Over the past week, two Presidential forums were held: one by the AFL-CIO at Soldier Field in Chicago (broadcast by MSNBC) and one by the Human Rights Campaign at a studio in Los Angeles (broadcast by the LOGO network). The fact that both called themselves “forums” emphasizes how vague that word is.
The AFL-CIO forum had a similar format to many of the meetings previously held that were called “debates”. There were 7 candidates on stage (Mike Gravel didn’t come) and they each fielded questions, mostly related to labor and union issues, and were given chances to repsond to statements relevant to themselves. You can watch that event off of MSNBC’s article about it (either by clicking the link before the first advertisement or the last link in the “Video: Democrats debate” section to the right of the article).
The HRC/LOGO forum was much different. It consisted of a series of fifteen-minute interviews of 6 of the candidates (Joe Biden and Chris Dodd opted out this time) starting with Barack Obama and ending with Hillary Clinton. The questions were completely focused on issues that affected the LGBT community, gay marriage taking the spotlight. To see each of the interviews, you can go here. If you would rather watch short segments from specific candidates, there are links to the right.
While I am not gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transexual, I would like to see a candidate push through more rights to those individuals, so I thought it was interesting to watch. In terms of their views, the candidates were all very similar. The main difference was their stance on gay marriage, with Kucinich and Gravel favoring gay marriage and the other four favoring civil unions with full marriage rights. And it is clear why it falls that way: all the candidates want the LGBT vote but the mainstream candidates know that they would lose a general election and probably the primary if they came out advocating gay marriage.
So, what did the hour and a half of watching these interviews give me? Above all else, they gave me a better feel for the candidates and how they answered impacted the level of support I am willing to give them. You can see what I thought of the videos after the break
Obama’s position is very similar to that of the other two front-runners and that is to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military and the “Defense of Marriage Act”, which limits the rights of same-sex couples, both of which were signed into law under the Clinton administration.
I like his style of explaining his positions. It shows that he has thought about the issues well. He takes on the tough issues, unlike Clinton and Edwards, who both have their particular ways of avoiding them. I will say that I disagreed with him that full civil unions and marriage are basically the same, as naming has quite an impact on the American psyche, but I do agree for the most part that the rights themselves are more important than the name we give them.
One of the things that bothers me most about Edward is his inability to answer hard questions. His tactic is very obvious and predictable to critical listeners: he simply talks about something related to the question that he thinks is a strong suit for him.
He used it to avoid the question about this opposition to gay marriage:
Finally, Senator, you’ve raised your opposition to same-sex marriage and you’ve raised your faith as part of the reason for your opposition. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what is it within your religion that leading you to this position.
Here’s his answer:
Well you know, I have to tell you, I shouldn’t have said that, because, first of all, my…[applause]…first of all, I believe to my core in equality. My campaign for the Presidency is about equality, across the board, and I listened to your discussion with Senator Obama a few minutes ago, back stage.
I was able to hear what you were saying and what he was saying and it make perfect sense to me that gay and lesbian couples would say: ‘Civil unions, great; eleven hundred federal benefits, great. You know, give us these rights, we deserve these rights.’
They’re absolutely right about that, but it stops short of real equality. It makes perfect sense to me that people would feel that way. I totally, I can understand it, it makes sense, and the only thing I would say about the faith question is, I think from my perspective it is wrong, because we have seen a President in the last six-plus years who has tried to impose his faith on the American people, and I think it is a mistake, and I will not impose my faith belief on the American people.
I don’t believe any President of the United States should do that. I believe in the separation of church and state, and these things that we have talked about: all these substantive issues of equality, which is really what the discussion has been about, these are part of my heart and soul and core, and they are not just issues that I will answer when I am in front of you. They are things that I will fight for every day, both in the Presidential campaign and as President of the United States. Because I think America definitely needs it and I believe in it, deeply.
So, that gushing answer about how equality is at his core and how we need to fight for it deserves this question:
Then I wonder if you could briefly talk about, as you said, if not your faith, then what is at the core of that resistance? I know that you said you’re on a journey and I’m curious where and when you might end up on that journey.
“I can tell you where I am. First, I think that you deserve to know the truth, and the truth is that my position on same-sex marriage has not changed. I think that political double…well, we’re past the time of political double-speak on this. I do believe, strongly, in civil unions, in the substantive rights that go with that. I believe we desperately need to get rid of DOMA. I think we need to get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. I think we need to get rid of those things, and by the way, as an aside, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not wrong now, it was wrong when it began, it’s been wrong the entire time, as is true with DOMA. Exactly the same thing is true with DOMA. All I can tell you is where I am today. That’s the best I can do, you deserve to know those things about be, but I do not support same-sex marriage.”
