July 18, 2007
Blog groveling for Gravel
Posted by: Chris
The two corporate gay behemoths announced they are cosponsoring a “forum” featuring the Democratic candidates for president. Initial reports called the event a “debate,” although it turns out the candidates agreed only to appear one after the other on stage, where they will “engage in conversation” with, of all people, lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge and HRC chief Joe Solmonese.
Logo and HRC called the event a “historic first,” even though the Democratic field subjected themselves to real questioning on gay issues by ABC’s Sam Donaldson in a similar forum four years ago, broadcast nationwide on basic cable channel C-SPAN.
But progressive gay bloggers weren’t upset by that downgrade of fortunes. Their beef was over the exclusion of fringe candidate Mike Gravel, who wasn’t invited to participate because, according to HRC, the former senator from Alaska didn’t meet a cutoff for candidates to have raised at least $100,000 in campaign funds — later amended to mean $100,000 in the last quarter.
It was ludicrous, of course, for HRC to claim that the $100,000 cutoff wasn’t aimed at Gravel. It was similarly silly for HRC to argue that the cutoff was intended to limit the event to “candidates who could actually be elected,” considering an invitation was extended to Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, whose campaign like Gravel’s is all protest or ego, or perhaps both.
But Gravel and Kucinich are alone among the Democrats in the race to have come out in favor of marriage equality, so the diss by HRC-Logo got Gravel, and the bloggers who have his back, hopping mad. Gravel often comes off like Billy Crystal’s “grumpy old man” on “Saturday Night Live,” so it was a cinch for him to go from zero to livid over his exclusion.
“Fighting for a hated minority is a pretty dumb way to get elected president,” grumped Gravel with a Huff and a Po on Huffington Post. “And obviously it hasn't helped with my fundraising. But I want to live in a country where there are no second-class citizens.”
Leftie gay bloggers swooned in response, but does Gravel’s claim make any more sense than HRC-Logo’s? Since Gravel has zero chance of being elected president and has no constituency except the “none-of-the-above” anti-war folks that he and Kucinich are splitting, a play for the gays isn’t dumb at all. It’s a smart, even obvious move. Far from hurting Gravel in the wallet, some gay bloggers began fund-raising for him, arguing gay donors should do their part to hoist him over the $100,000 cutoff.
Still, none of that stopped the bloggers from soaking in the thrill of victory when HRC-Logo reversed its decision and invited Gravel to the big dance.
“The progressive gay blogosphere has arrived and the rest of the political world is cordially invited to take notice,” boasted Mike Rogers, who cut his blogo-teeth outing closeted Republican staffers on Capitol Hill, in a piece on Huffington Post.
Rogers is right that we can learn quite a bit from this gay blogosphere triumph, but he might not like the real lessons. The influence of the blogosphere generally has long been sidelined by quixotic quests, lost causes and misdirected “netroots” resources. The gay grovel for Gravel is unfortunately a classic case.
How exactly does it help the cause of gay rights to be associated with a man whom most Americans dismiss as fringe and probably unbalanced? Is the push for gay marriage boosted or burdened if Gravel and Kucinich are seen as its champions?
It’s not just that they have no chance of actually winning; the same could be said of Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, but at least they are serious candidates taken seriously by the public and the media.
Gravel and Kucinich, like Ron Paul on the GOP side (who, gulp, also apparently supports gay marriage), are nothing more than political sideshows, and it doesn’t help convince legitimate, mainstream candidates to take our views if they’re espoused by the likes of these guys.
What’s worse, the exclusion of Gravel was much less potent a problem with the HRC-Logo “forum” format than the exclusion of real journalists to ask real questions of the candidates who might actually win. Four years ago, Sam Donaldson pressed John Kerry and the others on gay marriage, forcing them to explain their opposition to our equality.
Does anyone expect Melissa Etheridge — and I’m a fan — to do the same, and as effectively? Anyone who has heard Joe Solmonese’s chatfest on XM Radio already knows he makes even a big softie like Larry King look like, well, Sam Donaldson by comparison.
Fortunately, in addition to responding to the leftie bloggers on Gravel, HRC and Logo also heard criticism from others about their panelists. Now a top-notch, mainstream journalist is being recruited to participate. Now that's a victory worth actually celebrating, for those whose eyes remain on the prize.
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