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An Act of Economic Madness

News stories just out report that the Bush administration is planning to designate Iran's entire Revolutionary Guard Corps a "specially designated global terrorist" in order to tighten sanctions on that country. This follows a many-months-long drumbeat of U.S. claims against Iran -- for arming not just Shiite militias (and Sunni insurgents) with the most sophisticated roadside bombs to attack American troops, but the Taliban as well (an especially unlikely charge). It also follows a growing eagerness in Congress for passage of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act; reports of rising administration frustration over the UN Security Council's unwillingness to pass a third round of sanctions against Iran; a flurry of insider leaks that the Cheney wing of the administration is again pushing for military action against the Iranians and that the Vice President himself has urged the launching of "airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iran run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps"; reports that neocon think-tanks and pundits are joining the attack-Iran fray; constant claims from the President's commanders and diplomats that the hand of Iran is behind any administration misstep in the Middle East. In this context, it's worth remembering that the President has long claimed he would not leave office with the Iranian nuclear situation unsettled.

A recent piece by energy expert Michael Klare, "Entering the Tough Oil Era," at Tomdispatch.com offers perhaps the crucial context within which to consider Cheney's urge to launch an air assault on Iran. If we are, as Klare writes, leaving the realms of "easy oil" extracted from the most accessible places in the least unstable and least troubled of countries, and entering a new era of "oil that's buried far offshore or deep underground; oil scattered in small, hard-to-find reservoirs; oil that must be obtained from unfriendly, politically dangerous, or hazardous places," if global oil supplies are already under intense pressure and oil prices ready to leap on any hint of possible oil disaster anywhere on the planet, then imagine what a major air assault on Iran before January 2009 might mean for the global economy.

Actually, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates helped us imagine just this at his confirmation hearings back in December 2006 when asked about the effects of such an attack: "It's always awkward to talk about hypotheticals in this case. But I think that while Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash a significant wave of terror both in the -- well, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country is very real."

Such an attack would, of course, be a straightforward act of global economic madness; but, given the cast of characters--a classic neocon quip of the pre-Iraq invasion period was ""Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran..."--that hardly takes the possibility off the hypothetical "table" where all "options" so obdurately remain. Think global meltdown after any administration air assault on Iran and you're likely to be in the economic ballpark. Then buckle your seatbelt. We're entering a hair-raising age.

Defending Dr. Tiller (Part 2)

Last week after reading a post by Cara at Feministing I wrote about Dr. Tiller's case in Kansas and asked Nation readers to support him and his cause. (Thanks to the many of you who have already come through!) Tiller is the late-term abortion provider currently being prosecuted by the state of Kansas under a bizarre state law that Cara, in a new post, rightly describes as "politically motivated to make abortions more difficult to obtain."

For those following the story, the Kansas City Star recently reported that Anthony Powell, the judge appointed to preside over the case, was once a staunch anti-abortion state lawmaker. More details of the specific charges against Tiller and how he is alleged to have violated the law, which requires that two legally and financially uninvolved physicians sign off on any late-term abortion procedure, have also emerged. Cara's new post has the info, so read it here.

After that, please consider sending donations and words of support by mail to the address below. Tiller has a long history of being harassed for his work and these allegations are just the latest chapter in anti-choicers' on-going efforts to keep him from his practice.

Women's Health Care Services
5107 East Kellogg
Wichita, Kansas 67218, USA

Tiller also has a PAC called ProKanDo, which accepts donations to seek out and promote to support pro-choice candidates who are willing to serve at the state level in Kansas. Donations to the PAC can not be used on behalf of his clinic or to pay for his legal fees. If these are your goals, please send checks to the above address.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq

This summer, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq – a broad coalition of advocacy organizations and political action committees from across the political spectrum – has launched the Iraq Summer campaign to help end the war by making it politically toxic for Republicans to support it.

Tom Matzzie, Washington Director of MoveOn.org, is "on loan" to run Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. The national campaign has a staff of 100 people, a multimillion dollar budget, and a tall order as it embarks on this effort to unify opposition to the Iraq War in advance of the Petraeus report in September.

"The debate was set up in the spring as leading towards a September report," Matzzie says, "so that gave us an organizing opportunity and an organizing momentum going into the summer. The goal is to cut the remaining support for the president's Iraq policy out from underneath him. Give the Republicans a choice between helping to end the war or facing political extinction."

