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    February 04, 2007

    Moving beyond the mushy in '08

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillaryclinton_1More signs that in the early days of her campaign for president, Hillary Clinton is failing to connect in a meaningful with key constituencies, including gays.  Anti-war protesters took aim at her at last week's Democratic Party confab, leading liberals like Frank Rich are lodging the same complaints I did about her crippling overcalculation, and even the gays are proving hard to please.

    Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor with a very strong gay rights record, came in first in the survey of this blog's readers about who should get early gay backing.  He received almost a third of the votes, though my complimentary blog post was spread by some Richardson supporters so that may have biased the result.

    Rudy Giuliani was not far behind with 24%, followed by John Edwards with 19%.  Hillary was far behind with barely 10%, just ahead of (gay marriage backer) Dennis Kucinich at 8.  For a long time Obama didn't register a single vote, though he rallied to finish sixth with just over 5%.

    Hillary is even having trouble with gay Democrats, apparently.  This week's Washington Blade quotes Rick Stafford, Democratic National Committee GLBT Caucus chair, as well as "other politicos," as being more impressed with Obama and Edwards "because they're prepared to sincerely discuss gay issues":

    Stafford said such genuineness is a key quality that many other candidates — including top Democratic contender Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) — have yet to demonstrate.

    "When Obama and Edwards talk about our issues," he said, "I think there's a sense that they speak from their hearts and they're willing to show that they're not there yet, where I’m not sure that kind of speaking from the heart comes from Hillary."

    Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown poli-sci prof and author of "The Politics of Gay Rights," was quoted to similar effect, arguing that Clinton's scripted ambiguity is hobbling her campaign.  "I think more Democrats need to say what Edwads says: 'I'm not there yet, but this is something I'm mulling over.' It's really hard to attack someone with a position like that."

    Johnedwards_1 I didn't find it so hard to fault what I took to be Edwards false-genuineness, and I certainly hope the gay rights movement has matured to the point where we don't confuse a politician "feeling our pain" to one who's actually committing to work for our equality.  It's a bit astonishing to see someone like Wilcox — a full decade after Bill Clinton snowed gay voters and then signed the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell — still reminscing fondly the great gay seduction of 1992.

    "One of the things you saw with Bill Clinton was he'd say, 'I'm against marriage, but,' and then after the 'but,' he had a five-minute talk about things like employment non-discrimination," Wilcox said. "It wasn't him just quickly changing the subject — it was him beginning to embrace a set of issues and making an argument about equality."

    Of course it absolutely was "him just quickly changing the subject," on to others about which he also accomplished almost absolutely nothing despite eight years in office, many of them with Democrats in control of one or both houses of Congress.  Are we still so tied up and triangulated from the 1990s that we can't see things more clearly well into the '00s?

    Give me a candidate with firm, clearly stated commitments on our issues over a mushy candidate "mulling over" our issues, ready to cast us to the political winds when it comes time to spend some actual capital for our civil rights. 

    Where is the debate on actual issues?  And not just about marriage.  What are our leading organizations pushing for, in terms of concrete commitments from those in the hunt for the White House who won't back full marriage equality?  How about this list:

    First, the given: 

    1. Full support and a strong commitment for early enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a federal hate crimes law.  Both may be non-issues by '08, if the Democratic Congress passes them as expected.  Would a lame duck Bush really veto? (I will leave it to the trans activists to wedge their way into inclusion on one or both).
    2. Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  This should be a non-issue, given all the recent momentum, and the similar positions taken by Al Gore and Bill Bradley in 2000, and John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004.
    3. Full support and a strong commitment for early passage of the Uniting American Families Act (formerly known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act) which allows gay Americans to sponsor their non-American partners for citizenship.  Neither Clinton nor Obama has signed on as a sponsor, though Edwards did before he left the Senate in 2005.

    Then, the harder issues:

    1. Repeal the portion of the Defense of Marrige Act that blocks all federal recognition of valid state marriage licenses issued to gay couples.  If the issue really should "be left to the states," as leading Dems are fond of saying, then the feds should respect the conclusions reached by each.
    2. Federal recognition of state-issued civil unions, at least for tax and Social Security.
    3. Full-throated opposition to ballot measures at the state level designed to amend state constitutions to block gay marriage.  It's long past time leading Democrats found their voice in defending the role played by the judiciary in defending civil rights.  Respecting constitutions and judges doesn't require agreeing with every ruling.

    As the gay rights movement has learned, the devil is often in the details, and we'd be foolish to sit back looking for which candidate is speaking from the heart.  It's not enough anymore.

