Beaten by her own political baggage

Pennsylvania Legislator Babette Josephs (D - Phila)
Pennsylvania Legislator Babette Josephs (D - Phila)
Posted: May 04, 2012

LIVE BY THE SWORD, die by the sword. Or in the case of state Rep. Babette Josephs, by the (gay) blade.

The longtime Philadelphia politician, who had a stranglehold on her legislative seat and was seeking an unprecedented 15th term in office, was beaten by her own political baggage.

Babette Josephs has been one of the most outspoken liberals in the city, which takes a lot of doing in a town where liberalism is next to godliness (or un-godliness, courtesy of the ACLU.) She doesn’t seem to like conservatives at all, given the fact that one of her campaign scare tactics was to accuse her opponent, Brian Sims, of wanting to “work with Harrisburg Republicans!” (Her exclamation point, not mine.)

She also called women who supported ultrasound legislation something along the lines of “men with breasts,” which is an interesting image and one that Donald Trump should start getting used to since he’s now allowing transgendered people to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant.

Babette started to unravel when she realized that the policies and practices she’d championed for so long were about to bite her in the tuckus. As a proud liberal, the good congresswoman truly believed in identity politics, whereby it is important to make the most of your “identity” in order to curry favor with the public.

You know the drill. If you are black, hype that fact in a city where it can be used to your advantage. If you are a woman, make sure that you talk about how important it is to be the “first female whatever,” whether that be a dog catcher, a city solicitor or even a state attorney general. If you are Latino, talk about how it’s “muy importante” to have someone with your sensibilities in office to cater to the needs of “la gente.”

Of course, if you are a white male, just shut up and hope that no one notices.

Seriously, though, Babette Josephs played identity politics for so long because she could. Philadelphia is a city where people don’t distinguish themselves by what parish they grew up in anymore. They describe themselves by the things they can’t control, and for which they can (or should) take no credit: race, gender, ethnicity.

And let’s not forget sexual orientation. I don’t think it was surprising at all that Brian Sims beat Josephs in a head-to-head for the seat in Harrisburg. Sims has a lot going for him: he’s an attorney, very smart, and has a long history of working with people of disparate political views. The fact that he’s less likely to scream across the aisle at people who disagree with him is a big plus. For the past few years, the sounds coming out of the state Capitol with respect to Philly’s liberal firebrand have been “No, No, Babette!”

In fact, the now-outgoing lawmaker is one of the reasons the rest of the state has a rather jaundiced view of Philly politicians. She’s just so abrasive. And yes, there are men who are equally abrasive, and yes, she’s probably gotten more flack than they have because of her gender. But she’s been able to deal with it quite well, endearing herself to her uber-progressive constituents and earning their love for well over two decades.

Until recently. This year, the lawmaker became a victim of the game she’s been playing for a long and rather prosperous time. She was beaten by someone who was not only as progressive as she is, but has the better pedigree.

He’s gay. She’s not.

Brian Sims obtained the backing of some very powerful and politically influential gay organizations, like the Gay and Lesbian Victory fund. He has long been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community. He obtained the endorsement of the Philadelphia Gay News. In short, he hit the identity trifecta: He’s out, he’s able, he’s well-liked. Add to that he’s 100 years younger than his opponent, and you had to believe Babette was heading for a well-deserved retirement.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that one of the main reasons Brian Sims won his district was because he looked, lived and sounded like so many of the people in the “Gayborhood.”

If anything, Babette Josephs was much more of an advocate for gay and lesbian causes than Brian Sims because she’s been at it much longer than he has. And because of that, she thought she had a lock on the seat, even going so far as to imply that she’d leave only when she was ready to go.

Poor thing. She didn’t realize that when you spend your life playing identity politics, as most liberals have learned to do so well, you may find yourself on the losing end of that game.

Meaning you’re out. When you’re not ‘out.’ n

Christine Flowers is a lawyer. Send email to cflowers1961@gmail.com and read her blog at philly.com/FlowersShow

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