Thoughts On Logo's Democratic Candidate Forum genre: Gaylingual & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Visible Vote

After watching the Democratic presidential candidate forum on Logo, I've given some further thought to a few issues that I've pondered for some time and I decided now was the appropriate time to share those thoughts.

Generally speaking, the forum sought to gauge the degree to which each of the candidates supported marriage for same-sex couples...not civil unions, not domestic partnerships, but unions defined by the term marriage and affording the same rights as those of our heterosexual counterparts.

In recent years, there has been debate as to the merit of seeking same-sex marriage as opposed to the pursuit of all of the rights conferred upon a married man and woman under a different moniker such as civil unions, domestic partnerships, or some other term "short" of the word marriage. Some have expressed concern that the insistence upon using the term marriage was, or is, a mistake and an overreach.

Those who have argued as much contend that such a demand may not only slow the process towards the granting of the same rights afforded to heterosexual couples...but it could lead to more backlash designed to impose a constitutional amendment prohibiting such an event from ever happening...and might well preclude the achievement of many or most of the rights that are attainable by virtue of an effort to seek civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Personally, I believe that the LGBT community is entitled to all the rights granted by virtue of marriage and the granting of those rights ought to come with no implied difference and no distinct naming. I argue as much from two, it is a matter of equity and fairness such that LGBT people deserve to be treated no differently...and two, I believe that the establishment of civil unions or domestic partnerships is akin to the legal principle of "separate but equal" and therefore doesn't meet constitutional intent.

At the same time, I have my doubts about the approach to achieving same-sex marriage...doubts that mirror the concerns mentioned above...but also concerns that there is a misconception that the attainment of that right can or will come from the selection of the presidential candidate who will champion that cause. Let me attempt to explain.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Senator Mike Gravel both pledged to champion such a cause and both fully favor granting marriage in its full scope to same-sex couples. All of the other candidates stopped short of that position though they all favored granting the same rights afforded to married heterosexuals but under a name other than marriage.

In pointing out these distinctions between the candidates, one can clearly see that front-runner status is not an accident nor can it be easily achieved. Further, the fact that those candidates who hold views that fully satisfy the goals of the gay community have no real chance of winning the nomination is informative and requires acknowledgment.

There is a tendency to view the positions of the front-runners as a political calculation such that these candidates elect to moderate their views to make themselves more electable and more in tune with "mainstream voters". No doubt there is truth in that observation and while myself and others may find it somewhat objectionable, I also accept that it is a fundamental political reality that cannot be ignored.

At the same time, there is also a tendency to view the positions of men like Kucinich and Gravel as purely authentic and in no way a political calculation...and while that may well be true, they also seek to utilize their views for political gain...albeit with lesser success if one assumes being elected to the presidency is the ultimate prize. Regardless, these men are politicians and they are aware of their goals, their constituents, and the calculations the have and will make to hold office.

With that knowledge, a few things become obvious. Asking or expecting a front-runner candidate to take a position similar to that of Kucinich or Gravel is akin to asking them to become irrelevant...which I would call a self-defeating goal for both the candidate and the voter making the request.

In truth, front-runner status is a function of the positions one espouses and the degree to which that candidate can appeal to more voters in order to win more votes. Front-runner status is also a measure of a candidate’s ability to hold views that may not fully comport with those who will ultimately vote for them...but as a skillful politician they have been able to assure those voters that they are reasonable and mindful of their concerns.

In essence, the front-runner is an artful peacemaker...a broker between polar views who has as his or her goal the narrowing of these ideological gaps in order to achieve a more cohesive nation...and therefore obtain more support and more votes. If a front-runner succeeds in that goal, they have transformed from a politician to a leader...which ought to be the ultimate goal because it has the greatest likelihood to achieve the changes necessary to bring more unity and less conflict.

To proceed, we need to stop and consider recent political history. The current political climate...a function of a thirty year effort on the part of religious conservatives...has taken politics in the opposite direction. That effort culminated in the election of George Bush...and it was achieved using a model diametrically opposite of the one I describe in the prior paragraph.

The Rovian equation sought to use the power of polarization and partisanship to craft a coalition large enough to hold power...premised upon a very narrow ideology that places a priority upon the principles of exclusion and a refusal to compromise. It is a strategy of absolute power; not a plan of practical persuasion...and in that distinction we expose the contrast that exists between leadership and dictatorship.

