This weekend brought two statements from Barack Obama regarding the McClurkin concert from two weeks ago. First, his campaign wrote up a guest post for us, and then on Sunday he appeared on Meet the Press and answered a Tim Russert question about the matter. He brought it back up, he thinks he's right, and he still just plain doesn't get it. So what are we going to do?
I've said from the beginning that this one incident should not be taken as a non-starter, and running from Obama means running towards one of the other candidates, and all of the front-runners have the same positions on those issues of textual LGBT equality. And I don't think that many of us even have LGBT issues at the forefront of our minds when choosing a Democratic presidential candidate - experience, personality, international policy, the economy, and other issues all come before whether they support repealing Section 2 of the DOMA or not.
But just these issues aren't the first thing that affect millions of people's lives doesn't mean that we can't learn from them. Lots more on that after the jump.
One of the things I'm looking at here after these events is the competence of the Obama campaign. The campaign made a bunch of mistakes:
- inviting a known homophobe to sing and emcee a political rally,
- signing on a white, gay minister to address a largely black crowd on homophobia,
- making a statement that showed an utter lack of education on religious gays and progressive people of faith,
- misrepresenting to the press that McClurkin would only sing and offer praise,
- releasing a statement to the press that showed that he just doesn't really understand ex-gayism, the violence of religious-based homophobia, or why McClurkin's positions were more than mere disagreement and actually offensive,
- having the above-mentioned gay minister address the crowd before anyone showed up,
- allowing McClurkin not just to sing at the event, but emcee and control Obama's message,
- and, finally, framing the entire defense of McClurkin's inclusion at the event by saying that he was trying to foster a dialogue and then doing nothing to foster said dialogue.
I said before that this doesn't mean that Obama's a "bigot" or a "homophobe", as others have called him, but just show a lack of understanding around these issues and a lack of competence that the campaign hasn't shown elsewhere, pointing to a general "whatever" attitude about gay supporters.
Now, that's just my take. And I think I was definitely one of the milder gays when it came to reacting to this whole brou-ha-ha. I've wondered why exactly many of us were so offended by this concert, and I've come up with a few reasons. First, we're pretty tired of the pandering to religious extremists. Don't get me wrong, I think they should be engaged, approached for votes, conversed with, and supported in ways that will materially benefit them, just like any other constituency. But they seem to get a whole lot more attention than any other constituency. Take our legislative fight for the ENDA, for example. Nearly 80% of Americans support job protections based on sexual orientation, and yet it's going to be vetoed by the president for he doesn't want to upset religious extremists. And T-protections are out of the question even in the House even though they're polling at 65% because freshman Democrats are afraid of the same extremists. We don't have to win the logical arguments for such protections, we don't have to win over hearts and minds, and we don't even have to get a voice in the government. Our problem here is very anti-democratic: a pander to a small segment of the population. This story repeats itself all over our legislative fights, and so the Obama campaign, affirming a homophobic stance that has done plenty of violence to gays and lesbians in a massive attempt to pander to a subset of those extremists and ignoring our concerns, brings up the same fears.
Second, the mixing of religion and politics that surrounded this whole affair is downright scary. Engage these communities, yes, but does he really need to have a gospel concert where the best that was said about him was that "He's more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ" and that Obama's a "believer" who says "we can do all things through Christ Jesus"? Instead of professing how deeply religious he is to get votes (where have we seen this before?), couldn't he have made a policy-based case as to why evangelicals should vote for him? Maybe, maybe not. But that doesn't change the fact that lots of queers are justifiably turned off by the mixing of church and state to get votes
Third, there's his framing of the event. To LGBT audiences he framed the event as a chance to dialogue on these issues, to bring people together under a big tent. The dialogue didn't happen, the whole event was a pander, and audience members who were homophobic left with their views a bit stronger. And the general message to us was, "Suck it up, I need some votes."
Mix that in with a lack of better options in the leading candidates, a history of being told that our legislation comes before politicians' need to win a few more votes, and a constant lack of any politicians willing to stand up and do the right thing, and you have the powder keg behind the above sparks.
So we come to his two statements from this weekend. The first, the guest post on our site, well, it did very little to assuage the fears brought up by the incident in the first place. He made the same statements about dialogue, implied again that McClurkin just has a disagreeable opinion, like he likes his eggs hard-boiled and we like them sunny-side up, and then cut-and-paste some rah-rah gay stuff. (Never mind the tasteless Hillary dig and tired reference to his 2004 speech. Yes, we know you gave a good speech three years ago; it's time to move on.) Overall, it was uninspiring and left me thinking, they got a gospel concert with a Grammy winner, and we get this? And considering that his campaign had two weeks to write it up....
Second, he said on Meet the Press that he will go to homophobic black churches and tell them that he disagrees with them. Then again, we don't see him do that, and the one, very visible chance that he had to speak to a religious and homophobic crowd on these issues, where it would have been great to hear him say something about homophobia being wrong, he chose not to. He keeps on talking about this dialogue, but where is it?
This would all be balanced out if he had some sort of Senate record to point to. But while he says he opposes Don't Ask Don't Tell, he hasn't introduced legislation to overturn it. He isn't signed up to co-sponsor half the bills presented by others in the Senate to advance explicitly gay issues (the same ones that Hillary refuses to cosponsor). Hunter at DailyKos sums up my thoughts:
Barack Obama presents himself as a new kind of Democrat, but in his actions he appears to be exactly the normal kind of Democrat. In the legislative fights against the excesses of this Administration, where has Obama been? Has nothing, in all of it, aroused his passion? Obama has demonstrated, in his time at the Senate, an even keel, but is their any wind that can blow him from his predetermined path? If anything, he evinces the most assertiveness in service of ideas that are almost stereotypically designed as "moderate": reprimanding the party on ostensible weaknesses in religion and social security, for example.
Throw that in with his recent attempts to triangulate, and you get a pretty blah feeling all over. Behind all the pretty speeches is Hillary 2, and we don't need more than one of those.
We're left back at square one, with the front-running Democrats uneasy about our inclusion in the greater Democratic coalition. Are we going to run to the Republicans? No, they're not much better. Are we going to run to Hillary or Edwards? Well, they haven't shown much leadership on these issues either. And most likely, our votes will be determined by the show that each of the candidates puts on, as is usually done in American politics, especially since Edwards, Hillary, and Obama are all so close to each other on the major issues. But this show isn't Barack's finest hour.
What can he do at this point? It'd be nice if he started by taking the National Black Justice Coalition up on their offer to meet him and talk about these issues. Then he could show some minute leadership in the Senate and co-sponsor the UAFA and the REAL Act. They're both pretty basic bills that could each do some good for gays and lesbians. And since the Senate doesn't have a lesbian like the House does, he could make like Tammy Baldwin and present an amendment to the likely trans-exclusive ENDA to make it trans-inclusive. You know, he could show actual leadership and that he actually wants our votes.
Or he could host a concert in Key West and invite Madonna to emcee. Fair's fair, right?