With over 80 paid organizers deployed across the country, the Iraq Summer campaign – which organizers say is modeled after the Freedom Summer – is focused on 40 targeted districts where Matzzie says "there is a lot of opposition to the war but very little grassroots leadership supporting an end to the war…. Often in these suburban and exurban Republican districts there's no institutional support for a campaign to end the war…. That's what a lot of Iraq Summer is about is building a permanent apparatus to oppose the war policy in these targeted areas. "

The organizers were trained at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore – a union training facility – and then assigned to 15 states across the country. Many organizers are veterans or their family members. Iowa State Director Sue Dinsdale is the mother of two Marines. Michigan State Director Tamarra Rosenleaf's husband has been deployed to Iraq. There are also Iraq veterans on staff in New York, Illinois, Virginia, and Kentucky, and three full-time staff in Washington, DC including the chief lobbyist, John Bruhns. Finally, dozens of veterans and their family members are in the field as paid staff and volunteers.

In addition to the 40 districts where the Iraq Summer campaign has sent staff (a fairly up to date list of targets can be found here – it's missing only Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Jean Schmidt), Americans Against Escalation in Iraq reaches another 30 House targets through grants to local organizations such as the Connecticut Citizen Action Group. In all of these districts the organizers, veterans and military families, and activists are using field operations, coalition building, paid and earned media strategies, volunteer events and cutting edge online organizing to turn up the heat on Republican members of Congress who are blocking a safe end to the Iraq war.

"I think since the war began, for over 4 years, we've done a great job as a movement of going out there and saying, ‘We oppose the War,'" Matzzie says. "But we haven't always brought the responsibility back to the politicians who are allowing it to happen. So we're changing the rhetoric from ‘I oppose the War' to ‘I oppose, [for example], Senator Coleman because of his support on the War.' And that politicization of the war policy helps put the fear into politicians, which is essential…. Ultimately the war ends because the politicians choose their own survival over sticking with Bush. That can be achieved only in the hometowns of these politicians where they count their votes."

The impact the campaign is having is already evident in the hundreds of videos activists are shooting (such as footage of Representative Mark Kirk ignoring an Iraq Vet). Americans Against Escalation in Iraq gave organizers $125 reusable video cameras – called " The Flip" camera – that plug into a USB port on a computer. The training of the organizers and activists is clear as they confront war supporters in an aggressive but normally courteous manner, and stay on message.

In addition to on-the-ground organizing, Matzzie says Americans Against Escalation in Iraq are countering the White House spin through the use of PR professionals. "We have for the first time a national, daily counterpoint to the White House and the media," he says. "We have PR professionals across two public relations firms and on our own payroll who are working every day to provide a counterpoint to the Bush administration in the press."

Iraq Summer will culminate with Take a Stand Day on August 28th. There will be about 60 town meetings held in targeted districts (the representatives are invited to attend – so far, no takers). In those communities where Representatives already support an end to the war there will be vigils to echo the message that it's time for Congress to take a stand – over 2,000 such vigils are planned. Matzzie says that MoveOn, Working Assets and True Majority are among the groups that will get the word out about Take a Stand Day nationwide.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq doesn't plan to close shop when Congress reconvenes. If its fundraising success continues, it plans to keep its staff through December, adjusting its targets as needed.

"Ultimately what we have to do is make sure that the Republicans know we're not going away," Matzzie says. "We're gonna be in their faces until the war is over. If they still vote wrong, we're gonna stay in their face… And the sooner the politicians know that the sooner the war will end…. [And] if the Democrats don't hold Bush's feet to the fire this fall there will be dozens of primary challenges next spring."

There are some in the antiwar movement who think the Iraq Summer strategy isn't doing enough to hold Democrats feet to the fire. CODEPINK, for example, has occupied the offices of Democratic legislators who voted for a timetable but failed to limit war funding to a fully funded troop redeployment only (as opposed to Bush's escalation). In a recent article in The Hill, one CODEPINK activist called MoveOn "very conservative."

Matzzie, however, suggests that there isn't a problem with these diverse tactics. He notes that the partner organizations of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq usually take on the Democrats, but this apparatus takes on "mostly Republicans."

"It's gonna take a wall of opposition from the entire political spectrum [to end this war]," Matzzie says. "We're facing down a determined and isolated president. We're facing down the Republican Party, the entire foreign policy establishment, the military-industrial complex, Arab governments throughout the Middle East who don't want us to leave mostly because they don't want to deal with the problem, a Sunni insurgency, the Shia militias that are conducting ethnic cleansing…. There is a mosaic of people who are working to end the war. We saw work that was not being done, and we went to fill that vacuum. And that's what we're doing. And this apparatus is there, and it's well exercised, and at necessary times it can turn against any target any where in the country, regardless of their party."

Matzzie believes that the most important thing right now is "Outside the Beltway pressure on the politicians."

"What's most important now is that people know that there's a big showdown on the war this fall," Matzzie says. "We need people in their home districts to be marching and going to their town hall meetings, and making phone calls, and talking to their neighbors…. We have a genuine shot at bringing some troops home this fall. It might not be that we're able to win complete redeployment before the next president is elected but if we can bring home 60,000 troops that's 60,000 families who can sleep with a little more comfort."

