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  • January 27, 2010

    Is there a President in the house?

    Posted by: Kevin


    The New York Times and the Washington Post today seem to have boiled down the meaning of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address tonight.  Or at least they've captured the national mood hanging over the event.  Assembled before him (and for some people, behind him on the dais as well) will be probably the most hated group of people in the United States today.  And given their sweeping campaign finance ruling that stunned everyone this week, that includes several justices of the Supreme Court among some folks.

    The country is in a state of boiling anger that no one person or political party can either take credit for, be blamed for entirely, or truly ride as a wave to unfettered power.  Joel Achenbach in the Post said it best when crunching the poll numbers: "The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything."

    Frankly, it's easy to figure out where all this started.  The U.S. economy is in the toilet.  It's as bad or worse as the most agonizing period of my lifetime, which was the 1990-92 recession, which hit just as I graduated college and saw as many as half of my friends fail to find decent employment for months on end.  The stories of wholesale collapse of businesses, careers, housing situations, marriages and even a few lives have piled up in the past few years, and I haven't escaped the dark news from friends and family even from 5,000 miles and a completely different economy away.

    When Americans feel a sense of hopelessness setting in, they don't go quiet.  They get anxious, for good reason.  And when they open a newspaper or turn on the news every day and see their government (which sends them a regular tax bill, only adding to the anxiety for many) not paying attention to what they say are their priorities, that anxiety turns to anger.  And when the leaders in government have the nerve to push back, to hector them about what their priorities should be instead, that anger turns white hot, and it blows up in the voting booth.

    And to use my native New York bluntness, when things are this bad in everyone's lives, they don't wanna hear whose fucking fault it is -- they wanna know what the hell you're gonna do about it.

    It's not rocket science.  The voters gave a mandate to the current government in 2008 on a wave of hope, the almighty Hope.  It was a hope based in the feeling that their concerns were not being addressed by the previous President, that he had been arrogant, wrong-headed, lost in a fog and incapable of humility in the face of countless disasters and mismanagement.  They were, indeed, sold a package of hope that things would be different, very different.  And immediately.

    Well - say what you will about this government, but the anger boiling out in the country across the whole political spectrum for everyone in power right now is the political equivalent to Rome on fire.  Too many Democratic hacks and pundits are basically fiddling to it -- blaming Fox News, blaming the Republicans, blaming Wall Street and even blaming the American people themselves for not being smart enough to realize what is good for them (which is, of course, what those same hacks and pundits say is good for them.)

    From the narrow perspective of the gay community, the anger is also there.  I don't know of any gay person who has a mild opinion.  They're either fuming mad at the Democrats or they're furiously trying to defend them.  (That's always telling.)  But the bottom line is that the Democrats said they needed the White House and 60 votes and they would enact our agenda.  They lied.  Indeed, they now are trying to claim that it was somehow a ridiculous notion that 60 votes meant anything.  Jeff Zeleny got this version of "I meant to do that!" from Vice President Joe Biden: "When we had 60 votes, there was the expectation left, right and center that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic. Never.”

    Oh really?  Then how is it that the Republican Congressional majority from 1995 to 2006 got almost everything they ever wanted, whether they had the White House or not, and never had 60 votes?  Indeed, remember George W. Bush and his tie-breaking Vice President in the Senate?  They exercised unrelenting power with a whisker's margin.  This gang of idiots couldn't get anything done with a supermajority.  (And that, my friends, angers a whole lot of Democrats.  So Biden's comment served no purpose other than to raise ire even further.)

    It's particularly galling that so much was promised and so little action has been taken.  Gay Americans have grown so weary of sweet words (lest I remind you, the Clinton presidency began almost 20 years ago), and patience is very thin for good reason.  The staggering lack of courage on display in the Democratic supermajority, and the blaming of others even then (!), was just too outrageous to be spun favorably.  As we say in Brazil, the Democrats "queimou o filme" - or 'exposed the film', which is to say, the damage is done and something very concrete and serious has to happen or the mood will not improve for gay Americans.

    It was also the Democrats' choice of priorities that sent a lot of Americans scattering to the barricades, not for ideological reasons, but out of sheer desperation.  When unemployment was hitting double-digits and the nation's fiscal deficit was plunging towards Hades, the Democrats chose two battlefields to die on: climate change and a massive health care reform bill.  And as of today, barring some incredible turn of political events, both initiatives appear dead in the water despite the gynormous majorities they continue to enjoy in the Congress.

    At the end of the day, the idiots of both parties in that chamber are not the focus of tonight's event.  They are just the peanut gallery, which will elicit plenty of angry scorn hurled at TV sets across the nation.  No, the one this all revolves around is someone about whom many of us are wondering - where did he go?  Where is that galvanizing figure who presides from atop a bully pulpit, with a clear, undisputed mandate to lead? 

    Indeed, where is the President of the United States?  Where is the leader amidst this spiraling disaster of unfocused time-wasting in the government?

    In that sea of loathsome characters filling the House chamber tonight, he should be easy to spot.  It would take so little lift to soar above their heads in the public eye.  The mood is so low, so sour, that should Obama manage to seriously reconnect with that anxious, fearful public out there - not only with promises, but with accountability, humility, determination and details - and even manage to inspire, it could set our hair aloft with its electricity.  But given the crater he'll be speaking from, it's a high hurdle to jump. 