The fact that the Bush coalition has collapsed is to be expected because, by its nature, it advances absolutism, rewards intransigence, and promotes conflict...and each of those ultimately serve to undermine the coalition as each member group, emboldened by their momentary success, seeks an even narrower adherence to their specific ideology...which eventually leads to the implosion of the coalition as intolerance advances to the point that cohesion cannot be maintained.

Coming back to the position of the gay community...we have come of age in this thirty year environment...and there is a tendency to conclude that the ongoing advancement of our goals must be achieved utilizing the same model which we have battled against for the bulk of our formative years.

In that belief, we are expectedly prone to seek politicians who will embody the dictatorial model...the one we have fought against and the one that is clearly responsible for thwarting our objectives and marginalizing our membership in the society.

In essence, we have come to believe that success flows from power and that power is a function of achieving a majority of fifty one percent and then imposing our ideology on the defeated forty nine percent. Clearly that approach proved effective for religious conservatives for a number of years but I contend that it has reached its predictable end with the presidency of George Bush and his employment of perhaps the most extreme version of this divisive model.

Hoping to replicate this approach in a version that is favorable to the gay community may seem prudent, but I contend that it is fraught with danger and will eventually, without fail, be met by a reversing momentum. It is pendulum politics and it is not only shortsighted; its promise and progress are superficial and razor thin.

Above all else, it does not transform simply elevates those held by the narrow majority while relegating those held by the minority to insignificance. In doing so, it further solidifies intense opposition and guarantees the creation of the animosity necessary to mount a counter-campaign to wrestle power from those who hold it.

As unpopular as this may be, the focus by the gay community on identifying and/or pushing existing candidates into absolute positions with regards to our issues is a misguided effort born of a sincere desire for equality. It is understandable though no less insufficient...and more importantly, it is no longer advisable.

While it is appealing to place responsibility for championing our objectives upon the shoulders of a presidential candidate, it is a mythological exercise reminiscent of the futility of Sisyphus. Simple math provides the proof. Even if we could elect a president fully supportive of our causes (and I contend that can only happen when a majority of Americans will support our cause as well as the candidate who endorses it), they are constrained by the voting mechanisms of those in Congress and they are limited by their election to a four year term.

If by some fluke of luck, we were able to get such a candidate elected, there is no reason to believe they can produce the desired results...and if they pursue those results with the zeal of a George Bush, their reign of authority will soon meet the proverbial brick wall...either through obstruction by those in Congress who disagree or by virtue of being removed from office by fomenting the momentum of those who hold opposing views.

Some may argue that George Bush has been relatively successful employing such an approach...and while that may be true with regards to the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, and national security...I would posit that social issues are arguably a different animal. Further, the evidence suggests that our supporters in the government affirmed their allegiance to the gay community by blocking an amendment to ban gay marriage...which suggests that while they may not be able to make the pledges we prefer, they have defended us from our enemies so that we...and they...were not precluded from continuing our efforts...slow as they may seem.

Finally, I think another issue must be raised. The gay community will win its battle for full equality when the gay community does the work necessary to change the hearts and minds of those we encounter on a daily basis. Our cause will not be won by coercing political candidates to make the promises we prefer. We live in a free society and our freedom from discrimination will be won when those we live with freely grant us our equality. The passage of laws may cast disfavor on prejudice, but acts of prejudice will feel no more favorable with the passage of laws.

We needn't be silent and we needn't be complacent. In fact, we must be vocal and we must be persistent...but our words and our actions must be geared to persuade the masses; not to commandeer a few politicians in hopes they will succeed in imposing our objectives. I am convinced that there is a large majority of Americans that are fair minded and open to change...but they must be engaged by real people; not dictated to by kept politicians.

Every poll and all of the trends suggest that Americans are moving towards full acceptance of the LGBT community. That movement can best be accelerated when each LGBT person makes the effort to be visible to those they encounter such that they are seen as ordinary human beings with the same feelings and values, hopes and dreams, as their heterosexual counterparts. When the barriers of fear are removed, the obstacles to acceptance are dismantled.

Let me be clear...there are Americans that will never accept the LGBT community...just as there are Americans who will always dislike Italians or Catholics...and that is unfortunate. At the same time, the LGBT community need not waste their time engaging these individuals or attempting to persuade them to change their views. In fact, the more we isolate them and their views, the less influence they will have and the less they will feel emboldened to vocalize their misguided ideology. Better yet, the more we surround them with our newly acquired friends, the less impact they will have as our enemies.

