September 19, 2008
Barack Obama's curious gay Q&As
Posted by: Chris
Is it just me or is there something a bit screwy about the Obama campaign's relationship with the gay press? First, Obama avoided gay media interviews during the primary -- save for a 15-minute chat with the Advocate to defend himself in the Donnie McClurkin flap.
He caught quite a bit of flak as a result, especially from Philadelphia Gay News owner/publisher Mark Segal, who published a Hillary Clinton interview on the front page alongside blank space symbolizing Obama's supposed snub. Segal, a long-time activist who is regularly accused locally of using the paper to promote his own views and himself, neglected to inform readers that he was a Clinton donor.
Now, in the last week, Obama has responded to questions from two GLBT publications, but both "interviews" were outside the norm. First, there was an email Q&A with the Washington Blade, which the questions placed curiously enough by Bill Kapfer, the publisher of Genre Magazine and a co-president of Window Media, the Blade's parent company (which I co-founded).
Then today we have an actual live Q&A with -- drum roll please -- none other than said activist/non-journalist/Clinton donor Mark Segal. Maybe it's just coincidence, or maybe it's just publisher types horning in on big interviews, or maybe it's a calculation by the Obama camp that non-journalists are less likely to throw the hardball questions. (Think Sarah Palin's chat with Sean Hannity.)
If that's the case, it paid off with Segal. The "news" from the interview picked up by the mainstream media was Obama's response to whether he would, in Segal's words, "end 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' by attaching a signing order to a military appropriations bill." It was the same errant question Segal asked Hillary back in March, ignoring the fact that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was codified by Congress and cannot legally be undone by a "signing statement," "executive order" or other unilateral action by the president.
Obama's response was nonetheless thoughtful, even if it was taken as something as a retreat by some:
I would not do it that way. The reason is because I want to make sure that when we reverse “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it’s gone through a process and we’ve built a consensus or at least a clarity of that, of what my expectations are, so that it works.
My first obligation as the president is to make sure that I keep the American people safe and that our military is functioning effectively. Although I have consistently said I would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I believe that the way to do it is make sure that we are working through a process, getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be. That’s how we were able to integrate the armed services to get women more actively involved in the armed services.
At some point, you’ve got to make a decision that that’s the right thing to do, but you always want to make sure that you are doing it in a way that maintains our core mission in our military.
I read Obama as talking more about timing than giving the Pentagon a veto over repeal of the notorious policy, and there's every indication in recent years that the military is already "there" on junking "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," even if (the Democratic-controlled) Congress lacks the will to pull the trigger.
There were two questions in the brief chat that broke a bit more ground. Segal asked Obama another somewhat cryptic hypothetical: If a constitutional challenge is brought against the Defense of Marriage Act, would Obama instruct his attorney general to file a brief supporting the claim?
Again the question is based on a legal fallacy -- that the president can order the Department of Justice to join one side or the other of a constitutional claim. Even George W. Bush's A.G. recognizes his professional independence to determine constitutional questions.
Obama, whose biggest policy difference with Hillary Clinton during the primaries was his support for full repeal of DOMA, was once again patient with his response:
DOMA was an unnecessary encroachment by the federal government in an area traditionally reserved for the state. I think that it was primarily sent as a message to score political points instead of work through these difficult issues.
I recognize why it was done. I’m sympathetic to the political pressures involved, but I think that we need to bring it to a close and my preference would be to work through a legislative solution.
I would also point out that if it’s going before this court, I’m not sure what chances it would have to be overturned. I think we’re going to have to take a different approach, but I am absolutely committed to the concept it is not necessary.
Easily the best question Segal asked was on foreign policy, pressing whether Obama would raise mistreatment of GLBT citizens as a human rights issue in dealing with foreign countries. Obama's response was very encouraging:
I think that the treatment of gays, lesbians and transgender persons is part of this broader human-rights discussion. I think it is not acceptable that we would in any way carve out exceptions for our broader human-rights advocacy to exclude violations of human rights based on sexual orientation. I think that has to be part and parcel of any conversations we have about human rights.
I certainly can't imagine John McCain giving that kind of answer, but then again the only question McCain would likely answer the same as Obama was the softball about whether he and his wife would attend a gay friend's commitment ceremony. Any politician with half a brain and/or half a heart would say yes to that, right?
Audio of the Obama interview available here: Download Obama.mp3 .
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