Last night's presidential forum on LGBT issues was so exciting and fun. I liked the format, since real debates never occur these days, it was much more interesting to have sit down conversations with each of the candidates who attended.
When it was first announced that Joe Solomonese and Melissa Etheridge would handle the forum, I was annoyed that there weren't gay journalists being used, but they corrected that later and the panel of four was fantastic. In fact, Melissa was the best one. The panel did not back down, but pursued the candidates with tough questions. The reason Melissa was best was because she didn't even try to act like a journalist, lobbyist, or politician. She is a lesbian who was asking questions from her experience. Her questions had warmth and depth and insight, because they were coming from lived experience. For example, her amazing question to John Edwards about health care, referencing her own and Elizabeth Edwards' battles with cancer and how difficult it can be for LGBT couples to get the health care they need because we are denied marriage rights.
Kucinich and Gravel are 100% on our issues and have been for some time. Gravel talked about introducing pro-gay legislation as a freshman state senator 45 years ago. Of course, we all enjoyed the things they said, but know that they have no chance in hell of winning. And, as one of my friends said, Kucinich promises every left wing group everything they want and you just can't govern that way.
So, for the other candidates.
Let me preface by saying I have for some time now said I liked all of the top four and was open to being persuaded by each of them. I've said I would vote for any of them, should they be the nominee and be excited about it. At different moments I have leaned more one direction or another.
* I liked Richardson's experience and pragmatic approach to governance
* I like what Obama says about hope and change and a new generation not caught up in the culture wars. I like how he talks about his faith. Many of the things he says appeal to my better nature.
* Though I've always found John Edwards too slick and packaged (I love his wife), lately I have been excited by his attention to rural poverty and Elizabeth has been campaigning hard and eloquently for the LGBT vote.
* Hillary is running the best campaign of my lifetime. I am constantly impressed with it. I think that in this day and age running an effective campaign gives some insight into one's ability to govern and how one will govern. Plus, I've never been a Hillary hater. I liked her more in the winter of 1992 than I did her husband, and that opinion has never really changed.
All four of the major candidates failed the marriage questions. I admired the panel continuing to push each of them on this issue and finding a way to word the questions that would get to the heart of each panelists objections and require them to squirm.
Last night Obama went first. He sounds more and more relaxed and remains eloquent. But his answers rarely got to the heart of the question. He avoided the difficult stuff. I must also state that the watch party I was attending had technical and sound problems during Obama's segment, so I didn't get to hear all of it. I really liked Obama's speech to the UCC, though many there were angry that he avoided talking about LGBT issues. Last night he said he talks about LGBT issues in other forums and not just when he's before the HRC. I was puzzled by that, since just last month in an equally safe environment he seemed to actively and intentionally skirt the issue, hoping that coded language would be sufficient. It was not. Last night Obama made it quite clear that he fundamentally does not understand the issues of LGBT Americans and tried to give us advice on how to approach our own struggle for equality. Obama disappointed me last night.
Edwards appeared as his usual slick self and tried to charm everyone. It turns my stomach. I did like his answers on health and poverty questions. Given Elizabeth's recent campaiging, I thought he was going to use this platform to make a dramatic announcement of a shift of position, maybe on marriage. At one moment it seemed like he would. Joe Solomonese asked him about a statement he had made saying he opposed marriage equality because of his faith. Edwards said, I was wrong when I said that. The room gasped and we all thought he was changing his position, but 30 seconds later it became apparent he was only saying he was wrong about mentioning his faith. So, it would seem that Edwards is now saying his opposition to equailty is not coming from his religious faith. From where does it come then, John? Bigotry, cowardice, cynical political maneuvering, or because you're an ass hole? (I'm not saying he is one, but he leaves open speculation as to his motivation).
Bill Richardson should drop out of the race today. His performance last night was one of the worst appearances by a politician I've ever seen. I went from having great respect and basically supporting the guy to loathing him and will work now to actively oppose him. Richardson has, as governor, been a good allie on things like domestic partnership. His Congressional record was mixed, though he apologized for some of that last night. He never smiled. Seemed somber and morose. The room was quiet throughout his presentation and every even looked angry and upset. Richardson kept talking about doing what could be done, while at the same time saying America needed leadership. So, the panel asked him how he was going to lead the country and in what direction, and he just kept going back and back to the same statements over and over again. There was no evidence of leadership, but of political calculation to make sure and not doing anything that would appear controversial. In other words, don't manifest any genuine leadership, because you might lose (isn't he way behind anyway?).
Melissa Etheridge then pressed him on the marriage issue. When he failed that, she asked if he thought that homosexuality was a choice or was genetic. He answered. "It is a choice." She looked shocked and said, "I don't think you understood my question," and rephrased it. He then said, "I'm not a scientist" and worked to both evade the question AND argue that it is a choice. It was then phrased again how our enemies use the choice argument, and he DID NOT distance himself from those enemy arguments but gave some weak, almost mubbled statement about equality.
Joe Solomonese followed this by thanking the governor for his leadership on domestic partnership and other things in New Mexico. He then asked a question something like this, "Since you say you'll only support what can be done, where the American people are now, if the New Mexico legislature sent you a bill on marriage equality, would you then sign it since it would express the will of the people? Where is your heart really on the matter?" And Richardson completely avoided the question and would not give a yes or no. Overall his performance was shameful and deserving of rebuke.
Hillary did not give all the answers I would have liked. But, my impression of Hillary was that she looked and sounded presidential and made everyone else look like an also ran. She was warm and engaging, thoughtful and eloquent, she seemed really to understand the questions and why people wouldn't be happy with her answers. She seemed earnest and passionate where there was agreement.
Melissa Etheridge had THE question of Hillary. Something like -- "14 years ago our community supported your husband. When he was elected there was great excitement and promise. We were treated like Americans for the first time. I even came out the week of his inauguration. But in the years that followed we were thrown under the bus and all the promises made to us were broken. Now a long time later how can we know that you won't do the same thing to us that your husband did?" An amazing question, passionately asked. Hillary responded well, but it remains THE question that she will have to answer for the LGBT community before we can fully embrace her.
So, as of last night, I'm supporing Hillary, because, as I said, she looked and sounded like a president in a way that none of the other even came close.