Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hate for Blogo getting in the way of good Senate pick

The state of Illinois – like the other 49 – deserves to be represented by two U.S. senators. But with Barack Obama resigning his Senate seat in order to assume the presidency, it falls to the governor to appoint a replacement until a special election can be held in 2010. The problem is that the governor is Rod Blagojevich, who is alleged to have tried to sell Obama’s seat to the highest bidder. But no matter how much you may dislike Blogo, he did the right thing by naming former state Attorney General Roland Burris as the next senator from Illinois.

This was a strong choice for a number of reasons. First, Burris is the right kind of senator under the circumstances. He has already proven that he has support statewide, having served as comptroller from 1979 to 1991, and then as attorney general from 1991 to 1995. (As opposed to Caroline Kennedy, who is trying to be the new Hillary Clinton in New York.)

Not only is he qualified and respected, but he is also likely to serve only until the special election. As he turned 71 this year, he would likely not run for re-election. This is good, since no candidate would then have the benefit of incumbency after only being appointed to the job.

As a bonus, Burris is African American. In fact, Burris made history as the first African American elected statewide in Illinois. At a time when Obama’s resignation will leave the U.S. Senate without any African-American representation, the choice of Burris is a wise one.

During a Blagojevich press conference announcing his choice, he said, “Please don’t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man,” referring to Burris. Sadly, too many others are simply ruled by their hatred for Blagojevich – who may be smarmy, vulgar, and mentally unstable, but has yet to be found guilty of any wrongdoing.

In fact, Blagojevich initially did something that was even better than appointing Burris – he tried to get the state legislature to approve legislation that would take the power of appointment away from him and allow for a special election. But the Democratically controlled legislature, even though they are of the same party as the governor, refused Blagojevich’s request.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, also African American and a Democrat, added to the nonsense when he said that he would not certify the governor’s choice of Burris.

But if anybody hates Blagojevich more than his state’s legislature, it’s the nation’s. The Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate released an open letter saying they would not seat anyone Blagojevich appoints. Even Illinois’ other senator – Dick Durbin – signed the letter, which read in part: “This is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.”

Even Obama jumped on the bandwagon, stating that he agrees with Senate Democrats and that he just really wants Blagojevich to resign.

All this is simply political hatred getting in the way of good government.

OK, Blagojevich is a bad man. But no one questions Burris’ integrity or qualifications, and no one is arguing that Burris would be a poor choice for senator. So all these politicos with a hate on for Blogo need to put that aside for just a few minutes to allow the people of Illinois to have its other senator.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama bigot pick is not change we can believe in

As far as President-elect Barack Obama choosing an out-and-proud anti-gay evangelical preacher to deliver the invocation at his inaugural next month, I’m not surprised. I’m not happy, but I’m not surprised.

For this prominent role, Obama picked Pastor Rick Warren, an evangelical minister at a California mega-church who is anti-choice on the issue of abortion, is a foe of same-sex marriage, and has compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia.

This is not “change we can believe in,” as Obama’s campaign rhetoric went. This is change we can do without.

Since the Warren pick went public, pro-gay, liberal, secular, and progressive groups have been screaming about how this goes against what Obama believes in and sets a bad tone for Obama’s presidency.

Those who are angry obviously weren’t paying attention to Obama during the campaign.

Obama repeatedly made it clear that he was interested in a post-partisan, post-ideological presidency – a big tent that brought together people with startling different views.

Obama also made it clear that he is very comfortable intermingling religion and politics. After all, it was Obama who talked about continuing George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

And this is not the first time Obama sacrificed his gay and lesbian supporters for the sake of anti-gay religious voters. During the Democratic primary, it was Obama who tapped Donnie McClurkin, a so-called “ex-gay” and outspoken opponent of gay and lesbian civil rights, to headline a gospel campaign tour for Obama.

In fact, Obama’s ease in mixing politics and religion is one of the reasons I backed Sen. Hillary Clinton over Obama during the primary. Clinton, to her credit, and even Republican John McCain are more apt to keep politics and religion separate.

Pastor Warren, however, openly and strongly disagrees with the nation’s separation of church and state.