Ouch. He just said that same-sex marriage is the only true equality and that we need to fight hard for equality but that he does not support same-sex marriage. Furthermore, he didn’t tell us why…he didn’t answer the question. This lack of consistency and ability to answer difficult questions troubles me.
Kucinich is a candidate that everyone should know has virtually no chance of winning the primary let alone the Presidency. So why run? Because he wants to foward issues. By running for President through a major political party, he is giving a good deal of exposure to issues that could have easily been brushed aside.
He mentioned during the interview that it took him 5 tries to get elected to Congress. However if he ran for President that many times, he’d be 74 by the time that fifth general election came about. Given that Bob Dole, who was 73 when he ran against Bill Clinton, was often criticized for being “too old”, I have a feeling that Kucinich would have troubles by then.
I will say that Kucinich’s support of gay marriage is something that I think of as what I want America to do but not something I think America will do within the next eight years. There is too strong an anti-gay vote, especially in the South and rural areas. Kucinich seems to be the ideal candidate for the liberal college student, which is why the viable liberal candidate of the future may look more like him, but I doubt that anyone who is actually looking for the Presidency will come across as so idealistic.
Mike Gravel’s campaign is very similar to that Dennis Kucinich, but he tends to talk negative of the other candidates more than Kucinich. I think his involvement, in concert with Kucinich’s helps to bring out issues, but as I said before, I don’t think either is actually looking at the Oval Office and thinking that they have a chance of getting there.
Richardson does not come across as a very viable candidate. He made the biggest gaffe of the night by answering that homosexuality was a choice. Saying that probably lost him any chance of getting a significant portion of the LGBT vote. Most gays and lesbians I know do not think of it as a choice, and from my own experience with my own feelings, I have a hard time seeing how it could be a choice. His response seems to indicate that he doesn’t understand the issue.
Of course, his campaign understands the seriousness of this and they posted this “clarification” on their blog. The reason I put clarification in parentheses is because it starts with a weak reversal of that statement followed by a reiterated list of some of the pro-LGBT laws in his record. As I type this, it has gotten 7 comments, most of them rather negative
Clinton was well-prepared for this forum. The focus for her were questions regarding those things passed during her husband’s Presidency: DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She did satisfactorily in her explanations, mainly focusing on political necessity, though the repetition of the “I’m your girl.” line is pretty silly.
What bothered my about her session was the way she deflected scrutiny of her support of civil unions over same-sex marriage by saying that is was a personal issue. While that may have sat well with journalist Matt Halperin for TIME, I saw it as downright evasive. We the American people have a right to know what sort of personal baggage is leading our candidates to believe what they do.
Of course, one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses in my eyes is her lack of openness. Her blog moderates comments coming in, discouraging discussion. For a front-runner candidate, her blog gets an amazingly low number of comments. For instance the numbers of comments on her last five posts are currently 14, 4, 0, 7, and 18 from most to least recent. For comparison those same numbers for Edwards are 8, 44, 198, 20, and 67 and for Obama, they are 82, 204, 163, 84, and 125. And to go further back, she was the last of those three to post an issues page to her site. Both Obama and Edwards have.
My final complaint in this regard comes to her recent statements about foreign policy. At the AFL-CIO forum, she got strong boos from the audience for saying this:
So, you can think big, but remember you shouldn’t always say everything you think if you’re running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don’t need that right now.
Of course a candidate for President should say what he or she thinks with regard to foreign policy. We live in a democracy. If a candidate doesn’t let us know what he or she thinks on a particular issue, we don’t know what he or she will do.
As for Biden and Dodd, I suspect they didn’t come because they would not be able to realistically claim a pro-LGBT stance. I do not know how they’ve voted for every issue, but they have been in the Senate for a long time, and I suspect that they don’t have the record to look good before a LGBT audience.
To the right side of the of video post on LOGO’s website, which I gave above, there is a poll which asks: “Who is your candidate?” I want to note that this is a poll that allows multiple voting, so it is probably even more wildly inaccurate than most online polls, but here are the results:
44% Barack Obama
24% Dennis Kucinich
15% Hillary Clinton
8% Mike Gravel
6% John Edwards
3% Bill Richardson
I think it’s interesting that despite favoring every pro-LGBT issue handed to them, they only managed 32% of the vote in this poll. I have a feeling that this is because most of the voters realize that even if one of those two were to be elected, they would not be able to compel Congress to agree with them, and would likely get nothing done.
After this, I continue to support Barack Obama for President. He did the best at explaining his position and showing his support without making hypocritical speeches or supporting unrealistic positions. As time continues, it seems increasingly unlikely that I’ll support either of the two front-runners and were I to vote for Kucinich or Gravel it would be nothing more than a vote of contempt for each of the other candidates, but I don’t see that happening either. We’ll see what happens come the Iowa Caucus, in which, as a registered voter of Iowa, I am participating.