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    June 16, 2008

    Who's right about McCain?: A Counterpoint

    Posted by: Kevin

    Johnmccainsketch Chris' posting on John McCain, or more importantly on the competing visions of McCain put out by the Human Rights Campaign and the Log Cabin Republicans, was timely and important. And given the moment we are in now, finally having washed the Clinton mud off our shoes and looking ahead to the general election campaign, it is time to begin sizing up both of the candidates.

    But I think the fair assessment of both men is not accomplished by looking at hack-speak.  It's done by looking at both men, their records, and watching what happens between now and November. For us to say we definitively know what kind of president either Obama or McCain will be on gay issues right this moment is, in a word, foolishness. And it also has a tinge of hackery to it. It's natural that HRC would pump out a million-page screed against the Republican nominee in record time, whether he was John McCain or a ham sandwich. And it would also make perfect sense for Log Cabin to react against it with a protectiveness of a nominee like John McCain. There was no such veil of protection for George W. Bush in 2004.  There are reasons for all of this. None of them have much to do with how Obama or McCain will be on gay rights in 2009 and beyond. Not yet, anyway.

    Nor, frankly, does the question which Chris poses in the title of his post (and, hence, my own here.) For I would counterpoint not that McCain would be the best man for gay rights in this election. I would counterpoint that asking whether HRC or Log Cabin is right about him is, in fact, the wrong question.

    The right question is -- do we know if Obama or McCain will be the better president, in terms of results they will deliver? And if we don't know yet, how can we best be sure to know before we have to vote in November?

    Since Chris is one of the best gay journalists alive, in my opinion (talk about "ass-kissing"...), he went over, in a fairly broad way, John McCain's voting record and some of his more recent public statements in order to venture into some territory on answering the question. I've also written about the hope and ambivalence that gay Republicans feel about McCain's candidacy.  Chris has done a great deal more probing on Obama's incredibly scant record, and turned up a lot more promises that have never been put to anything more than a rhetorical test.

    What we both have done a lot of work on, though, is mining the rich, mineral-filled caverns of the Clintons' records on gay issues and, in doing so, our canaries turned up dead on one alarming point: don't trust mere words from people who, at the end of the day, really don't care about gay rights as much as they care about their own asses.

    I'll introduce another factor. There is a notably large segment of the gay community that cares very passionately about other issues, too. Like Iraq. Like the economy. Like race. And yes, even innovation and technology (thanks, Andoni). And on those issues, there is a wealth of intensity of feeling inside those two men, and plenty of specifics to begin to judge them soundly. The pull of those issues, versus gay rights, cannot just be negated simply because this is a gay blog, and we are gay people. A guy who backs gay marriage but wants to bomb Beijing on day one is, quite frankly, fair game for debate in any community over whether it's wise to vote for him. Fair enough. So to pretend that the raging anger at John McCain among some gay people is about his vote against ENDA, and not really about his position on Iraq or on tax policy, for instance, is not only naive but insulting to all our intelligence. (I'm sure Chris is among the least afflicted, with his journalistic groundings, but come on. None of us is that shallow to be motivated by one issue alone.  At least here's hoping none of us are.)

    By their specific records and policy statements, for example, it is glaringly clear which man would be better for Latin America.  (Guess who.)  I am passionate about gay issues, and I am very, very passionate about Latin America.  (For Christ's sake, I live here.)  And if I'm supposed to "vote for my interests" - where exactly do all of those interests fall?  Because I vote for the man who is right on farm subsidies and energy policy, does that make me an Uncle Tom?  And if you vote for the man who is right on Iraq for your tastes, does that make you a traitor to America?  Please.  We're intelligent people, folks.

    I have to say that not only can't I say I've decided between these men, but I refuse to decide right now.  I'm not a hack, nor am I defending a fundraising base, or trying to use my leverage over a campaign to produce something positive on the issue of the organization I lead.  I'm just a voter.  And my long experience thus far with presidential campaigns teaches me that there is a long road ahead of us to November, once the primaries are done with.  On gay rights alone, Obama is potentially an impressive figure.  Perhaps he could be transformative.  He could also be a crashing disappointment.  Ditto all around for McCain.  Our task is not to close off debate now and free them both to ignore us!  It's to figure how to push them to the absolute limit to prove themselves before the election. 