So this move on Obama’s part is a slap in the face to all those Democrat Party interest groups that worked so hard to elect him.

But activists and groups like the Human Rights Campaign and People for the American Way were so blinded by their own giddiness over Obama’s flowery rhetoric that they couldn’t forecast Obama’s religious-based, right-wing moves.

After all, many people are angry because Warren is against same-sex marriage rights and campaigned in favor of California’s Proposition 8, which turned back the clock on the issue in the Golden State. But Obama, too, is against same-sex marriage, and he stayed mum on Prop 8.

People just assumed Obama supports full rights for gay and lesbian Americans because they bought into Obama’s so-called “change.”

Even in defending his choice of Warren, Obama played both sides of the issue by saying, “I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.”

But that’s simply not true. He may be an advocate for some issues important to the community, but if you do not support full equality, and you stay silent while the most populous state in the union takes away the rights of gay and lesbian Americans, nothing about you is “fierce.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Caroline Kennedy just ain’t qualified

It’s official. The New York Times reports that Caroline Kennedy – daughter of President John F. Kennedy – has told New York Gov. David Paterson that she wants to be appointed to the U.S. Senate. The only problem is that she’s just not qualified for the job.

Paterson has the power to appoint a new senator from New York once its junior senator – Hillary Clinton – leaves her seat to become President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of state. And Paterson has much to consider. After all, New York is hard hit by the current economic crisis, is an economic engine for the nation, and needs someone who can hit the ground running.

But as the Times put it, Kennedy “has not held a full-time job in years, has not run for even the lowliest office, and has promoted such non-controversial causes as patriotism, poetry, and public service.” In fact, she has purposely kept herself largely out of the public spotlight until her recent campaign forays on behalf of Obama. Therefore, her political views are largely unknown.

What makes her qualified to be senator? Oh yes, she’s a KENNEDY – a name that makes older Democrats all fuzzy on the inside. Of course, there are Kennedys who continue to work hard for the sake of the nation – Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, to name two. But they earned their stripes, have well-known political positions, and have enjoyed continued and long-term support in their respective states.

Some Democrats are giddy over the idea of sending another Kennedy to Washington. And that would be fine if said Kennedy won the seat fair and square. But what has Caroline Kennedy done to earn this seat, aside from campaigning for Obama and being a Kennedy?

New York State is busting with a talented political farm team that could be tapped to fill Sen. Clinton’s shoes (or pantsuit) – counting everyone from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown (who is African American).

At the very least, actress, businesswoman, and lobbyist Fran Drescher – who has also said she wants the senate seat – went on “Larry King Live” to explain her political beliefs to the nation. Kennedy has yet to talk publicly about what kind of senator she would be. Kennedy refused comment to the Times, instead giving some friends permission to speak on her behalf. If she really wants to be a senator, Kennedy needs to start talking for herself.

Clinton, before she began running for the Senate, went on a listening tour of upstate and western New York to make sure she understood the state beyond the five boroughs and the Hudson Valley. Cuomo, as a statewide official, is already familiar with these other parts of the state, and Brown is mayor of the largest city in western New York. Has the Manhattan-centric Kennedy even been to Brooklyn, let alone Plattsburgh or Tonawanda?

Democrats reveled in pointing out how unqualified Sarah Palin was to become vice president. But if Palin – who is a governor and served as a mayor – wasn’t qualified for a job that doesn’t have much responsibility, Kennedy certainly isn’t up for the job of senator.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Liberal Party needs a grassroots lesson

Some in the Liberal Party of Canada need a serious lesson in grassroots democracy. After all this talk about whether the party should have involved the Liberal rank and file in choosing the next leader, you would think we would all know what “grassroots” means by now.

It’s already been established that the party opted not to consult the grassroots, but instead chose a closed-door, invitation-only process that will lead to an uncontested Michael Ignatieff being installed as leader.

But now some are doing rhetorical back flips to justify this decision.

On CBC Newsworld’s “Politics” program on Dec. 10, host Don Newman asked his two Liberal panelists if they thought the “grassroots” would be satisfied with the process that chose Ignatieff as leader.

