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    May 25, 2007

    A Romney with (even) better hair?

    Posted by: Chris

    John_and_stuart_talk_to_john_edwa_2 'Feeling our pain' or just sucking up? John Edwards with plaintiffs in the California gay marriage case. (Photo courtesy of Marriage Equality.)

    Is John Edwards a hard-charging progressive or just the Democrats' answer to Mitt Romney, only with (even) better hair?  How else to reconcile the conflicting portraits of Edwards that (not so coincidentally) emerged in an eight-hour period yesterday.  First, the legendary party operative Bob Shrum, who fell out with former client Edwards when he chose Kerry over Edwards in the 2004 primary season, has written a tell-all book that trashes his one-time client.

    WaPo reported on Thursday morning:

    In his new memoir, "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner," Shrum recalls asking Edwards at the outset of that campaign, "What is your position, Mr. Edwards, on gay rights?"

    "I'm not comfortable around those people," Edwards replied, according to Shrum. He writes that the candidate's wife, Elizabeth, told him: "John, you know that's wrong."

    Even considering Shrum's clear dislike for Edwards, reaction to the vignette seems to confirm its gist:

    Edwards' pollster, Harrison Hickman, who was in the room during the discussion, says Shrum "is sensationalizing and taking out of context what was an honest discussion about [Edwards's] lack of exposure to these issues and openly gay people. I don't remember anything that expressed any kind of venom or judgment about gay people."

    Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz says Shrum "has a very casual relationship with the truth. Bob is obviously more interested in selling books than reporting honestly and accurately about what happened."

    Hickman later issued a flat denial of the conversation to blogger Ben Smith: "John Edwards did not say the words that Bob Shrum purportedly quotes him as saying. I know because I was there."  The Shrum story drew a scathing reaction from my former colleague Kevin Naff, now the editor of the Washington Blade, who wrote on the paper's blog:

    "Those people?" Does he mean the same people whose money and votes he’s been trying to win since 2003?

    Edwards’ record on gay issues has always been a rather mixed bag and now we finally see why: He’s simply not comfortable around us. That’s a typical feeling among the inarticulate, unsophisticated masses, who can’t justify their narrow-minded views and so fall back on the 'icky' defense.

    What exactly does Edwards think we’ll do to him behind closed doors? Wrestle him to the floor and have our way with him? (Those piercing eyes! That golden tan! The feathered hair!)

    As the story (and gay reacton) grew legs in the mainstream media, the Edwards campaign went into immediate damage control mode, and leaked to Pam Spaulding, a progressive gay blogger and fellow North Carolinian, his answers to the Human Rights Campaign candidate questionnaire.

    Edwards' questionnaire is actually the big gay news of the day, setting a markedly higher bar for the other Democratic candidates, coming as it does from one of "the top three."  Specifically, Edwards for the first time:

    • Supports the Uniting American Families Act, which extends to gay Americans the same rights that straight citizens have to sponsor our non-American partners for residence and citizenship.
    • Supports repeal of the half of the Defense of Marriage Act that blocks federal recognition of marriage licenses issued by states to gay couples.
    • Supports extending the more than 1,100 benefits, rights and privileges provided to married couples and their families in federal law to same-sex couples (and their children).

    In response to other questions, Edwards goes on to specifically support equal federal tax treatment, Social Security benefits, Family & Medical Leave Act benefits for gay couples, as well as domestic partner health benefits for federal employees.

    Edwards is the first "top tier" (or even second-tier) candidate from either party to come out with this level of support.  That's should earn him very serious consideration from gay voters and donors.

    Mitt_romney But is it real? Or is he Mitt Romney in reverse — moving from the right-center to the left to position himself as "the true progressive" among Democrats, just as Romney moved from the left-center to the right to position himself as "the true conservative" in the GOP field?

    At least in the immediate aftermath of that disputed 1998 campaign conversation with Shrum, Edwards was indeed no friend to gay rights, failing to sign up to co-sponsor even the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or a federal hate crimes law.  In his last two years in the Senate, he rectified that deficiency but still earned a 66 out of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign.  One of the reasons for that low score was his failure to sign on to immigration rights for gay couples.

    Johnedwardshair So are we witnessing a natural evolution, from small town North Carolinian with no experience dealing with "those people," to a Democrat educating himself on the issues important to his party?  Or a calculating flip-flopper whose strong support today is no more reliable than his weak support before?