It will be up to the entire mosaic – the entire "wall of opposition" – to stay in the faces of every Republican and Democrat until every soldier comes home.

This post was co-authored by Greg Kaufmann, a freelance writer residing in his disenfranchised hometown of Washington, DC.

Karl Rove: The Machiavelli Who Failed

Karl Rove's never-particularly brilliant career as a manipulator of the political processes of the nation will end as it began: mired in scandal and failure.

As a brash 26-year-old former chairman of the College Republicans -- who had been the subject of a Watergate-era Washington Post expose headlined, "Republican Party Probes Official as Teacher of [Dirty] Tricks" -- Rove was the first aide hired to plot the campaign of George Herbert Walker Bush for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. Father Bush lost that race, but not before Rove was fired from the campaign for leaking information to the press. Fifteen years later, when he finally found a placed on another national campaign, the elder Bush's supposedly simple quest for reelection as president in 1992, Rove was again fired for leaking to the press -- in this case, talking columnist Robert Novak into writing a negative piece about Bush campaign fund-raising chief Robert Mosbacher Jr., a Rove rival. Internal disputes prompted by Rove and others in the campaign were among the reasons cited for the ultimate defeat of that Bush by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.

Rove did not give up on the Bushes, however, and the first family of American political self-service did not give up on Rove.

Less than a year after the defeat of one president named Bush, Rove was planning a gubernatorial campaign that he presumed would eventually lead to the White House for another, more morally malleable Bush. The formal relationship between George Walker Bush and Rove would continue, despite far more serious legal and ethical scandals than any witnessed during the father's campaigns, until Monday, when the political czar of the Bush-Cheney interregnum declared, "I am grateful to have been a witness to history."

With that lame line, Rove announced his resignation at the end of the month.

This exit from presidential politics did not take the form of a firing. But for all the efforts of an effusively complimentary President Bush and a suddenly religious Rove -- who, despite his reputation as a nonbeliever, mentioned God repeatedly during a Rose Garden announcement that was swimming in the smarm of convenient concern for faith and family -- it was far more embarrassing than the lawless leaker's previous departures from the national stage.

Rove was intimately involved in the campaign to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing that the administration had manipulated and misused intelligence in order to make a case for attacking Iraq in 2003. Rove's old leak partner, Novak, confirmed that the Bush aide had discussed with him the fact that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a Central Intelligence Agency employee. The outing of Plame as a covert operative, as part of an administration scheme to undermine Wilson's credibility, became the subject of an extended federal inquiry that would eventually lead to the conviction of Rove's crony, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for perjury and obstruction of justice. Echoing what has become accepted wisdom in official Washington, one of the jurors who convicted Libby expressed her sense that the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney had been used as a scapegoat in an elaborate scheme to prevent the leak-prone Rove from finally being brought to justice.

But Rove avoidance of accountability in the Wilson-Plame affair does not mean that he leaves the Bush White House with a clean slate. Quite the opposite.

Rove is currently the subject of a subpoena that was issued July 26 by the Senate Judiciary Committee with the purpose of compelling him to appear personally before the committee and testify about his role in the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys who he deemed to be insufficiently political in their inquiries and prosecutions. That testimony comes in the context of a broader investigation of moves by Rove and other top members of the Bush administration to use the Department of Justice to illegally advance the political interests of the president and the Republican Party.

Unlike the Wilson-Plame controversy, the scandal involving the Justice Department goes to the specifics of Rove's brief in a White House where he was the unquestioned -- and, by all accounts, meticulously engaged -- political czar.

As Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, says, "Earlier this month, Karl Rove failed to comply with the Judiciary Committee's subpoena to testify about the mass firings of United States Attorneys. Despite evidence that he played a central role in these firings, just as he did in the Libby case involving the outing of an undercover CIA agent and improper political briefings at over 20 government agencies, Mr. Rove acted as if he was above the law. That is wrong. Now that he is leaving the White House while under subpoena, I continue to ask what Mr. Rove and others at the White House are so desperate to hide. Mr. Rove's apparent attempts to manipulate elections and push out prosecutors citing bogus claims of voter fraud shows corruption of federal law enforcement for partisan political purposes, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its investigation into this serious issue."

Referencing the growing sense that the inquiry into wrongdoing in and around the Justice Department could yet be the undoing of the Bush-Cheney administration, Leahy added, "The list of senior White House and Justice Department officials who have resigned during the course of these congressional investigations continues to grow, and today, Mr. Rove added his name to that list. There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm. A similar cloud envelopes Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House."