The response by David Herle, a Liberal consultant and an advisor to former Prime Minister Paul Martin, was shockingly out of touch. I was so surprised by his response, I had to rewind the clip on my DVR to make sure I heard him correctly. He said: “I think the grassroots were consulted. I consider the riding presidents of the Liberal Party and the defeated candidates of the Liberal Party to be the grassroots, to be the rank and file of the party. I don’t think we have more important people in the party than the people who perform the function of riding president.”

Is he kidding? If the riding presidents and defeated candidates are the grassroots, what are the campaign volunteers? The dirt? What about the people who knock on doors canvassing for votes, the people who hand out literature on street corners, the people who seal fundraising envelopes and hang up campaign signs? What about the people who dutifully pay their party membership fees so they can have a say in the direction of the party? They are the grassroots.

Bob Rae was right. In order to win back power, the Liberal Party must be prepared to open itself up and become a more democratic institution.

Fairly or not, the conventional wisdom is that the Liberal Party is just waiting to win back power – to once again become the Natural Governing Party – without being serious about its need to go through a rejuvenation process. Herle’s comments just reinforce that the conventional wisdom is right.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Liberals choose expediency over democracy

The Liberal Party national executive had two choices in naming an “interim leader.” They could have come up with some way of hearing from Liberal Party members from across the nation. Or they could have limited the discussion to a small group of by-invitation-only guests. Unfortunately, they chose the latter.

As a result, now-former leadership candidate Bob Rae withdrew from the race on Dec. 9, aware that he would be unable to win over as much support in the Liberal caucus as enjoyed by Michael Ignatieff, the only leadership candidate left standing.

Rae, however, was not the only victim of the party’s decision. Democracy, party building, and grassroots involvement were also left as road kill along the path leading to Ignatieff’s coronation. (Ignatieff is now set to take over as interim leader, with the convention slated for May becoming a pro forma – if constitutionally mandated – event to pick a “permanent leader.”)

While there is no doubt in my mind that the nation would be well served with Ignatieff as the next prime minister, I am concerned about how the party executive’s decision will play itself out.

Firstly, this decision tunes out the voices of workaday Liberals, including all those volunteers whose involvement is so crucial to campaigns. Just look at the recent Democratic primary process that chose Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Democrats choose their presidential nominee through a combination of elected delegates (those elected by party members through voting) and super-delegates (party officials, members of Congress, and other high muckety-mucks.) With the elected delegate count so close, the super-delegates actually had the numbers to overturn the voters’ decision and throw the election to Clinton. While the super-delegates had the right to do that, they knew that if they had chosen that path, party members would have revolted. The same could happen here by completely shutting down the leadership process and picking the leader behind closed doors.

Secondly, I fear that without a contested leadership race, the party will not be able to do the groundwork necessary to rebuild. Without an opportunity to hash out the competing visions of the party brought by Rae and Ignatieff, workaday Liberals won’t get the chance to open the hood of the party, check its oil, kick its tires, and really diagnose what led to such a disappointing election result. (And no, simply changing leaders won’t do the trick.)

But also, without even Liberals getting a chance to pick their next leader, I fear that Canadians in general will feel like Ignatieff is just being thrust upon them, anticipating his next coronation as prime minister. Ignatieff and the party now will have to work that much harder to convince all Canadians that he is the right person to lead the nation after the disastrous, selfish, and deceitful tenure of Stephen Harper.

To his credit, Rae was gracious, practical, and well-spoken in his press conference announcing his withdrawal from the race. As he said, “Our own ambitions are less important than the greater interest of the Liberal Party and the greater interest of the country.” The party now has to show that its coronation decision is indeed in the best interest of the party and the nation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All Liberals must have a say in new leader

Wounded Liberal leader Stéphane Dion must go ASAP. And the Liberal leadership race must be expedited. However, that increased speed in picking a new leader should not come at the expense of democracy. All members of the Liberal Party have a say in who the new leader will be.

Certainly, a new Liberal leader must be in place by the time Parliament reconvenes on Jan. 26. But that leader should not simply be installed by the federal Liberal caucus, which plans to meet behind closed doors on Dec. 10.