    If he blows it entirely tonight, it will be as if Ronald Reagan, in the nadir of the 1982 recession, gave a speech about malaise rather than spoke confidently of a morning in America, a shining city on a hill, all the things he sold the country when they embraced him in 1980.  Had he veered off that road, Reagan's presidency would have largely ended in one term, deservedly so.  As might Obama's.

    Mr. President - where are you?  Or better yet, where the hell have you been?  Here's hoping we find out tonight.
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    October 03, 2008

    Bernstein on Biden and gay marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    Scarlbernsteinonclintonlarge We already know that public opinion is moving rapidly toward support of full marriage equality for same-sex couples, but sometimes it still catches me surprise. Take the discussion on CNN's "Situation Room" just a few minutes ago, when journalist lion Carl Bernstein offered his thoughts on the gay marriage discussion in last night's vice presidential debate.

    After pointing out that the impression left by Sarah Palin, supporting at least basic rights for same-sex couples, doesn't square with the McCain/GOP position or even her own view, Bernstein said he suspected Joe Biden didn't offer his actual view either.

    Over the years, I've grown accustomed to bracing myself when I hear one white-haired politico talk about what another white-haired politico thinks about gay issues, especially marriage. And so I was surprised when, instead, Carl Bernstein said what we gay folk having been saying (and hoping) for years -- that (paraphrasing here) even though Biden stated his opposition, "inside Joe Biden's head, he probably has no problem with gay marriage."

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    October 02, 2008

    Palin and Biden on gay marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    Bidenpalindebateap_2 UPDATE: At the end of the post.

    Taking a closer look at the gay Q&A from the vice presidential debate (transcript excerpt below), Joe Biden was surprisingly strong in his answer. Moving beyond the bromides about hospital visitation and the like, he said: "Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple."

    In fact, Biden even went so far as to essentially declare the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- which he voted for! -- is unconstitutional. If in his view the Constitution requires that gay married couples be treated the same as straight married couples, then federal DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from giving any recognition or benefits to gay married couples, is unconstitutional.

    That kind of affirmative support for legal recognition of gay couples is a real rarity at a national level, and absolutely so in a general election presidential or vice-presidential debate. He even addressed the marriage third rail, saying that "committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits" as straight couples.

    Biden was at his weakest claiming that the question of civil unions vs. marriage is a decision to "be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it." Bullshit, of course, considering that civil marriage is something the government decides, and no one has proposed legislation that would decide for individual faiths whether to "marry" gay couples.

    As for Sarah Palin, it's unclear why Biden and the post-debate pundits think she was agreeing with Obama-Biden on legal recognition for gay couples. As close as she came was this: "No one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties." Not prohibiting is entirely different from guaranteeing, and she in fact echoed McCain's misleading rhetoric in this area.

    What Palin was really saying is that gays won't be stripped of hospital visitation and the right to contract if John McCain is president. Gee thanks. And through all her protestations of tolerance, she says she doesn't want to go "round and round" about what exact rights and recognition same-sex couples deserve. I wonder how her "dear friends" who are gay feel about her unwillingness to take that time.

    Responsibility for the muddle in Palin's answer (on this and other questions) faIls in part on moderator Gwen Ifill. Even with format limitations, I agree with Andrew Sullivan that Ifill was not effective, failing to follow up in a way that makes clear to voters the differences between the tickets.

    For one thing, she failed to note that Alaska's benefits for gay couples -- limited to state government employees, by the way -- was mandated by the state's supreme court and Palin backed a constitutional amendment to overturn that ruling.

    Here's the transcript excerpt from the New York Times:

    IFILL: The next round of -- pardon me, the next round of questions starts with you, Senator Biden. Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?

    BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

    The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair.

    It's what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.

    IFILL: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?

    PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead.

    But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

    But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

    But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means.

    But I'm being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non- support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.

    IFILL: Let's try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

    BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

    The bottom line though is, and I'm glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she think there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple. If that's the case, we really don't have a difference.

    IFILL: Is that what your said?

    PALIN: Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.
    IFILL: Wonderful. You agree. On that note, let's move to foreign policy.


    UPDATE: The mainstream media coverage of gay rights is often confused and superficial, but the Reuters story just out about the vice presidential debate is particularly egregious. Even the headline -- "Biden, Palin agree on gay rights at debate" -- is mostly wrong. The only gay rights point they agreed on was opposing full civil marriage for same-sex couples.

    Reuters reports: "In an otherwise contentious debate, both Biden and Palin said they did not support civil marriages for same-sex couples, but both backed a range of other legal protections." In fact, as noted above, Palin was saying only that a McCain White House would not work to prohibit gay couples from entering private contracts of visit each other in a hospital; which is not at all the same thing as guaranteeing those rights through government recognition of same-sex relationships.

    "Such rights already exist in Alaska, where Palin serves as governor," Reuters goes on to mis-report. In fact, Alaska offers domestic partner benefits to the state workers, which means nothing to the vast majority of Alaskans who aren't government employees, and even for state workers, the D.P. benefits don't guarantee anything more than health and other financial benefits (which unlike those for hetero workers are taxable, by the way).

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    Filed in: Biden , Palin
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