The truth is that Karl Rove came to this White House with a cloud over his head. Rove's appearances on the national political stage have for more than three decades been clouded by scandal. His tenure in this Bush administration was clouded by scandal. And the aftermath of that tenure will be clouded by scandal.

But the real cloud over Karl Rove is a more serious one. The man they called "Bush's brain" -- in a silly calculus developed by liberal Texans who desperately wanted to believe that it required Machiavellian manipulation to get the citizens of the Lone Star state to elect a shiftless trust-fund baby as their governor -- has proven to be every bit as inept as Bush.

There is no question that Rove came up with a good turn of phrase eight years ago -- "compassionate conservative" may have been a throwaway line, but it worked with a portion of mainstream American that in 2000 was looking for a responsible new direction. Spinning out evocative slogans is what political operatives do for a living, however, so Rove gets no more credit than the folks who gave us "a full dinner pale" or "a new deal" or "a new frontier" or "peace with honor." If Rove really was the genius some want to believe him to be, he would have done something with the phrase once he has taken an office in the White House. Instead, he never even bothered to define it -- let alone remake the Republican party in a manner that might have realized its potential to become a trusted, long-term party of government.

It is true, as well, that Rove played the 9-11 terrorist attacks for all they were was worth politically in 2002 and 2004. But an intern at the Republican National Committee office could have done that, especially after Democratic leaders such as Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle and John Kerry chose approaches that made Rove's job easier than it ever should have been.

The real test for Rove came in 2006, when he needed to maintain control of at least one house of Congress in order to preserve the smooth operations of a Bush White House that had survived in large part because of nonexistent congressional scrutiny. It should have been a breeze. Republicans has solid majorities in the House and Senate. The Senate Democrats who were up for reelection in 2006 were not a particularly potent lot. And Democratic strategists made most of their usual mistakes.

But Rove could not pull it off. He failed in the essential task of a 21st-century Machiavelli: that of securing the future.

The czar swore to the end of the campaign that he could keep the Congress reliably Republican, going so far as to berate National Public Radio's Robert Siegel for suggesting the voting might not go the way "Bush's brain" said it would. When Siegel mentioned polls that showed Democrats coming on strong, Rove growled, "I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to the math."

Rove's math was wrong. Yet, he refused to admit it. "I understand some will see the election as a judgment on me, but the fact of the matter is that, look what has been set in motion -- a broader, deeper, strengthened Republican Party, and with an emphasis on grass-roots neighbor-to-neighbor politics, is going to continue," he would tell the Washington Post, while announcing after the election that: "The Republican philosophy is alive and well and likely to reemerge in the majority in 2008."

Today, Republicans look to be in seriously bad shape. Even GOP operatives fear the loss of the White House and more House and Senate seats in 2008. Democratic recruitment of House and Senate candidates is going far better than Republican recruitment, as is Democratic fund raising. George Bush's approval ratings are the worst for a sitting president since Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation. Vice President Dick Cheney's numbers are dramatically worse. And impeachment resolutions are gaining cosponsors on a daily basis in Congress.

The latest issue of the conservative Economist magazine features a cover story that suggests Americans are lurching to the left politically. And the Republican presidential debates are so thick with talk of the need for "change" that you would think Bush and Cheney had governed as registered Democrats.

In the end, Rove has done his party no more favors than he has done his nation. And that is the part of his legacy that will be most damaging to the man who may have been able to manipulate a few elections but who will not succeed in manipulating history.

Scandals matter. But, in the political game, results matter more. If Republicans still controlled the House and Senate and were staking a strong claim on the White House in 2008, if Bush and Cheney had any support -- or credibility -- left, Rove would be leaving on a high note. But none of those "if's" are erring in Rove's favor.

Karl Rove leaves another Bush campaign -- and, make no mistake, the last eight years have been about campaigning, not governing -- as he has left them before: under the twin clouds of scandal and failure.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Karl Rove Should Stay

Karl Rove should stay.

The White House confirmed on Monday morning that George W. Bush's master strategist will be leaving Bush's side at the end of August. "I just think it's time," Rove told The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot. His reason for bailing on Bush: "There's always something that can keep you here, as much as I'd like to be here, I've got to do this for the sake of my family." At a White House ceremony, Bush issued a brief farewell to Rove, saying little about the man who made Bush president and whom Bush reportedly nicknamed "Turd Blossom" (for Rove's ability to grow flowers in dung). Rove, visibly holding back tears, praised Bush for his "integrity, character and decency." He vowed to be a "fierce and committed advocate [for Bush] on the outside." Neither said anything explicitly about the Iraq war.