    HRC proved yet again that they haven't got a clue -- and transparently revealed yet again that they are just a cog in the machine, dealing out their loyal Obama endorsement through some intern's blog, with all the requisite bitchiness of their spurned and eponymous favorite.  So they will have no leverage over Obama, nor will they seek to gain any.  My question is -- who will, and how will they do it?  And what do we want Obama to do and say before November?

    And same for McCain.  We have to pressure him, and we have to do it effectively.  Log Cabin is never going to walk off the stage now, especially since the much larger HRC is so useless that through their morning-after endorsement of Obama, they've once again tossed the gigantic responsibility of impacting the GOP campaign onto Log Cabin's shoulders (with the fervent hope that they'll fail).  And if HRC had not put out their screed, you would not have heard from Log Cabin.  That is also telling.

    To answer Chris' concluding thought on Log Cabin, I can report that the desire to raise that bar every election cycle isn't just a goal, it's seared into their DNA.  It is their raison d'etre.  It's everything they pray for and stay awake nights strategizing over.  Their decision to not endorse Bush in 2004 wasn't done with glee, it was done with a broken heart.  Not because they love the Republican Party, or even liked Bush -- but because of the setback it represented in the bigger picture that the President of the United States fell backwards instead of moving forward.  They took it personally, and they risked their existence on saying so.  So they will carry the institutional memories of 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 into this cycle and will fight to raise that bar.  I can tell you, with all the pedantry of a kindergarten teacher, my children, that they won't raise that bar in June 2008 by trumpeting to the world all the things John McCain has done wrong.  No more than HRC would have reached their goal of installing the Clinton borg back to power by putting her on the hot seat at any moment during the primaries (or ever, for that matter.)

    And naturally, people who want to see the GOP fail no matter what, in turn, want to see Log Cabin fail.  And they will throw the kitchen sink at both from day one to achieve it (notwithstanding David Smith's shit-eating grin) and make sure Log Cabin is out-gunned, under-funded, and hit with every kind of demeaning, demoralizing crap that they can manage to hurl at them.  And, quite diligently, Log Cabin will still fight to the last moment, Hillary-style if need be, to leave a space of air for McCain to step forward and raise that bar.  Until they, the most hopeful of all, lose hope.  Call them what you will; but that's the truth about them.

    I sorely wish such a group existed on the Democratic side.  I know of many, many individuals who do, and whom I admire deeply.  I support them 100% in their efforts to influence Barack Obama between now and Election Day, and I'll do my part (as I'm sure Chris and Andoni also will) to air their voices on this blog.

    The counterpoint is, therefore, that there is a lot left in front of us.  There are 12 town hall debates coming, perhaps more.  There are two party conventions.  There are campaign mailings, and mistakes, and controversies and surprises all in store.  We could, in fact, have the greatest presidential campaign season for gay rights in the history of the United States.  Or, we can throw such an opportunity away by handing the mike to the hacks now and skipping off to happy hour 'til November.  My vote, for the moment, is to be part of making history.



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    1. Colin on Jun 16, 2008 10:08:34 AM:

      No offense, Kevin, but this sounds like the typical stalling tactic employed by many politicians, especially by the current administration. When the facts and/or politics of an issue are strongly leaning against your side, rather than taking the difficult action, you punt to the future, stating "the issue needs more study before we can decide."

      We see this from the Bush administration constantly, perhaps most obviously with carbon emissions and global warming. Bush sees which way the facts & politics of the issue are trending, but refuses to take action, opting instead for more time to "study the issue."

      On gay rights, Kevin, the facts and politics are against your (possible) candidate. McCain, at one time a good example of a marginally gay-friendly Republican, has been backsliding on gay issues severely since the collapse of his 2000 campaign. Obama, although somewhat untested, has several recent examples of supporting gay-friendly legislation, both from his time in the Illinois Senate and in the US Senate. The direction the facts and politics are pointing is clear.

      Waiting to support a candidate can make the difference between your candidate winning or losing, and HRC knows this. As with global warming, taking time to study the issue only sets you back further, and when the time comes to take action, your opportunity to impact the future has been lost. So don't put it off, pick a candidate and stop waffling! :)

    1. Kevin on Jun 16, 2008 10:43:09 AM:


      So in other words, stop thinking and do what I'm told?

