believe, would be unpatriotic.

In 2013, what I find unforgivable and un-American is that we didn’t fight more for our armed forces, we didn’t hold our government accountable for the well being of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  A right we ultimately punished the likes of Madonna for valuing and exercising.

Does it pay to speak the truth in the land of the free?  Despite her exile, I suspect Madonna would answer, “Of course, it does.”

After bursting on stage in a Mini Cooper, presumably feeling super-dooper, the “American Life” video ends with Madonna jolting her audience awake…

Freedom is not an illusion, or at least it shouldn’t be.  It isn’t fashionable or chic and should never be taken for granted. Freedom is the result of sacrifice, integrity, and courage.  It requires equal doses of pride and humility, the fortitude to accept our humanity and recognize when we are wrong.

In America, freedom is a measure of character.  It means standing by my convictions and calling out hypocrisy, while fighting relentlessly for my opponent’s right to express their (misguided) views.

Freedom is intended to be a celebration heard throughout the world.  Regardless of how much it may personally pain you, for America in 2013, freedom follows when we can admit together…

Madonna was right.  George W. Bush was wrong.


On December 14, 2011, President Obama announced the end of the War in Iraq.  On cue, a month later, in a formal ceremony watched by millions, Madonna returned home to the United States.

Her performance at the Super Bowl was the most-watched television event in U.S. history, drawing more viewers than the game between the Giants and Patriots.

Ushered into the stadium on a golden chariot pulled by centurions, Madonna’s performance was an over-the-top extravaganza, a fairytale homecoming worthy of an exiled Queen, who once upon a time defied a slack-jawed King and his minions.

Please join me donating to the Wounded Warrior Project.

gp(page_divider2)Progressive politics and the politics of Madonna are the subject of “Guy Penn & the Gospel According to Madonna” written by Damon Wallace. 

For blog updates, follow along through Facebook or Twitter.

RE: DOMA and Prop 8

new-yorker-cover-bert-ernie-gay-marriage-580_r620x349“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality… Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person. And DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities.”

~  Justice Anthony Kennedy


Following the Supreme Court’s verdicts last week, someone asked me, “How do you feel?”

I wasn’t sure what to say at first, so I simply replied, “I feel good.”

I realized what I was feeling was more complex than run of the mill goodness.  But it’s not everyday the Supreme Court legalizes love and upgrades my citizenship. What I was feeling was something different, an emotion similar to pride but more grounded in resolve.

us-blog(eernie)Six years ago, while living in New York City, I fell in love with my partner, Jake (in the pictures on the right, where I am Bert, Jake is the Ernie looking dude on the left).

  • Five years ago, Jake and I settled down in California.
  • Following the approval of Prop 8 four years ago, which banned gay marriage in California, Jake and I did the next best thing – We registered as “domestic partners” at a UPS store.
  • We assumed that would be the worst we’d encounter, but then three years ago – Jake accepted a government job, and two years ago I became unemployed.  Because of DOMA, he was unable to add me to his health insurance.

Proposition 8 and DOMA were fueled on fear. Each attempted to regulate the pursuit of happiness. While there are far more egregious examples with other couples, it’s safe to say Jake and I were negatively impacted by both policies.

So now that the Supreme Court has overturned DOMA and dismissed Prop 8, how do I feel?

Well, how I feel ultimately depends on who I’m talking to…

I feel included.

Never underestimate the power of belonging.

To Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, I’d like you to know…

In overturning DOMA and dismissing Prop 8, you gave me more than the right to wed who I love. By allowing me to be an active participant in the great experiment that is our country, you fulfilled a promise penned during our nation’s inception…

Because of you, dear Justices – We are all citizens of a more perfect union (so long as we don’t cross the state line).

I feel vindicated.

The only thing I hate is hate. Therefore, the fight for marriage equality has never been about homosexuality. For me, this cause has been always been a question about love.

I was raised Catholic, and I’ve known and loved many good Christians in my lifetime. It’s because I respect the teachings of Jesus, I take exception with those who presume to speak on his behalf.

Marriage EqualityTo my evangelical opponent, I say this…

It’s easy to hide behind a bookmarked bible, retrofitting verses to accommodate your view of the world. But it takes sacrifice and discipline to love unconditionally.

If you value the teachings of Jesus then I challenge you to act more Christlike: forgive the sinners, care for the poor, and embrace your lepers.

Words mean nothing without the actions to back them.  If you claim to be a good Christian, prove it – Make the world a better place by choosing love over hate.

I feel humbled.

Yesteryear, I had the wind in my face. Today, I am being nudged forward, down the aisle, with onlookers cheering me on…

In the year leading up to the Supreme Court’s decisions, a majority of Americans joined the President of the United States in supporting marriage equality. Meanwhile in other parts of the world, homosexuals are still persecuted for the unbearable crime of falling in love with a person of the same sex.

To those of you straight and gay, who stood beside love and equality, please know…

I appreciate your support.  The Supreme Court’s rulings would mean nothing if it didn’t have the backing of neighbors and friends. You weathered the hate so that people like Jake and I, along with future generations, wouldn’t have to.

Because of you, we are anew – Americans emboldened to be free.

I am honored.

The right to marry, the fight to have it, and the acceptance of thy neighbor would mean nothing if I didn’t have someone to love.

Like Ernie to Bert, Jake is my best friend and lifetime companion. I don’t need a court, a doctrine, or Snuffleupagus down the block to define what we have. He accepts me when I’m fussy and opinionated, and I find his love of rubber duckies endearing.

To Jake, I say…

After six years together, marriage equality has been restored to California, and DOMA has been overturned.  I’d like to think, by sheer force of will, my love for you made both injustices disappear.

When the Supreme Court announced their rulings, it wasn’t the feeling of inclusion, the sense of vindication, or being humbled that gave me pause.

I was rendered speechless when I realized you would be given due respect, when it dawned on me how honored I’d be to be your guy, to have and to hold, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

Because of you, when I heard the news, I could only speak three simple words…

I feel good.


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