Not surprisingly, leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff has not spoken out against this closed-door strategy. Most likely, that’s because he has the majority support of fellow MPs – as well as the 58 Liberal senators – and would likely be named the new leader without any input from the grassroots. (Technically, he would be named “interim leader” by the party’s national executive, with the leadership convention still slated for May. But the convention delegate vote, which would choose a “permanent leader,” would become a mere formality.)

Also unsurprisingly, Ignatieff’s competitor, Bob Rae, favours a more open competition that would consult Liberals from coast to coast to coast through phone and email balloting.

While both Rae and Ignatieff would personally benefit from the system they and their supporters are advocating, Rae’s position is the one that is in line with open democracy, party revitalization, and grassroots involvement.

As Rae and others have pointed out, if the choice of party leader is left up to Liberal MPs, only 77 ridings will be represented in the decision-making process. This caucus-only solution leaves Liberals from 231 ridings – those that do not have a Liberal MP – in the dark and out in the hallway while the decision is made. Most troubling of all is that the areas of the country that need the most Liberal rebuilding – namely Quebec and the West – will be the areas least involved in the process.

Just as Rae was right when he walked out of a Mississauga leadership debate last month that was closed to the media, Rae is right again about what is needed in this selection process. Whatever the party decides to do, the process of picking the next leader must be democratic, open, inclusive, and transparent.

Rae and others have said that the party needs a contest, not a coronation. That’s true, because coronations don’t work. The Republican Party in 2000 coronated George W. Bush as its leader – and we see how well that turned out. And just this year, it was supposed to be a coronation for Hillary Clinton, but when that turned into a real contest, the people had something else in mind.

In Canada, as in the U.S., parties must listen to the people.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Peach State vote is the pits

The results are in and – thanks to Georgia voters – President-elect Barack Obama will not have a filibuster-proof majority to work with in the U.S. Senate. Incumbent archconservative Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss won the Dec. 2 runoff election against Democratic challenger Jim Martin.

Chambliss won his reelection fair and square, and my beef is not with him. My question is for those voters who came out in droves on Election Day last month – to vote for Democrat Obama – and yet stayed home for the Senate runoff.

While Republican John McCain won the state of Georgia last month, he did so only by 5 percentage points – 52 to 47. And only 3 percentage points separated Chambliss and Martin in last month’s election (but neither garnered 50 percent of the vote, which was the reason for the runoff). In total, almost 4 million Georgians voted in last month’s election.

This week, however, was a different story. Only a little over 2 million Georgians voted, and Chambliss won by a whopping 14 points – 57 to 43. So what happened?

In the words of the New York Times, “Many of the Democrats who turned out last month in enthusiastic support of Barack Obama apparently did not show up at the polls on Tuesday.” The Times also quoted Merle Black of Emory University: “For a lot of African-American voters, the real election was last month. The importance of electing the first African-American president in history generated enormous enthusiasm. Everything else was anticlimactic.”

Too many voters just didn’t care issues and policies. They just voted for Obama because he’s black. If these voters cared about Obama getting legislation through the Senate, they would have turned out for Martin this week as they did for Obama.

But for these voters – many of them celebrated by the media for being first-time voters “energized” by Obama – issues and political action just don’t matter. What mattered was voting for a black man.

Not that any of this is surprising. Back when Obama won, there were too many people dancing in the streets, voicing extremely unreasonable expectations. I even heard people talking about how Obama would end the wars in both Iraq AND Afghanistan – oblivious to Obama’s comments that he wants to INCREASE the military’s presence in Afghanistan. They just weren’t paying attention to what Obama was saying, only what he looked like.

So the first opportunity these so-called energized, first-time voters had to cast a ballot after last month’s election, they sat on their hands. Without Obama on the ballot, they just didn’t care. So much for all that energy and enthusiasm.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It’s about time for Liberal/NDP coalition

While Conservatives are spinning out of control, trying to convince the public that a coalition government is undemocratic, I have just one thing to say: What took the Liberals and NDP so long?

We saw shades of such a coalition back in 2006, when Paul Martin and his Libe
ral minority worked with Jack Layton’s NDP to come up with the budget. The government fell – taking that ad hoc coalition with it – only after Layton decided he didn’t want to play ball anymore.