    1. Hawyer on Jun 16, 2008 12:02:01 PM:

      Kevin, dearest, I had to slog through 1,605 incoherent words to winnow out the only 22 that frames your screed.

      "I have to say that not only can't I say I've decided between these men, but I refuse to decide right now."

      ... which strikes me as even more spectacularly incoherent... reminiscent of the inevitable number of poll respondents who weigh in with "no opinion." ... or the ubiquitous SUV tooling around Atlanta with a car-washed faded "W-The-President" sticker still attached to the rear window ... after seven and a half years of incontrovertible debacle after debacle.

      Without judgment, but more out of sheer clinical curiosity, I want to look these people in the eye and ask them if they are fucking brain dead - or are they just willfully ignorant of anything that tilts their rock-ribbed world view, ever so slightly - or are they just contrarians who get-off on sticking their finger in your eye for shock value.

      Accordingly, at this stage of the game, if you're actually subjecting your options to intellection, I have serious reservations about your intellect.

    1. Kevin on Jun 16, 2008 12:11:27 PM:


      So in other words, anyone who isn't ready to vote (or leap to the partisan barricades) before either party convention or any debates of the nominees is incoherent and 'fucking brain dead'? Interesting.

    1. Wes on Jun 16, 2008 2:52:27 PM:

      "On gay rights alone, Obama is potentially an impressive figure. Perhaps he could be transformative. He could also be a crashing disappointment. Ditto all around for McCain."

      Kevin--it took me a while to go back in your post and find the above to copy and paste. But this struck me as one of the more profound statements. "Ditto all around for McCain"? You mean you think that McCain has the potential to be an impressive figure on gay rights?? HUH?? Why in the world would you be possibly thinking that this man that stood on the stage with Jerry Falwell puckering and sucking could possibly be impressive or transformative on gay rights? He has shown absolutely NO INCLINATION at all to do ANYTHING positive on gay rights. In fact, most people would say that he has been downright nasty on the subject and to the right of George W. Bush. Right before the 2004 election GWB stated that he was for civil unions. Not that he ever did anything on it of course. But he said it I think on the 'TODAY' show. McCain is not for even civil unions and in fact could potentially damage DP benefits by supporting amendments that prohibit those.

      Unless you feel McCain is superior in other areas of more importance to you than gay rights, you will likely not end up voting for McCain. We do not know for sure what kind of results an official will deliver until their time in office has come and gone. But if McCain talks the talk you have to assume he knows how to walk the walk. And there is no indication at all that McCain is not a person of his word in saying he will be against civil unions, and that he will support a FMA. Presumably he would be for that now since California judges have "shoved gay marriage down the throats of voters there". I believe I read in either your or Chris' or your post that he would support such FMA after a second state's judges (i.e. California judges) affected marriage allowances.

      I would like for the Republican party to find its long ago lost core beliefs of limited government, respect for the rights of individuals to be free from gov't, and controlled spending by our government that taxes us. And in fact, I think that LCR can play a crucial part in doing this. But to date they have been pretty ineffective with disastrous consequences (i.e. 8 years of the Incompetent One and the radical shift to right of the party). One day I truly hope to be able to vote Republican again. But it surely is not looking like this year will be that year. And I have had a year of debates and interviews and comments. More than enough to sort through the message these two candidates are trying to put out there. Frankly, it could have all been done in two or three months.

    1. Hawyer on Jun 16, 2008 4:08:24 PM:

      Quote Kevin: "So in other words, anyone who isn't ready to vote (or leap to the partisan barricades) before either party convention or any debates of the nominees is incoherent and 'fucking brain dead'? Interesting."

      Well, that's not exactly how I framed it. Let's hit it this way:

      If you really need more time to figure out where these two stand - then you have been in a coma - which I suppose is a state of 'brain death'

      Or if what you're really saying, is that you have followed the campaign closely and you're still trying to decide which candidate suits your priorities better - then just go ahead and vote for McCain. I have a feeling that's where you're headed with this treatise.

    1. Colin on Jun 16, 2008 4:49:15 PM:

      Quoting Kevin who was apparently trying to summarize my thoughts, "So in other words, stop thinking and do what I'm told?"

