June 13, 2008
Who's right about John McCain?
Posted by: Chris
Whatever lack of enthusiasm the Human Rights Campaign harbored toward the Democratic primary success of Barack Obama is more than made up for by hostility toward the Republicans' choice, John McCain. Even before HRC was released as a pledged delegate by candidate HRC, the D.C.-based group issued a report last week that portrayed McCain as offering "four more years" of anti-gay hostility in the White House.
Much in the HRC report is not new, highlighting as this blog has for months now McCain's long record of opposition to absolutely any form of gay civil rights:
- Opposes employment protections
- Opposes hate crime legislation
- Supports "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
- Opposes same-sex marriage and supports the Defense of Marriage Act
- Opposes civil unions
- Opposes domestic partnerships
- Favors state constitutional amendments banning marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships at any level of government, as well as recognition of any of these from other states.
- Favors state constitutional amendment that would ban public entities -- local governments, agencies, public universities and hospitals, etc., from providing health insurance and other benefits to the domestic partners of their workers, students, etc.
- Opposes adoption by gay couples
- Supports the ban on HIV-positive immigrants and backed a Jesse Helms measure blocking HIV prevention aimed at gay men
- Supports the nomination of strict constructionist judges who reject "judicial activism," which is essentially anything that limits the elected branches' ability to trample on gays.
That is a very daunting and very damning list, pretty much matching George W. Bush and the most conservative Republicans bullet for bullet. In fact, candidate Bush in 2000 had not yet come out against employment protection and hate crime laws; that only happened last year when his White House issued veto threats to both bills.
Regardless, McCain's policy positions belie the "party maverick" reputation, which has come almost entirely from government reform and not on social issues -- about which he cares little and thus cedes entirely to those in his party who care a lot.
In addition to this handy compilation of harshly anti-gay positions, the HRC report also provides some helpful citations to McCain's dangerous backsliding of late on the one and only gay issue on which he has stood up to Christian conservatives: the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Back in 2004, McCain not only voted against the FMA but spoke out in opposition, calling it "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans." Not because it was discriminatory, or wrote into the U.S. Constitution for the very first time a provision depriving a distinct minority of its rights, but because it violated states' rights -- that is, the long-recognized authority of states to decide questions relating to marriage.
(States' rights, as any high school student history can tell you, is a malleable "core principle." One day it protects progressive states who want to marry gays, and the next it protects bigoted states that want to keep their Jim Crow laws or other "peculiar institutions.")
But McCain has long-since walked away from even this "core philosophy of Republicans." He did vote against the FMA in 2006, but campaigning in New Hampshire that same year he set a very low bar for when he would flip-flop and back a federal marriage amendment:
If the Supreme Court of the United States rejects the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional; if state legislatures are frustrated by the decisions of jurists in more states than one, and if state remedies to such judicial activism fail; and finally, if a large majority of Americans come to perceive that their communities’ values are being ignored and other standards concerning marriage are being imposed on them against their will, and that elections and state legislatures can provide no remedy, then, and only then, should we consider, quite appropriately, amending the Constitution of the United States.
Events in California have almost already satisfied the second marker laid down by McCain, assuming the anti-gay ballot measure fails in November, and the third marker means basically he's free to change his mind if the poll numbers are compelling enough.
It's the kind of fair-weather "friendship" that only a gay Republican could love, and I say that with all affection for my friends, of course. HRC policy chief David Smith made absolutely no mention of Log Cabin and its history of defending McCain during the conference call last week announcing the group's report.
When I brought up the issue Smith deflected it, reiterating HRC's "respect" for Log Cabin and "respectful difference of opinion" about McCain. Smith avoided answering when I asked if HRC and Log Cabin had met to try to work through differences of opinion about the Republican presidential nominee, assuring that the "lines of communication are open."
Log Cabin, for its part, was quick to respond to the HRC report on McCain, slamming it as an unfair representation of McCain that ignored the Arizona senator's "open door" to Log Cabin and "record of inclusion." McCain's coziness with Log Cabin is largely the result of the Republican presidential primary in 2000, when the gay GOP group sided with McCain against Bush.
But that was an entirely different John McCain, of course. The Arizona senator has since gone from calling out "agents of intolerance" like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to kissing their rings and coddling their evangelical supporters. Log Cabin's Scott Tucker claims otherwise, insisting McCain "won the GOP nomination with no help (and with outright hostility) from many so-called 'social conservatives.'" Tucker conveniently ignores McCain's evangelical fence-mending -- a.k.a. ass-kissing -- and willingly blinds himself from the current political reality: However John McCain got here, he has no prayer of winning the White House without the enthusiastic support of those very same "so-called 'social conservatives.'" In the end, he will be every bit as indebted to them as if he were Mike Huckabee himself.
Tucker unfairly accuses HRC of "glossing over" McCain's FMA opposition even though the HRC report deals with that issue directly and in context. Instead it is Tucker and LCR that don't just "gloss over" but ignore entirely McCain's back-pedaling since on a federal marriage amendment.
I understand and appreciate the difficult position of the Log Cabin Republicans as they work for change within an often hostile party; doing so requires earning intraparty credibility by advocating on the GOP's behalf within the gay community. But the bar for LCR support cannot be set so low that anything short of mean-spirited hostility qualifies.
John McCain may not care very much about social issues like gay rights; but neither did George W. Bush for that matter. The important thing is that both men have a record of consistent opposition to absolutely any form of gay civil rights and a demonstrated willingness to pander to the right when necessary.
I have yet to see a principled argument in favor of John McCain's candidacy that does not jettison entirely the concept of gay and lesbian equality as simply a lower priority than other political issues of the day. The leadership of Log Cabin should rethink their position before its too late, and at least demand something more than token from McCain in exchange for -- perish the thought -- endorsing this man for president.
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