As I watched the forum last night, by and large, I heard and saw the words of friends...people who have been engaged by individuals from the LGBT community and who were persuaded to accept us and to endorse our equality because of the merit of direct human contact.

At the same time, I saw candidates who realize that they alone cannot give the LGBT community all that we want and deserve...even if they want to do so. My only disappointment was that more of the candidates didn't ask the gay community to recommit itself to doing the hard work that accompanies a daily commitment to allow the world to see us as we share in our lives...and to discover that we are their friends, their family members, their coworkers...and their full partners in this wondrous human experience.

If we sincerely want to move beyond these thirty years of acrimony and antagonism, it must begin with a commitment from each of us to listen, to learn, and to live openly and honestly. In the end, if engagement is our purpose...if inclusion is our intention, then our political power will naturally flow from our ability to persuade. If we can make that happen, our shared humanity will become the cornerstone of our strength...and equality for all will ensue.

Tagged as: 2008 Presidential Election, Equality, LGBT, Logo, Same-Sex Marriage

Daniel DiRito | August 10, 2007 | 9:06 AM
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1 On August 10, 2007 at 2:11 PM, Lemuel wrote —

Very well stated. I concur that the real progress toward these goals will come as we convince our neighbors and friends of its validity and not in ways that will polarize and generate its own resistance. Acceptance of us among the people will produce leaders who will embrace us as well.

2 On August 10, 2007 at 3:37 PM, PBCliberal wrote —

Watching the frontrunners, I heard the words of the late, great Molly Ivans, when she quoted old-school Texas politicians:
"If you can't take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in the Legislature."

They did this with varying degrees of success, and the more misdirection they could accomplish, they better off they were. Obama's little dance was the most artful, suggesting that if he had to counsel early civil rights advocates about whether to oppose anti-miscegenation laws or seek voters rights, he'd opt for voters rights. A poor comparison, perhaps, but it worked. He aced the online post-debate poll at 39% beating yes-man Kucinich who polled at 25%.

Hillary did the same thing by trying to cast DOMA as a good thing, because it forstalled a constitutional amendment. Melissa Ethridge's long memory about the way the last Clinton sold us out would have made Hillary squirm, were she not composed of so much flint and ice.

Then there was Richardson, whose abysmal performance transcended LGBT issues and let a fundamental incompetence shine through. Not only was his response to a nature/nurture question inept, when the panel gave him three opportunitities to take the foot out of his mouth, he refused help each time preferring to dissemble and make things worse.

3 On August 12, 2007 at 1:19 PM, libhomo wrote —

It is misleading to refer to Kucinich as a "yes man." His views on queer issues existed long before the campaign, much less the forum. They are consistent with his larger political philosophy.

Also, the views of Americans have been gradually shifting to the left since the end of the millennium and the AWOL rapture, the trauma caused by NAFTA and the WTO, and the policies of the Bush regime. Trying to base our strategies on a political conservatism that is on the wane is not the most sensible approach.

4 On August 12, 2007 at 10:21 PM, PBCliberal wrote —

The "larger political philosophy" is exactly my problem with Kucinich.

First, on queer issues, Jonathan Capehart suggested my accusation with his, "Is there anything the LGBT community wants that you're against." I'm not suggesting his syncophancy is contrived for this election cycle or this debate. Promising the gay community the moon and stars started with Bill Clinton in 1992, which came back to haunt Hillary with Ethridge's question. When Bill did it, he was thought of as a non-starter and we helped propel him to frontrunner, so I don't begrudge Kucinich for taking the same tack.

I want to like Kucinich, and after seeing Edwards at a live event and leaving unimpressed, thought Kucinich deserved a serious look. I like all the individual beliefs Kucinich espouses, but they don't add up to a coherent whole. When you add up all the reasons he'd use to not trade with other countries, he winds up being an isolationist, which might have been workable before China bought us lock stock and barrel.

When you step back from the broad view and try to figure out how all those pieces of his policies are supposed to work together, you realize they can't. They're all there because he's supplicating one or another special interest, be it labor, or the environmentalists, or the gay community.

Kucinich is so busy scratching everybody's back that he has no room left to lead.

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