      I don't think that's what I was saying at all. I think I was saying that there's an appropriate time to study an issue and then there's an appropriate time to make a decision. I happen to believe there's more than enough information to pick a candidate at this point, and that future events will likely only confirm this. You can disagree, certainly, but I think your disagreement would be based on emotional attachment rather than a dispassionate review of the evidence.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Jun 16, 2008 5:19:29 PM:

      I happen to believe there's more than enough information to pick a candidate at this point, and that future events will likely only confirm this.

      Funny, the vast majority of us wait until Election Day.

      The amusing part about this, Kevin, is watching you get beat up by people who already HAD the opportunity to endorse a candidate who aligned with them completely on gay issues and threw that candidate out to side with someone who doesn't.

    1. Chester on Jun 17, 2008 9:29:03 AM:

      North Dallas, yes, Kucinich and Gravel were 100% aligned with us on gay issues but unelectable; we're talking politics now, right?
      As far as Kevin's hope we're not single issue voters... I'm not so sure. Maybe my personal freedom needs to come first, before I can become an anti-Iraq war protester.

    1. Charles J. Mueller on Jun 18, 2008 1:35:16 AM:

      >Maybe my personal freedom needs to come first, before I can become an anti-Iraq war protester.

      Well said, Chester. Because until your own (and our own as well) personal freedom comes first and we are treated like the first class citizens we were born to be, then our opinions about any of the other issues will be of little concern or interest to anyone, including the likes of Mr. McPain in the ass.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Jun 18, 2008 2:50:08 AM:

      North Dallas, yes, Kucinich and Gravel were 100% aligned with us on gay issues but unelectable; we're talking politics now, right?

      No; we're talking gay issues, and the fact that you are not allowed to substitute other concerns over purity on gay rights.

      Because until your own (and our own as well) personal freedom comes first and we are treated like the first class citizens we were born to be, then our opinions about any of the other issues will be of little concern or interest to anyone, including the likes of Mr. McPain in the ass.

      Actually, Charles, first class citizenship involves thinking beyond minority status and what's best for one's personal situation.

      The reason the opinions of gays and lesbians are of little concern or interest to anyone is the same reason that a one-trick pony is relegated to the sideshow; people already know what it's going to do and therefore don't need to bother paying attention.

    1. Matt on Jun 18, 2008 10:05:55 AM:

      Wow, the commenters at this site are becoming even more left-wing than those on my own.

      I don't understand the classic dichotomy the Left is always trying to thrust on us: It has to be either their narrow definition of "gay rights," OR other issues on which conservatives have traditionally been better for this country. (Caveats: Republicans as a whole have not been very conservative lately, and conservatives who demonize gays are not "conservative" in any real sense.)

      Why can't we have both? Why can't we be in favor of freedom, rights and dignity for gay people (and everyone else, for that matter -- God, we often sound so juvenile and self-absorbed!) AND for a strong defense, coherent foreign policy, fiscal conservatism, tough attitudes on crime, and all the reasons I have usually voted for Republicans in the past?

      My mind is still open too. Yes, McCain has showed some ankle to social conservatives, but he learned in 2000 that you can't get nominated without doing at least a little bit of that. His longer-term record over the past several decades is what tells me how he will govern.

      But even if you take a look at McCain's recent past, it isn't what the Left would have you believe it to be. He walked into CPAC in February and could have given a disgusting, pandering speech to the hard right. Instead, he gave a speech that sounded very much like the McCain we have known -- and many centrists and Democrats, if they're being honest -- for so long.

      It was certainly not a speech that will help people try to tar him as the inheritor of the third term of Bush, nor was it a speech that the vast majority of the other GOP candidates this year would have given.

      And while we're on the subject, don't say Obama hasn't sold out to his party's base a little too. Remember how he USED to support school vouchers? Show me one major area where he departs from liberal orthodoxy, and my mind will become even a little more open to him.

    1. Kevin on Jun 18, 2008 11:43:32 AM:

      Matt and NDT:

      Interesting points indeed. I especially enjoy how the argument from the partisan gay Dems always boils down to 'stop that annoying thinking and do what you're told, or else!' Then the usual references to Nazis etc follow. So persuasive.

      Chris has pointed out some recent fair questions on McCain's wavering FMA stand that will have to be addressed. But I worry about dear Chris, the tone and velocity of posts on McCain, vs. the soft-balling of Obama's take on California, make me think two of my co-bloggers here are far inside the tank already...