But now with the spectre of another couple of years of an emboldened Stephen Harper, Layton decided it made more sense to cooperate with – rather than bash – the Liberals.

Although some hard-core partisans are balking, the Liberals and the NDP are natural coalition partners. Frankly, except for the separatist issue, so is the Bloc Québécois.

All three are left-of-centre parties with more commonalities than differences. All three parties agree, more or less, on issues ranging from the economy and infrastructure to arts funding and gender equality. And certainly, these three parties have more in common with each other than any of them have with the Conservatives.

Even on an issue like climate change, the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc may have different ideas on how to handle the issue, but at least they all agree that it is a crisis that needs to be addressed. That’s in contrast to the Conservatives who still want to stick their heads in the ice as it melts around them.

Although the seeds of this agreement were planted some time ago, the Liberal/NDP coalition did not crystallize just because it could. It happened because Harper pushed them into it. He overplayed his political hand, expecting Stéphane Dion’s Liberals to continue to sit on their hands while Harper’s minority ruled as if it had a majority.

Right after the Oct. 14 election, Harper – who won another minority government – vowed to work with the opposition parties to make this parliament work. Well, so much for cooperation. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty issued a “Financial Update,” complete with the unfortunate if appropriate acronym “FU,” that was void of any plan to handle the current economic meltdown.

Instead, it included ideologically driven proposals – such as limiting the public sector’s right to strike and decimating the public financing system for elections – that Harper knew would not be acceptable to the opposition. Again, Harper was expecting the Liberals to just roll over and play wait-for-the-next-leader dead.

Even more disingenuous is the Conservative argument that a Liberal/NDP coalition is undemocratic and/or unconstitutional. Under the parliamentary system, what the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc have proposed is completely acceptable. The Conservatives won neither a majority of the vote (just 38 per cent in this fall’s election) nor a majority of the Commons seats (143 out of 308). So collectively, the left-of-centre parties won a majority of the vote and a majority of the seats.

Under the Constitution, if the Harper government falls because it no longer has the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons, it is Governor General Michaelle Jean’s duty to ask the opposition if they can form a government. All the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc have done is worked out that they would be able to step in and take the reins.

Harper, as usual, has been acting as if he were an American-style president, rather than a Canadian prime minister. But as Bush has been his role model, he should have been looking at Barack Obama’s transition to power, and how Obama is putting competence ahead of partisanship in picking his new cabinet. It is Obama who is working with his rivals – from both parties – to form a new government.

But instead, Harper was still reading from the Bush “you’re either with us or against us” playbook, a manual that has yellowed quickly and is fraying at the seams.

Harper and his minions are now trying scare the public out of supporting the Liberal/NDP coalition, arguing that in this fall’s election, people didn’t elect Dion.

Well, Mr. Harper, a majority of Canadians didn’t pick you, either. You had your chance to play nice, but you refused. It’s time to leave the sandbox.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Obama using religion like a Republican

Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s dangerous cocktail mixing religion and politics has finally got him so punch drunk that he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Obama’s latest – and high profile – mistake was inviting Donnie McClurkin to headline a gospel tour throughout the early primary state of South Carolina to shore up the African-American Christian vote. The problem is that McClurkin is a so-called “ex gay” who has campaigned hard against gay and lesbian civil rights.

How bad is McClurkin? This is what it says about him on Wikipedia: “In his book, ‘Eternal Victim, Eternal Victor,’ he writes that homosexuality is a spiritual issue, from which one can be delivered by the power and grace of God stating, ‘The abnormal use of my sexuality continued until I came to realize that I was broken and that homosexuality was not God’s intention... for my masculinity.’ He then describes himself as going through a process by which he became ‘a saved and sanctified man.’ McClurkin has also stated that homosexuality is a curse and that gays ‘are trying to kill our children.’”

When gay groups, led by the Human Rights Campaign, asked the Obama campaign to pull McClurkin from its gospel roster, it did not, opting instead to continue giving McClurkin a platform.

To deal with the fallout from gay activists and organizations, Obama gave an interview to Advocate.com, under the headline, “Obama explains why he’s the best candidate for LGBT Americans.” Hardly.