    I have never trusted Edwards, and Shrum summed up my general sense of him perfectly by labeling him "a Clinton who hadn't read the books." The Shrum account of Edwards' vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution — that he allowed consultants to override his gut objections — lead further credence to that disappointing portrait. I don't see how anyone believes his vehement anti-war rhetoric now that he's no longer in the Senate, considering his record when he was.

    Some pundits have suggested that whatever his closet liberal past, conservatives ought to trust and be happy with "the New Mitt Romney."  Perhaps the same can be said for Edwards, and he has certainly raised the bar on policy positions for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.  But checking the correct boxes on the HRC questionnaire, as helpful as that is, only gets Edwards so far.  Given his past, and the doubts that have surfaced about his genuineness and credibility generally, the task before him (and Romney) is at least clear.

    (The complete Edwards resopnse to the HRC candidate questionnaire is available for download via Pam's House Blend here.)



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    1. KipEsquire on May 25, 2007 7:46:19 PM:

      Edwards was also one of only two Democratic senators who chose not to be present for the vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004. He claimed to be "too busy" campaigning.

      Care to guess who the other Democratic senator was? (Hint: He also was "too busy campaigning.")

      And as for "As part of my campaign I support this that and the other for gays," two words:

      Bill Clinton.

      Politicians lie. Especially Democratic politicians when campaigning for the gay vote.

    1. Andoni on May 26, 2007 12:33:02 PM:

      The main point is that he has raised the bar in black and white (i.e. in writing) for Clinton, Obama, et al.

      They ALL lie.

      However, if we play our cards right, and HRC (the organization) plays its cards right, we can make Edwards' stand on our issues mainstream for the Democratic Party. All those 89%-ers have to become 100% and we should NOT support anyone who is not.

      I spent an hour with Mrs. Edwards in 04 during the primaries and I know SHE is sincere and straight talking on our issues. It was at that time that she told me that she favored same sex marriage, but the country wasn't there yet and there is no way their campaign was going out on that limb. They weren't going to do anything crazy. With this background, I would give the Edwards Campaign public endorsement of our issues more credance than Chris. Unless they did it in a panic, they probably thought out their postions on gay rights and will not U turn. How much they push it if elected is another matter.

      Andoni, Paris 7e

    1. Bruce on May 26, 2007 1:09:17 PM:

      I am from NC and have had the opportunity to meet John and Elizabeth Edwards. The short answer is that I do trust him. I believe that he is honestly trying to understand our issues. Like other non-LGBTQ people, John just cannot experience what being queer is like. But as he has come to know more and more of us, I believe that he does understand that we do not make a choice about who we are and that although he can't share our experience, he sincerely believes that we are entitled to all the rights of any other citizen.

    1. John on May 27, 2007 8:11:05 AM:

      It's always entertaining when gay Republicans point to failings of Democratic candidates and explain that these means that they are absolutely no better than GOP candidates who are anti-gay down the line and playing to an anti-gay constituency.

      The idea that Edwards was uncomfortable with gay people, has gotten more comfortable over the years (with some prodding from his wife), and is willing to push himself beyond his comfort level because he knows it's the right thing to do doesn't really bother me. If anything, I think it says something positive for a candidate that he realizes that whatever his personal lingering discomfort with homosexuality, he needs to do the right thing.

      In the end, what I'm concerned about isn't what personal struggle Mr. Edwards has had on gay issues, but what he will do as a candidate, and if he's elected.

    1. Brian Miller on May 31, 2007 5:32:15 PM:

      Meanwhile, all three of the top-three Libertarian Party candidates have pledged support not only for UAFA, but also same-sex marriage equality, the end of the military's anti-gay ban, equal tax treatment, equal federal treatment of health care benefits, and the unambiguous right of queer folks to self-defence against gay bashers.

      Looks to me like Libertarians are raising the bar and Edwards and the like are sneaking under it years later!

    1. "Every queen" on May 31, 2007 6:34:34 PM:

      Um... *excuse me*... "Libertarians" are the only ones that take those stands? What about the Greens for example? Or the Socialists? I love how every single member of a party claims that they're the only one 'raising the bar', or at least fail to mention when they're NOT the only one. That's why I detest partisans, no matter what party they come from.

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