Certainly, a White House aide who has engaged in the sort of political and policy chicanery that Rove has perpetuated ought to lose the right to collect a paycheck from U.S. taxpayers. Take your pick: the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. attorney scandal, the Valerie Plame leak, inaction on global warming, injecting politics into federal agencies to a new degree, suppressing government science, the stem cell veto, tax cuts for the wealthy, politicizing the war on terror. But leaving is too good for Rove. He was Bush's partner in the Iraq war, yet he (like other Bush aides, including, most recently, Dan Bartlett) are abandoning ship before the fight is done. Rove has argued that the Iraq war is essential for the survival of the United States (that is, for all of our families). So how can he walk away with the war not won?

In June 2006, Rove gave a speech to New Hampshire Republicans and blasted Democrats for advocating "cutting and running" in Iraq. He said of the Democrats, "They may be with you for the first shots. But they're not going...to be with you for the tough battles." But isn't Rove now doing the same on a personal scale? He is departing the White House when the going in Iraq is as tough as it ever was.

In an earlier 2006 speech, Rove exclaimed, "America is at war....To retreat before victory has been won would be a reckless act." He was, of course, talking about a military retreat. But look at it this way: Rove helped Bush start a war, and now hundreds of thousands of American GIs (and millions of Iraqi civilians) have no choice but to live with the consequences of that decision. Why should Rove--and not they--be allowed to say, Sorry, now I have to bug out to spend more time with my family? How nice for the Roves that he can walk away from the war.

When Bush campaigned for president in 2000, he and Rove dubbed their campaign plane Accountability One. The point: we're the responsible ones. But a fundamental principle of accountability is that you clean up the messes you create. Rove is not doing that. He will cash in. Maybe with speeches. Perhaps with a book or some private sector spot. Instead, he ought to volunteer for service with one of the few functioning provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. Or perhaps he could conduct seminars on basic electoral skills for tribal leaders in southeastern Afghanistan. (Lesson No. 2: How To Demonize Your Enemy.) If overseas travel would place too much of a burden on his family, he could help clean up a neighborhood in New Orleans.

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Tom and Daisy, "They were careless people...they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." Rove is certainly more careful than Fitzgerald's characters--careful when it comes to politics and doing whatever is necessary to win. But with Bush, he recklessly steered this country into a debacle in Iraq that has caused the death of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and that has ruined the United States' reputation abroad. Bush, Rove, Dick Cheney and the rest did so with little understanding and with insufficient planning, and they sold the war to the public with bad information and blatant misrepresentations. (Rove was part of the White House Iraq Group that devised the prewar messaging.) Rove deserves not reward but punishment. A fitting sentence would be for Rove to stay to the bitter end so he can sweep up the turds he is now leaving behind.

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JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Follow-Up Thoughts on the LGBT Debate

Just a short blog entry to follow up on what I wrote on Friday about the LOGO presidential debate.

I've heard from a few people that Barack Obama was asking smart insider questions about whether marriage is the right focus now for the LGBT movement, or whether it shouldn't be left for later--the way interracial marriage wasn't first on the black civil rights movement's agenda.

No. Obama was missing two things: the different significance of marriage to those two very different movements, and the community history on this issue.

First, he's wrong to compare same-sex marriage to interracial marriage. Obama said, if I recall correctly, that the civil rights movement left marriage for last, putting votes and employment first. But no lesbian or gay man is barred from voting; in fact, according to recent news reports, apparently self-identified lesbians and gay men vote in higher percentages than most people. (Hard to know if that's a statistic that holds up across all lesbians and gay men, since it's impossible to find a random sample of us; not everyone will identify themselves as gay on a survey.) And while some LGBT people are fired for being gay--yes, that's still legal in most states, and why we need passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act--it's not the widespread or devastating problem it was for most African Americans in 1960. The ability to care for those we love is really central for lesbian & gay folks; for us it's a life or death question, very literally (for more on this see Evan Wolfson's book Why Marriage Matters or Freedom to Marry's website. Most black folks then had the ability to marry someone they loved; those who wanted to marry across racial lines were a minority. Interracial marriage was to the civil rights movement as foreign-American same-sex pairings for L/G folks; important and life-wrenching to those who fall in love with a non-citizen but not something that affects most of us, and therefore--although important--less strategically central. Obama had the importance of these issues to the LGBT movement inside out.

Second, and more important, is the community history on the issue. There was an enormous internal debate through the 90s about whether or not to go for marriage. The "leaders" and activists and academics mostly hated it and thought it was the wrong focus. The issue was catapulted to prominence by the grassroots, who initiated the first lawsuits against the leadership's active attempts to stop them. The community pressure was overwhelmingly in favor and forced the leadership into being pro-marriage. That's a simplification, but not too much so. (I have to admit to being proud that I was one of the early lesbians or feminists in favor; see my book What Is Marriage For?, my first marriage article for The Nation in 1993, and most of my writing during the 1990s.)