Obama tries to explain away the McClurkin mess by saying that the campaign was not aware of his “attitudes.” That’s completely disingenuous since a simple Google search brings up a plethora of information about McClurkin and his “attitudes.”

To make matters worse, Obama tries again by saying that McClurkin was simply singing at a gospel concert, “as opposed to [acting as] a spokesperson for us, [so] it probably didn’t undergo the same kind of vet that someone who was serving as a surrogate for me might have.”

In the Advocate.com interview, Obama goes on to say that he’s trying to build a bridge between two disparate constituencies – gays on one side and African-American Christians on the other. That’s an admirable goal, so it’s too bad he’s doing such a horrible job at it. He is never going to build a bridge to gays and lesbians by giving a platform to someone like McClurkin, who uses religion as a foundation for his hateful homophobic bigotry.

In fact, Obama isn’t building bridges at all; he’s using religion as an excuse to keep certain civil rights away from gay Americans. At a campaign stop in the first-caucus-in-the-nation state of Iowa, he told questioners that he did not support marriage equality for same-sex couples because of religion.

“You want the word marriage and I believe that the issue of marriage has become so entangled – the word marriage has become so entangled with religion – that it makes more sense for me as president, with that authority, to talk about civil rights that are conferred” with civil unions, he told a group in Cedar Rapids, as reported by the Des Moines Register.

This, again, is disingenuous since Obama’s religion, the United Church of Christ, became the first mainline Christian denomination to back marriage equality over two years ago. On top of that, Obama has said he understands the issue since he is biracial and his own parents’ marriage was affected by miscegenation laws.
But if he genuinely felt our pain so intimately, he wouldn’t be using religion to justify the same kind of discrimination felt by his own parents.

Obama’s campaign, however, has never really wanted to use religion as a theme to bring people together. Instead, he uses it as a political weapon for political gain, the same tactic used by Republicans for decades.

In last week’s Democratic debate, Obama was one of the candidates hammering frontrunner Hillary Clinton for acting too much like a Republican. But it is Obama who is using the most cynical weapon in the GOP arsenal – religion – to drive a wedge between voting blocs.

If that’s Obama’s idea of doing politics differently, thanks, but no thanks.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The splintered GOP sideshow

Evangelical voters just can’t decide which candidate to support among the menagerie of Republican presidential wannabes. And that news couldn’t be better for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

The most recent example of this took place last weekend at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. Mainstream headlines coming out of the gathering basically said the same thing. As the New York Times put it, “Religious Right Divides Its Vote.” And the more divided the anti-gay right is, the less power they have to control the political agenda.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani leads among Republicans in national polls, but so-called “Values Voters” don’t trust him. In fact, he placed next to last in the summit’s straw poll – the only candidate to do worse was Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Christian conservatives say Giuliani has hijacked the GOP. And many are still threatening an independent third-party candidate – a move that would certainly divide the right-wing vote.

Along the way, Giuliani has angered moderates and left-leaning supporters for backing away from his support of issues like civil unions for same-sex couples and gun control.

So it seems unlikely that right-wing voters believe him when he says, as he did at the summit, “Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the political wind?” Well, yes, if he actually didn’t change his positions.

How little do Christian conservatives trust Giuliani? In response to his promise to appoint “strict constructionist” judges to the Supreme Court – a not-so-veiled reference to anti-Roe v. Wade judges – Southern Baptist Convention president Richard Land told the media, “He also promised two previous wives that he would love, honor and cherish them, until death do us part.” Ouch!

Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and “Law & Order” actor, was supposed to be the savior of the right. But he’s been a dud. James Dobson, the powerful head of anti-gay Focus on the Family, wrote of Thompson in an email that was leaked to the media: “He won’t talk at all about what he believes, can’t speak his way out of a paper bag. He has no passion, no zeal, no apparent ‘want to,’ yet he is apparently the great hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers, not for me.”

Then there’s former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has flip-flopped on issues ranging from abortion to gay civil rights to health care. As Log Cabin Republicans points out in a recent television ad, Romney had very different positions when he ran for office in the Bay State than he does now that he is kowtowing to the anti-gay right.

Between Romney’s changing positions and his Mormon faith, many evangelicals question his commitment to their so-called values.