    1. Matt on Jun 18, 2008 1:17:26 PM:

      I won't read Sullivan anymore, in part, because of his shameless and blinkered boosterism of Obama. (How can a guy so supportive of John Kerry and Obama be "conservative" under any definition??)

      On the other hand, he hasn't written a word about the Dodd/Conrad-Countrywide affair. (Someone needs to come up with a catchy name for this brewing scandal.)

      I would never deign to tell another blogger what to write about, but the economy and the mortgage crisis are among the most serious problems facing our country right now. Dodd's and Conrad's connections to it, or what we know so far, are breathtaking. (If any Republican politicians are similarly culpable in aiding and abetting the subprime mortgage crisis, I'll be just as swift and vehement in my condemnation of them.)

      Sullivan is so busy gobbling Obama's knob and defining torture down that he hasn't said a word about it.

      I would hate to start feeling that way about this blog.

    1. Matt on Jun 18, 2008 1:21:19 PM:

      OK, I lied, I still read Sullivan from time to time, mainly because, as Grandpa Simpson would say, it "angries up the blood," and I like getting revved up now and again.

      So I try to give him credit where it is deserved: In this post, it looks like he might actually be coming back to the center on global warmism, but I do wish he would quit championing higher gas prices.

      That hurts real people, and it smacks of the worst kind of elitism for a guy who lives in a highly urban area and rides a bike everywhere to take that position. But I do agree with him that we could be MUCH more aggressive on alternative technologies and carbon sequestration.

    1. Colin on Jun 18, 2008 1:31:09 PM:

      Kevin, your victimization is complete. All us commenters are doing is telling you how to think... Silliness.

      The anti-McCain comments have been cogent, in my opinion. It's just that you, like many pro-gay Republicans, have to get defensive when you have so little to hang your support of your candidates on, at least when looking solely at gay issues.

      I am in complete agreement that a candidate should be judged on his COMPLETE record, and not just on a single issue. But this post was about a SINGLE issue, gay rights. And on that issue, unlike what some are stating here, the jury isn't still out. The facts are in. An Obama presidency would be more pro-gay than a McCain presidency, period. The candidates views on DADT is a singular example of this fact.

      And to say that John McCain has only "shown a little ankle" to the religious right is pure hilarity. He has reversed course on just about every gay-related issue on which he was ever sympathetic to our cause. You can minimize his realignment all you want, but it is a major realignment in my opinion.

      And if anything in this comment is telling you how to think, then you obviously are unfamiliar with the term "debate." Sorry if I challenge your beliefs.

    1. Matt on Jun 18, 2008 1:55:22 PM:

      Colin, I have one question for you. Whose administration was, on balance, more positive for gay rights: Bill Clinton, or the man he defeated in 1992?

      You might argue Bill Clinton, but I would answer that for everything he did for us (to his credit, for instance, preventing discrimination against federal employees), he did two or three other things that hurt us far worse.

      George H.W. Bush might not have been a gay-rights crusader, but he also did not make grandiose promises that he not only failed to fulfill, but did additional, spectacular harm to our interests.

      Right now, Obama is a cipher, an empty vessel into which you and far too many Americans are pouring their "hope" in the promise of some nebulous "change."

      We threw the dice 16 years ago too, and I would argue that -- at least as far as narrow gay interests go -- we came up snake-eyes.

    1. Kevin on Jun 18, 2008 2:16:57 PM:


      I wasn't aware I was supporting a candidate.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Jun 18, 2008 4:22:26 PM:

      But this post was about a SINGLE issue, gay rights.

      And, as I have already pointed out above, the candidates that were "best" on gay rights were already ditched because they weren't "electable", and gays took the position that the "second-class" status of civil unions and the previously "homophobic" belief/statement that marriage was between a man and a woman were suddenly "gay-friendly".

      The simple fact of the matter is, Colin, that we've seen this game before. Swear your undying love to the Democrats, they spit on it, and spend your time arguing that a) such actions are "pro-gay" and "gay-supportive", or b) the ever-popular "Republicans are worse".

      In short, it's either change the definitions or lower the bar on what constitutes "gay rights" to meet what the Dem masters are doing and thus rationalize votes. Fine. Go right ahead. But the more you do it, realize that the more obvious you're making it that your definitions are based, not on gay issues, but on party affiliation.

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