People want to get married. The word means an enormous amount emotionally. Separate but equal really does capture the distinction: it leaves a nasty taste to be told that your love for your wife isn't as real as your brother's love for his wife. Many people see this as very either/or: Am I not as good as you are? Cut my beloved, do I not bleed? As I've written elsewhere, attending the first legally recognized same-sex marriages here in Massachusetts was astonishingly powerful, far more powerful than many of us expected, since we'd been working for it for so long. Being declared openly equal is life-changing.

In questioning the focus on marriage, Obama revealed his lack of knowledge on the issue and his lack of well-informed LGBT advisors. This discussion is over, except among academics, where it is--excuse the pun--academic. Marriage is a major goal. It's not the only thing worth talking about, but it cannot be dismissed.

Dr. King's Candidate

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. did not make many political endorsements. As the most recognized leader of a civil rights movement that enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans at the national level, and as a key player in the often life-and-death struggle to end American apartheid, he tended to stand above the political fray.

But in the spring of 1966, King traveled to Alabama with the explicit purpose of making an endorsement in the Democratic primary for governor. The man whose candidacy King supported was Richmond McDavid Flowers, one of the first "Deep South" politicians to embrace the promise of the civil rights movement.

Flowers died last Thursday at age 88. At the time of his passing, Flowers was an all-but-forgotten figure.

While others who lacked his courage or his prescience are now regarded as elder statesmen of the South, Flowers lived his last years in the obscurity reserved for those white southerners who came "too quickly" to the conclusion that Jim Crow had to go.

In a more just circumstance, Richmond Flowers would be a iconic figure -- not just in Alabama but in a nation where those who rejected racism in dangerous times and places ought to be seen as the greatest Americans.

In a period when so many around him failed and faltered, Flowers stood tall.

He was not merely a gubernatorial candidate in 1966. He was the elected Attorney General of Alabama, the chief law enforcement officer in a state that in the mid-1960s was wracked by Ku Klux Klan-inspired violence.

But, despite the fact that he had crosses burned in the lawn of his family home, Flowers refused to back down.

On the same day that Governor George Wallace has promised in his 1963 inaugural address to "stand in the schoolhouse door" to prevent integration of the University of Alabama, Flowers had refused to stand with Wallace. The governor declared that day, "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." The Attorney General responded, "Alabama's soul will soon be laid bare before the world. God grant that we may not be ashamed of it."

Alabama would be shamed, by Wallace and by the murderous Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils that fought integration with the gun, the boycott and the ballot box.

Flowers, a one-time segregationist who chose the rule of law over the rule of the mob, would stand against them.

When local prosecutors failed to seriously pursue cases against the murderers of civil rights workers such as Viola Gregg Liuzzo and Jonathan M. Daniels, Flowers exercised his authority as Attorney General to supersede the local lawyers. Then he marched into county courtrooms across Alabama and, as Time magazine reported in 1965, "Relentlessly, Flowers and an assistant questioned each prospective juror, asking him whether he thought the white race superior to the Negro, whether he felt that any person like Mrs. Liuzzo who associated with Negroes thereby made herself inferior to other whites. Over vehement defense objections, Judge [T. Werth] Thagard let Flowers get his answers. In short order, Flowers established that of 30 veniremen available for the jury, eleven felt that white civil rights workers were indeed inferior. Then Flowers dropped his bombshell. He demanded the right to challenge all eleven 'for cause.' 'How can the State of Alabama expect a fair and just verdict in this case from men who have already sat in judgment on the victim and pronounced her inferior to themselves?' he asked."

In challenging racism prosecutors and judges, Flowers put his own life at risk. But he did not hesitate to tell judges and juries that they had a moral responsibility to deliver justice, telling those who sat in judgment of one of the murderers that, if they do not vote for conviction, "the blood of this man's sin will stain your county for eternity."

It was a "profile in courage" performance. And the leader of the civil rights movement noticed.

In 1966, when Flowers announced his candidacy for governor against Wallace's wife, Lurleen, who was running because her husband was limited to serving just one term, King delivered his endorsement. He campaigned across Alabama, urging African Americans newly enfranchised by the federal Voting Rights Act to cast their first votes for Flowers.

Unlike many southern "liberals" of the time, Flowers did not run a "wink-and-nod" campaign. "I do not believe that the Negro is inferior," he bluntly declared at some of the first integrated campaign rallies the state had seen. "I am a man of the law and, like it or not, I am going to follow the law. Every individual is entitled to, and shall gain, equal opportunities."

Flowers promised to haul down the flag of the Confederacy, which flew over George Wallace's state Capitol, and to replace it with the American flag. Clinging to the symbols of the losing side in the Civil War, he told Alabamans, was "a gesture of defiance that must be put behind us."