    I've confined things here thus far to the Democrats, but the Blade story didn't, quoting the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese being incredibly charitable toward John McCain:

    Solmonese noted that Republican contender Sen. John McCain has alternately been quoted as saying he supports and opposes gay marriage.

    "I think McCain is an interesting guy because he seems to struggle with where he might be personally on our issues, and where he feels he needs to be as a Republican presidential candidate," he said. "My observation is that he's going through this without really endearing himself to either side."

    Mccainthisweek If someone at HRC (or anywhere else) has a favorable quote from John McCain about gay marriage, I'd love to see it.  Perhaps Solmonese is thinking about McCain's opposition to a federal marriage amendment, though that was purely based on federalism grounds.  McCain fully backed an Arizona anti-marriage/C.U./D.P. amendment that was so punitive it was the first nationwide ever to be rejected by voters. 

    Or perhaps Solmonese was thinking about McCain's apperance last fall on ABC's "This Week," when he initially said "No, I'm not," when George Stephanopoulos asked if he was against civil unions.  It became clear in McCain's answer, however, that "no I'm not" was in response to an earlier portion of the question and McCain in fact supports only the right of gay couples to enter into private contracts and power of attorney, something any two people can do without regard for the type of their relationship.

    If Solmonese really believes McCain is still trying to have it both ways on gay rights, then he's the only one.  Every other political observer I've seen or talked to sees a clear march to the hard right as McCain tries to become the preemptive party favorite of the GOP. The candidate Solmonese (and Log Cabin) should really find "interesting" is Rudy Giuliani, whose record on gay rights is unmatched by any leading Republican ever.

    In the meantime, here's hoping for more cogent, and less mushy, analysis of such an important election.



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    1. Andoni on Feb 5, 2007 2:17:43 PM:

      Wow, you cover a lot of topics there, Chris.!

      I like your list for evaluating 2008 presidential contenders. At the moment my 4 favorites on the Dem side, Richardson, Edwards, Obama, and Clark, all pass the test.

      Edwards was starting to fade on my radar screen but I was impressed with the way he handled himself on gay issues on Meet the Press yesterday. He clearly identified his being stuck on the marriage issue as a result of his Southern Baptist upbringing but immediately added the startling observation that he should not set national policy based on his personal religious views. He knows that would be wrong. WHAT A HUGE STEP FOR A POLITICIAN.

      I thought his Meet the Press interview got off to a somewhat rocky start with Russert asking him about his vote for the Iraq War a dozen different nuanced ways. It was clear that Edwards was bobbing and weaving in between his statements that it was a mistake. This Iraq portion was in stark contrast to the portion dealing with gay issues where his answers were direct, sincere, and firm…… no bobbing and weaving. The last time I heard him say he wasn’t quite there yet on same sex marriage, it had a feel of a dodge, but this time, it sounded real. And the fact that he undisputedly backs civil unions with all the benefits of marriage, the fact that he said gays should be equal in every aspect, and the fact that he said it’s time to lead on these issues was very impressive.

      He rattled of a series of “yes’s” and “of course’s” to questions about ENDA, hate crimes, allowing gays to serve openly. All these in a tone that implied that his position on these issues is obvious and these positions are no big deal anymore. I really liked that.

      As I’ve said before, we need someone who isn’t afraid to TALK about these issues so that when that person is elected, the public knows that passing gay issues was simply part of what the people voted for.

      Hillary fails this test badly.

      On another note, even though Rudy has not declared yet, a lot of my Democratic friends support him.

      Wouldn’t it be ironic if he gets the Republican nod (and if California, NY, NJ front load the primaries…. it could happen), he could turn out to be to the LEFT of whoever gets the Democratic nod on our gay issues. Isn’t that a nice dream?

    1. Al on Feb 6, 2007 2:01:22 AM:

      I'd be hard pressed to envision our leading gay organizations supporting anything but that which plays to the tune of, as you say, mushy rhetoric around refreshingly new and equally vague descriptions of our rights and entitlements.

      I think you are absolutely correct in the assertion that now is the time to solidify the various candidates positions. Something along the lines of "a real action based answer please". However futile the attempt may turn out to be, we witnessed where trust, rhetoric, and the high of supposed inclusion got us in 92. Hopefully, we can as a community come together as much as possible, and work to do better

    1. Alan down in Florida on Feb 6, 2007 8:52:25 AM:

      Why does my gut tell me that Mr. Guiliani, whose political life was down the crapper if 9/11 hadn't happened, is going to give priority to same-sex marriage when his own personal track record on marriage is problematic at best?

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