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    August 10, 2007

    Grade the Dems: Give Bill a B+

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsonforumhrc (Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    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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    1. Andoni on Aug 10, 2007 7:25:22 PM:

      When Richardson gave his "choice" answer there was hush over my living room too. I tried to defend him a bit saying the end result of what laws and policies he believes in for is what is important and sited the fact that religion is more or less a choice for most people...and we have no problem with religin being a protected class. But I got booed in my own living room. People said this is evidence that he was poorly prepped, doesn't have gay advisors, etc. Thanks for getting my thinking back to what's important. But overall, even though his positions are good, his performance was lackluster and decided he doesn't have what it takes to be elected at this time, just like Kucinich. I used to support all the candidates financially who had what I considered good positions on our issues....sort of as a reward. I can't afford to continue to do that so I'm whittling down making electability a key subjective criterion in my formula for financial support.... electability and good enthusiastic support our positions.

    1. Amicus on Aug 10, 2007 9:06:56 PM:

      All the wrong questions for this guy and a squandered opportunity to learn the foundations of his great success on rights legislation.

      Margaret Carlson was superb.

      If you listened carefully, there was a great insight in his response to the "biological" question, but it got lost, unfortunately, in the whirlwind afterwards.

      As when Wolf or AC asked the question of Hilliary, "Do you think your husband's DADT policy was wrong?", I continue to have little interest in the sometimes vicious beltway political score keeping of this kind.

      Richardson's "soft-and-slow approach" on issues like these would work quite effectively, I imagine, against Giulliani, for one. We'll see, because I don't think that is the approach that either of the front runners might eventually take.

    1. Sean on Aug 10, 2007 10:34:38 PM:


      ARE YOU KIDDING!!! It matters because "if" we are born gay then there is NO reason to deny us equal rights. BTW, people are born gay.

      Chris you really are showing yourself with your analysis of Bill Richardson. You are an apologist. Why? Is it because he has a latin background and so does your boyfriend? Or is it because he supports open borders? Or is it both?

      GAY ISSUES COME FIRST FOR ME!!!! I'm not waiting like the millions of gay people before me to have a chance to live my life freely and without prejudice like everyone else.

    1. dcjrb on Aug 10, 2007 11:46:47 PM:

      Bill Richardson has no prayer of capturing the Whitehouse. I do not want to squander my vote and yes, I am a gay man but I am an American first. Hillary may be not be perfect for gay issues but at least she makes and effort an shows up! Where is the "pro gay" Giuliani or any Republican for that matter?! The message was loud and clear " Thanks, but not interested." Eight more Republican years is not in the worlds best interest. I will back Hillary if she is the nominee and at least I respect her ability and intelligence which is more than I can say for the current team in power.

    1. Tim on Aug 13, 2007 4:21:28 PM:

      a B+????? You have to be joking. Regardless of his record, Richardson was absolutely the worst in this forum.. He appeared confused and unfocused most of the time. He blew this opportunity big time.

    1. Stephen Cassidy on Aug 15, 2007 5:20:15 PM:


      This is a link to comments by GBLT progressive New Mexico voters. It is very interesting - these are the persons who know Richardson best. One person stated:

      "After 14 years of trying in NM to pass Non discrimination in the workplace, he helped us get it, and kept Gender Identity in the bill when many legislators were backing away from that language! The same with Hate Crimes. Executive Order granting DP benefits to state employees, and working hard to keep a DOMA off the books here. The biggest thing to know about our Governor, that has been my experience is that in the GLBT community he has never made a promise he didn't keep, or bust his ass trying!"

    1. Stephen Cassidy on Aug 15, 2007 5:23:12 PM:

      For those that think the race is over - HRC has won and Richardson is just running for Vice President: Richardson is polling in Iowa at the same level John Kerry was the summer of 2003 (and far ahead of where Edwards was four years ago who finished a surprising second). Remember, almost half of the Iowa caucus voters in 2004 didn't choose a candidate until less than a month before the election. In New Hampshire, Richardson is at 12%, only 3 points behind Edwards in the latest poll.

      Richardson was the only Democrat aside from Obama to show an increase in donations in the 2Q over the 1Q 2007. He has strong organizations in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. He has enough money on hand to run competitive races in each of those states. HRC and Obama can't risk spending all their money on the early caucus/primary states or they'll have nothing for Super Tuesday on February 5th.

      The only governor competing for the Democratic nomination, Richardson is uniquely positioned to win in November 2008. Over the past 30 years four governors have won the presidency. In the entire history of our nation, only two senators have accomplished that feat.

      The dominant issue in the campaign for Democrats is the Iraq War. Of the top four Democratic candidates Richardson has the only crystal clear, unambiguous approach that most Democrats favor - a total withdraw of our forces. Richardson understands the path the US must take to get out of Iraq, and possesses the diplomatic background to see we leave without the regional descending into further chaos.

      For the Senators our withdrawal will be a long and slow march. The intervention will continue for years to come. Once Democrats in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire focus on the race and this particular issue, Richardson's poll numbers will further improve.

      The bottom line: Assuming Gore doesn't run, Richardson is one of four persons in America that will be the Democratic nominee for President.

    1. Eva Young on Aug 20, 2007 11:50:31 PM:


      ARE YOU KIDDING!!! It matters because "if" we are born gay then there is NO reason to deny us equal rights. BTW, people are born gay.

      EY: This is nonsense. Rights should not be based on whether being gay is "choice" or "biological" - and by the way, the science is not conclusive on this issue - and Richardson was only stating reality - though he quickly backtracked later after the hullaballoo over this.

      Religion is a choice - and religion is included in discrimination laws.

      We should not base our arguments for equality on whether it's a choice to be gay because the science is not conclusive on this topic.

    1. Citizen Crain on Aug 21, 2007 12:51:13 AM:

      I agree Eva. The "choice" argument is a trap we have set for ourselves because the jury is still out on homosexuality, plenty of "choices" deserve civil rights protection and plenty of "non-choices" don't (i.e., certain sexual fetishes, alcoholism, other addictions, illnesses).

      The one clarification I would make is that choice does matter in the issue of equal protection under the Constitution. Religion, as Eva said, has express protection under the First Amendment. But the equal protection clause does not list categories.

      To solve the problem of applying equal protection to categories the framers may never have even thought of (like sexual orientation), the Supreme Court has over the years said some categories (like race) are automatically looked at very suspiciously and require a very strong government interest to justify. Other categories (like gender) get some additional scrutiny, while the remaining third set of categories require only a rational basis from the government to justify.

      To decide which level of scrutiny applies to a new category (like sexual orientation), one of the factors the court looks at is whether the characteristic is innate and not subject to change, in addition to other factors including whether the group is political powerful.

      To that extent, sexual orientation being experienced as innate is valuable to get heightened scrutiny of laws that discriminate against gays (like marriage laws and Don't Ask Don't Tell). That said, almost no courts have given anti-gay laws heightened scrutiny even though it's very obvious (at least to me) that sexual orientation qualifies.

      Sorry for the legal lesson but I thought it would be of interest to non-lawyers....

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