That did not go over well with white voters. They cast their ballots as a bloc for Lurleen Wallace, who easily won the Democratic nomination and the governorship. But Flowers came in second in the primary, securing more than 142,000 votes, with his strongest finishes coming in Alabama's "black belt" counties.

King declared Mrs. Wallace's victory "a protest vote against the tide of inevitable progress."

That was true. But it was also true that the Flowers campaign had helped to encourage a massive turnout in Alabama's predominantly African-American counties. That turnout made it possible for two dozen African-American candidates for local posts and the state legislature survive the 1966 primary that marked the end of Richmond Flowers' political career.

Flowers was not just ruined politically. After he was defeated, Flowers suddenly found himself targeted for prosecution on charges of extorting funds from insurance companies, a gambit that he always suggested was hatched by segregationists who wanted to thwart his hopes of drawing white working-class voters into an eventual economic populist coalition. Jailed briefly, he was finally pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Flowers returned to his native Dothan, Alabama, and lived his life out there -- teaching American history at a local community college. By any measure, it was an ironic posting.

The revisionist history of the civil rights era would have Americans believe that every southern political leader of time was part of the "massive resistance" to civil rights. This convenient distortion would have us believe that the racism expressed in the late sixties and early seventies by a George Wallace, a Strom Thurmond, a Trent Lott or even a Jimmy Carter -- whose 1970 gubernatorial campaign tapped into lingering segregationist sentiment in Georgia -- must be seen "in the context of the times."

But the story of Richmond Flowers reminds us that the "context of the times" argument is a lie.

There were men and women who stood up to the racism of the moment. A few of them risked their careers and livelihoods to do what was right. Few did so as courageously and as consequentially as the man the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned to elect governor of Alabama.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Dear Cindy: Please Don't Run

On July 25, Cindy Sheehan announced that since Nancy Pelosi failed tomove to impeach Bush and Cheney by Sheehan's deadline two days earlier,she will run as an independent for Pelosi's seat in Congress. I havea lot of respect for Sheehan, but I hope she'll reconsider.

First of all, should impeachment really be a litmus test? Sure, itwould be emotionally satisfying to haul the president before theSenate--look how much fun the Republicans had with Clinton. I understand why some of my Nation colleaguesare so keen on it. But it's not going to happen--the numbers in Congress and Senate aren'tthere , and I don't care how many people sign petitions and call theircongressperson, that is not going to change. Despise the Democrats for caving in -- on war funding, on FISA, on abstinence-only education. Pressure them, confront them, make them feel your wrath. But to insist that they work themselves into a lather for what is essentially a symbolic gesture with no chance of success? I don't see the point of that.

Second, Sheehan's run is futile. There's a place for outsidercandidates, even longshots. Ned Lamont lost hisSenate race, but first he won the primary and he ran to win. Moreover, even though he lost the race, he made his point: hiscandidacy put the Democrats -- and the media -- on notice that antiwarfeeling was far deeper, and antiwar opponents far better organized,than they had believed. Nancy Pelosi has been a cautious -- too cautious -- leader, and if a lefter candidate could take her seat, fine. But let me go out on a limb here: Sheehan has nochance of defeating her, and still less chance of moving into an open seat because the impeachment of Bush and Cheney has moved Speaker Pelosi, next in line, into the White House. Sheehan's candidacy is less likethat of Ned Lamont than it is like the barely visible symbolic third-party runs of JonathanTasini and Stanley Aronowitz for Governor of New York. She'll getmore media than those gentlemen, because she and Pelosi are national celebrities,but I doubt she'll come much closer to victory. Thus, instead of showingthe Democrats how strong is the threat from the left, it will showthem how weak it is.

Third, and most important, Sheehan already has a crucial role inour politics: as an activist. More than any other single person, she changed the discourse about the war. She put a middle American face on theantiwar movement at a time when it was widely caricatured as a ragtagcollection of hippies , Stalinists, and movie stars. She forcedthe media--and the country -- to acknowledge that antiwar feeling was widespread and growing and included even red staters, even militaryfamilies. By her simple demand that Bush meet with her and explainwhy her son died, she pointed up the president's evasions andbefuddlement and arrogance -- the ban on photographs of coffins,his seeming lack of concern for the deaths of soldiers, his basicrefusal to engage. No matter that she sometimes seemed to be conducting her political education in public. She was a mother wrenched out of her ordinary life by tragedy -- that is a very powerful and inspiring symbolic role.

Maybe Sheehan got tired of being a symbol, a catalyst. I didn'treally understand the somewhat murky blog post she wrote in May, announcing her resignation from the antiwar movement , buther frustration and impatience were clear enough.