Many social conservatives seem impressed with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is also a Baptist minister. He even placed second in the summit’s straw poll, bested only by Romney whose supporters basically bought enough votes to place first.

But many evangelicals don’t think Huckabee can win either the Republican nomination or the general election, so support for him is tentative. To Huckabee’s credit, despite a conservative agenda, he speaks in a respectful way that is reminiscent of the McCain of the 2000 campaign (as opposed to the McCain of the current campaign, who sold out his principles to ingratiate himself with the Bushes and the radical right).

Compare Huckabee to, say, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. He won praise during his speech at the summit when he said the Republican Party “needs a leader who is opposed to abortion not because Iowa caucus-goers are opposed to abortion but because the Lord said, ‘I knew you before you were in the womb.’” These voters may like what they hear from candidates like Tancredo, but pragmatic evangelicals know that such heated rhetoric will not win the White House.

So let the fractured anti-gay movement deal with its own indecision. In the meantime, the GLBT community must make the most of this moment when the enemy is most divided.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Larry Craig teaches conservatives a lesson on entrapment

Of all the elements of the story surrounding Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and his supposed restroom escapades, no one could have foreseen this latest development. Conservatives are now leading the charge against police gay-sex stings in public spaces.
Case in point: Long-time Republican operative Mary Matalin told NBC’s Tim Russert on “Meet The Press” last week: “The people that I talked to, who are not particularly Craig fans, said, ‘That sounds like entrapment. Don’t the cops have better things to do than tap dance in bathrooms in the airport?’”
Yes, it sounds like entrapment. Yes, you’d think cops would have better things to do with their time, especially at an airport in this so-called Age of Terror. Gay rights activists have been saying this for decades. So it’s about time Matalin and her conservative friends noticed that such sting operations are a poor use of tax-payer dollars and a much better tool for ruining people’s lives than stopping men from cruising.
As Matt Coles, director of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Huffington Post, “The fundamental problem is that a sting isn’t calculated to stop the activity. Are you trying to stop people from cruising, or are you trying to arrest a lot of people?”
Obviously, the goal is to arrest a lot of people. In fact, according to the New York Times, Craig wasn’t the only one arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Over the sting’s three months, 39 others were also swept up in the police sting. That’s about one arrest every three days.
Craig is certainly no hero. In fact, his voting record is anathema to the gay civil rights movement. And he certainly proved himself to be not very bright – who pleads guilty to a crime you say you didn’t commit? In the end, however, it’s hard to argue that Craig actually broke the law.
His explanations are ridiculous – most notably, his claims he has a wide stance and he was merely picking up a piece of toilet paper. But even the arresting officer admits there was no sex and no indecent exposure. Sgt. Dave Karsnia of the Minneapolis Airport Police says he made the arrest based upon what he interpreted as signals Craig was allegedly trying to send. Even if they were signals, and they likely were, if the guy in the adjacent stall didn’t pick up on them, nothing tawdry would have taken place.
To make matters worse, Craig was one of 20 men in the Minneapolis sting charged with “interference of privacy.” But that law, only two years old, was passed to halt the use of hidden cameras in women’s bathrooms. It has never been used in connection with a sting in a men’s room.
And as Jeffrey Dean, a lawyer for four of the arrested men, told the Times, “There can be no invasion of privacy of a person who is inviting the conduct. The undercover officer, by his own account, sits there in an adjacent stall and signals the person that he wants the contact.”
Such letter-of-the-law language should be well understood by conservatives. But what is frustrating is that they were not willing or able to see the humanity of those who in the past have been caught up by such sting operations. These bottom-feeders, as far as they were concerned, got whatever they deserved for their forays into public sex. After all, would people like Matalin stand up against such entrapment if Craig were not involved?
It took one of their own – a red-meat conservative from red-state Idaho who swears up and down that is he is not gay and has “never been gay” – to be entrapped for them to realize how silly this all is.
But there is still one piece of this that conservatives – Craig included – still don’t get. Their anti-gay policies – everything from trying to ban same-sex marriage to refusing to include sexual orientation in federal hate crimes law – help to create a national environment that drives people like Craig underground, into the closet, and inside men’s room stalls.