August 09, 2007

Thoughts on the HRC/LOGO Democratic Presidential Debate

You can watch replays of each candidate's appearance right here.

I loved the idea of the candidates appearing one at a time. These “debates,” especially the ones with several candidates, often turn into free-for-alls where people are talking over one another. This format gives each candidate an opportunity to state their case, eloquently or not, without having to fight for time against other candidates.

Obama proposed a robust civil union concept, but really didn’t explain why a different title was needed. Despite his protests to the contrary, it still came across as “separate but equal,” particularly ironic for an African-American to propose.

He did a good job of putting homophobia in the black community in perspective, pointing out much more serious issues they needed to worry about.

He slipped the question of comparing the 1960’s civil rights struggle to the current GLBT civil rights issues.

Overall: I went into this thinking that Obama was a good person but lacked enough depth and experience to be an effective, and nothing he said here changed my mind.

Edwards was very strong on equal coverage in health insurance, same-sex couple adoption, employment non-discrimination laws, don’t ask, don’t tell, and DOMA.

I personally enjoyed how he took out Ann Coulter, saying she plays to “the lowest common denominator” of people.

He said candidates should “speak out with strength and passion, not quietly and carefully.” Oh, if only someone would.

He backtracked somewhat on his anti-same-sex marriage comments, saying “I shouldn’t have said that,” but would not answer Joe Solmonese’s questions about what in his faith had him stop short of endorsing it.

Overall: Edwards came out strong in almost all areas of GLBT equality, much stronger than Obama, but still won’t budge on same-sex marriage. His views would be a huge step forward toward equality, but would stop short.

Kucinich gets perfect marks for his views on GLBT equality. He implied that he was a member of the HRC.

Melissa Etheridge fawned over him, pointing out how our nation needed a leader who would take a stand on issues just because it was right thing to do. She’s absolutely correct, but I feel compelled to point out that it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re polling around 1% of the vote. There’s not a lot to lose at that point.

Overall: Kucinich said, and I suspect truly believes, all the right things for his audience. Nice to hear, but ultimately irrelevant. At 1%, he can't make enough noise to force the leading candidates to respond to his lead.

Ravel has been playing somewhat of the curmudgeon role in previous debates and started out by pointing out that he had originally been left out of this debate until pressure was put on the HRC to allow him in, especially since he directly supports same-sex marriage.

He complained that the GLBT community is not supporting himself or Kucinich since they are the two candidates most strongly supporting their issues. Seems like a cheap shot to me since neither one of them have any chance of being elected, and most GLBT voters realize that.

Pastor Brenda points out that “in this country, you can’t be president unless you can play politics, and these guys (Kucinich and Ravel) would get eaten alive.”

He wants us to have drugs. Sounds like we could turn prisons into rehab facilities if he had his way.

Overall: Are you kidding? This guy makes Kucinich look like a front runner.

Richardson started out with “The nation is on a path toward full equality. It is the responsibility of a president to lead that effort.” He then talked up civil unions instead of marriage.

He is the first candidate to bring up hate crimes. How did we go over an hour into a presidential Q & A without that coming up?

He has had to spend some time on the defensive, the first candidate so far that had to do so. He tried to divert attention onto larger international issues and his recent track record as New Mexico governor, but he still sounded very defensive.

He whiffed badly on the question of whether he would sign a bill for same-sex marriage as governor, saying domestic partnerships are the same thing. Governor Richardson, they are NOT the same thing.

The camera showed some VERY negative body language from Melissa Etheridge and some glares from the studio audience.

He instinctively answered Ethridge’s question “do you think homosexuality is a choice or are you born that way?” with “a choice.” When she restated the question, he bobbed and weaved away from answering it.

Overall: Richardson would have fared better if he had stayed home. This was painful to watch.

I wasn’t impressed with Clinton’s answer about why she didn’t introduce legislation to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although correct in saying they could not have gotten it through a Republican congress, I thought she spent too much time justifying her husband’s support of the law when it was first passed. Mike Rogers said it best in a column on The Huffington Post:
Lip service is good, but until one of the sitting US Senators running for president actually introduces a bill to repeal DADT I don't really want to hear it from them.

I’m glad that Solmonese followed up on her “leave it up to the states” line. She spoke strongly and eloquently against the Marriage Protection Act, but kept getting bogged down in policy detail. I also don’t feel that she made a good case for the old state’s rights line. I doubt she reduced Solmonese’s frustration about it, and I know she didn’t diminish mine.

Kudos to Melissa Ethridge for saying during the Clinton administration “our hearts were broken after all the promises made.” Senator Clinton was gracious in how she responded, but didn’t offer much of substance.

She did a good job in explaining her mistake in initially waffling on the question of the immorality after the bigoted remarks made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She also made one definitive statement when asked “would you put someone on the bench who was anti-gay?” Her response was an emphatic, unqualified “No!” She also said during her closing remarks that she would fight for hate crimes legislation.

Overall: Senator Clinton showed again that she is a polished politician and very much middle-of-the-road regarding GLBT rights. Don’t expect rapid movement toward GLBT equality from a Clinton presidency. Instead, there would be the potential of slow, gradual progress.


I doubt anything here moved the needle much one way for another, except maybe to hurt Richardson. Despite that, I believe this event lived up to the hype. Despite some fawning over the candidates for merely showing up, there were some hard hitting questions and positions were communicated more clearly than they normally are in the more standard form debate. I’m glad they had this event, and I’m glad they watched it.

I won’t hold my breath for the Republican party to follow suit.


  1. I didn't watch the forum as my partner is just totally anti-political. Yes, I know. How did I end up with someone so against what I love to be involved in? Opposites do indeed attract. But I digress.
    I had a friend at work go over the forum for me. Since I am in New Mexico, I took particular interest in what Richardson said. My friend told me how he and his partner groaned at Richardson's apparent lack of thought in his answer on whether or not being gay is a choice.
    I have to say, though, that if one looks at his record on glbt issues in New Mexico, what he said last night isn't what the reality is here. He has been a big supporter of Equality New Mexico. This state is only one of 5 that has hate crimes legislation on the books in regards to us. He is very gay friendly. I just think that his attitude is that it doesn't matter what sexual orientation anyone is. What matters is that they be treated equally. Granted, he needs to educate himself on same-sex marriage in relation to domestic partnerships and civil unions, but I don't think he's trying to pull a fast one. I just think he wasn't as well versed in these issues as he thought he was.
    My two cents.

  2. My perceptions of the debate were somewhat different.

    Dismissing Kucinich's pro-queer stance is unfair and counter productive. Kucinich is the ideal person to be president, though the wealthy donors and corporate media have done everything in their power to marginalize his campaign. It is more productive to point to Kucinich as the candidate who best embodies the values of the Democratic Party.

    As for Obama and Edwards, my perception was quite different. Obama was much more comfortable being around queers than Edwards, who was visibly awkward and at times was squirming in his seat. Both of the candidates were equal on substance during this debate, but Obama spoke with conviction. The latter is important because Bill Clinton's highly visible discomfort when talking of lgbt issues hurt our community politically.

    Hillary Clinton was frustrating, especially when she dishonestly portrayed DADT as "an advance" when it increased discharges and did nothing to stop military witch hunts.

    From a queer perspective, the candidates can be shown from best to worst.

    Obama and Gravel (tie)