Once again, the presidential candidates got together but, for a refreshing change, “debate fatigue” was not the headline.
Debate fatigue had set in among the American chattering class over the last few months because of the sterility of the environment in which these so-called “debates” are held. Moderated by media professionals who did not wish to appear biased for or against any candidates, the debates’ lines of questioning had grown tired, reflecting an inside-the-beltway view of what was important to America.
This time, when the Democratic presidential candidates took questions from the American people – thanks to the power of YouTube – we learned that the public can come up with some engaging and challenging questions. They were the kind of questions reporters and TV anchors are often, well, afraid to ask.
You can expect a return to timid questioning in a few weeks when the Democrats candidates will meet for another debate, hosted by gay rights advocates at the Human Rights Campaign and Viacom’s Logo television network. Although the event is being billed as “historic,” chances are there won’t be too much news made at the forum. Why? Well no one will be too anxious to rock the, er, boat.
The Gay political establishment – of which HRC is the keystone – would like its followers to believe that there is a simple dichotomy when it comes to Republicans and Democrats. One party represents good and the other, evil. But as with most politics, there are many shades of gray. If there weren’t then there would be no need to have a Democratic debate over gay rights to begin with.
If the Logo/HRC debate were a truly historic event, there are at least four questions the candidates should be asked. You’ll probably won’t hear them asked in Democratic party circles so I’ll ask them here.
1. If gays and lesbians deserve full rights and protections under the law, then why should you be debating gay rights at all?
From the time someone comes out and receives their “gay card,” they’re told that Democrats support gay rights and deserve the community’s vote. If that were true then there would be no need for Democrats to be debating gay rights. Of course, it’s not and there is.
Not one leading candidate will step forward and say, “I agree, there should be no debate that all Americans should be treated equally under the law.” Unless HRC thought they’d get that answer from John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they won’t ask the question.
Edwards, for example, says that he supports equality for gays and lesbians, but when asked about marriage rights, he says that it is a personal journey for him to reconcile his religious opposition with his policy positions. Hillary Clinton tortures herself over whether to oppose her husband’s own policies of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. If Democrats truly believed that gays and lesbians were Americans deserving the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship–as they’d like the gay community to believe–there should be no such gray area.
2. Will you continue the Drug Enforcement Agency’s crackdown on dispensaries in states where the legal distribution of medical marijuana conflicts with federal law?
Here in California, the Bush Administration has been widely criticized for enforcing federal law and shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries. Will the Democratic candidates, if elected, enforce Federal law or give precedence to states’ rights? Somehow, I doubt that the local gay community wants to know the answer to that question.
The question of State’s rights is at the heart of the AIDS treatment debate, as well as that over marriage equality. The first President Clinton wiped away States rights on the marriage issue with the Defense of Marriage Act, which he signed in 1996. While States like Massachussetts and perhaps soon California may recognize equal marriage rights, when it comes to filing taxes, collecting social security or immigration issues, no such rights exist–federal law takes precedence.
3. Why did no one in the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate try to get recognition for gay and lesbian couples during the immigration reform debate earlier this summer?
One of the leading items for gay activists in recent years – including the Human Rights Campaign – was to give gay and lesbian couples equal treatment under the law when it came to immigration. Bi-national heterosexual couples can marry and get a green card but those who are born gay do not get that option. Surprisingly, not one senator tried amending the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Bill to make gay couples equal under immigration law.
4. Will you, as president, allow the discriminatory estate tax to return in 2011 even though it will harm gays and lesbians?
Few gays can admit that George Bush has done anything for the community. However, when Bush eliminated the estate tax, he also took away one of the federal benefits of marriage. With no estate tax gay and lesbian couples do not face the discrimination in the tax code they did before Bush was elected President.
All of the major Democratic candidates talk about repealing George Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy but in doing so, they’d be reinstating taxes on gay and lesbian couples. How can that be fair?
Don’t expect the Human Rights Campaign to ask these questions of the Democratic candidates. They don’t want to know the answers. Merely asking them and challenging the candidates to respond contradicts the story they’re trying to tell to their members, contributors and legislative supporters: that the Democratic party is the only friend gay Americans have in politics.
In the end, the Democratic Candidates really are not on the same page as groups like HRC, who want to portray them in a positive light, especially when compared with Republicans. Organizations like HRC fear that if they asked the tough questions, the “gay debate” would be “historic” because it would be the last.
They have to play nice, or they can’t play ball.