August 10, 2007
Grade the Dems: Give Bill a B+
Posted by: Chris
Much of the coverage around last night's forum has focused on Bill Richardson's answer to a question from Melissa Etheridge about whether homosexuality is a choice or biological. To Richardon's discredit, he said the former, though he has enthusiastically reversed himself in statements issued since.
In some ways, the question says more about us than the answer says about Richardson. Why do we care if a candidate for president believes it's nurture and not nature? Do we really need validation at every level from everybody, just like our conservative opponents claim we do?
I'm reminded of the Peter Pace controversy, where we all complained that the chairman of the joint chiefs injected his own views about homosexuality into a policy debate, and yet we freaked out when leading Democrats weren't immediately willing to do the same. Either private views about homosexuality are relevant or they're not. I prefer to judge by actions, not words, as Richardson suggested we do.
Margaret Carlson pointed out in a follow-up question that conservatives harp on the "choice" issue as a justification for opposing our rights, but clearly Richardson doesn't. And even if agrees with them on "choice," he can also say to them that the question itself is a non-issue, since he still supports our equal rights (except for marriage).
It's ironic to me that Melissa and so many other women who speak out so forcefully about a woman's "right to choose" to terminate her pregnancy, would suggest we have no "right to choose" our sexual orientation or aren't entitled to full civil rights if we do.
I certainly didn't choose my sexual orientation, and I disagree fundamentally with Governor Richardson's response. But to read so many say how he "imploded" with his response just shows how needy we remain for the right kind of rhetoric, rather than the right kind of laws.
Speaking of the right rhetoric, kudos to Jonathan Capehart for pressing Richardson about his "maricón" moment on the Don Imus show. Richardson's response was better this time, as you'd hope it would be, saying he apologized without conditioning his contrition with ominous suggestions about the motives of those (that would be me) who dug up the gaffe.
Throughout his 15 minutes on camera, Richardson tried again and again to return the conversation to his very strong record of actual achievements in gay rights, but the "choice" and "maricón" gaffes only underline how easily he and voters have been distracted from his impressive resume — on this and so many other issues. It's the central conundrum of his candidacy.
Joe Solmonese asked Richardson the night's only question about immigration rights for binational couples, and Richardson's response was strong. He voiced support for the Uniting American Families Act, now pending in Congress, and he told the story of a staffer who couldn't enjoy the benefits of the domestic partnerships Richardson signed into law as governor because his partner was in Mexico.
It's unfortunate and a painful missed opportunity that the UAFA question got asked of Richardson, who's already on board with the issue, and not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who've said they support the idea in principle but haven't signed on to UAFA in particular. Perhaps if real journalists were asking all the questions, they would have been directed to the right candidate.
Solmonese also pressed Richardson on marriage, trying to move him off previous statements that he would do "what is achievable," meaning domestic partnerships or civil unions. Richardson wasn't budging and frankly I think his answer is more honest than any other candidate's in the race. If the reason is political, at least he's willing to say so, and not wax on about his "personal journey" (Edwards) or give no real answer at all (Clinton).
I'm just cynical enough to believe that Solmonese's tough questioning of Richardson and the other candidates represents just another way of indirectly helping "the other HRC": Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As for Richardson, I would be tempted to give him a D for disappointment, but his record his too strong, and I believe he is more genuine than John "feel your pain" Edwards. So I'll give Bill a B+.
Here's his full 15 minutes:
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