Still, the placefor symbolic protest is in protest movements. Elections areabout something else and are played by different rules. There, symbolic figures are mostly wasting theirtime, and tend to emerge smaller than they went in.

CORRECTION: As is noted in the comments thread, Jonathan Tasini ran for Senate, not Governor of New York. He competed against Hillary Clinton in the 2006 Democratic primary, and did not run as a third party candidate. In the primary he received 115,943 votes (including mine), or 17% of the total. Sorry for the mistake!

One More Thing: As you can see, I'm giving the comments thread another chance. I value people's responses to what I write, so as long as the discussion is relevant and civil, I'll keep it open.

Dems Go Queer, For a Night

On Thursday night, Logo (the gay network owned by Viacom) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) sponsored a Democratic Presidential forum on gay issues. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel and Bill Richardson all participated. Columnist Margaret Carlson moderated the proceeding, joined by the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart, HRC's Joe Solmonese and lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge. Unlike the recent contretemps at the YearlyKos convention, this affair was decidedly more civil. It had to be. The candidates showed up, one by one, to chit-chat with Carlson and friends in a rather antiseptic, faux-talk show studio. The audience was small, peppered with B-list gay celebs and mostly quiet. The candidates never crossed paths, and so, there was never any real debate. 

Nonetheless, there were some interesting moments: Bill Richardson's supposed gaffe in response to the nature vs. nuture question (are you born gay or do you choose to be gay?), Etheridge's attack on Hillary Clinton's record and the general, totally gay enthusiasm of Gravel and Kucinich. I sat down to watch and discuss the forum with queer critics Lisa Duggan, Tavia Nyong'o and Alisa Solomon.


 

Richard Kim: So what did you folks think? The Human Rights Campaign has been promoting this event as an "historic" forum, the first of its kind. Did it feel historic to you?

Alisa Solomon: I have mixed feelings about the forum. My attitude going in was kind of cynical, yet I found myself moved at some points. But not only is it not historic, because it happened before, but it's actually worse than the last one. [HRC hosted a similar event in 2003 on CSPAN, moderated by Sam Donaldson.] This forum was on a queer cable network. It's not even on a mainstream network. It didn't involve mainstream interviewers. It's much more ghettoized. With all of these forums and debates, it's great that supposedly there's an opportunity to ask the candidates to go into depth on specific issues, whether it's labor or African American issues or gay issues. But there's something really balkanizing about it too. It's the worst kind of niche marketing. Are candidates going to discuss LGBT issues only before a queer audience, labor issues only before an audience of union members, and so on? And are union members the only people who are supposed to care about labor issues, and so on?

Tavia Nyong'o: The forum was what I expected it to be--circling back and forth on the question of marriage equality with some minor excursions to other issues like healthcare or employment. But part of what I found moving about the event was the raw political need emanating from interviewer Melissa Etheridge. Counterbalancing the insistence on marriage was this more general hunger for public recognition. It was almost a subtext of the whole forum. Joe Solmonese and Melissa Etheridge indicated that they've had these conversations about gay issues in private, that they have this ongoing relationship with Hillary, with the Clintons, with some of the other candidates, and it was like they wanted these inside conversation acknowledged publicly.

Lisa Duggan: I felt cynical about it too. It wasn't historic, and not only was it ghettoized in terms of its circulation and broadcast, but the definitions of "gay community" and "gay issues" have become so narrow. Marriage equality has become the absolute litmus test. It's like seeing the women's movement reduced to abortion rights. It's like marriage is the only question and the other questions were raised on the side.

RK: Well, how do you think the candidates did on the question of marriage? There seemed to be two camps--Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, who support full marriage equality now, and the rest of the candidates [Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson], who want some form of civil union and perhaps marriage equality later on.

AS: I absolutely agree with Lisa that gay marriage has become a litmus test issue. But, even though it's not the major issue for me, and even though I don't share the view that marriage is the way to secure health and other benefits, when I heard the candidates dancing away from it, it pissed me off. You want them to stand morally for equal rights and then make the progressive analysis that would call for a different relationship between marriage and the state in general.

RK: What would that sound like?

LD: Well, there was no question about marriage in this forum. The only question was about gay inclusion in it. It was up or down on gay inclusion. Full inclusion now or some incremental progress to full inclusion later, but the desirability of one size fits all marriage, over and above any reworking of options, was completely unquestioned. It was only about who we let in or out. Only Obama suggested some readjustment in the landscape of possibility. The really amazing thing about his answer was the idea that civil unions should include full federal benefits, and that marriage should be considered a purely religious practice. He advocated separation of church and state; religion should be over there and federal civil unions should be over here…

AS: But only for gays and lesbians. There was no follow up question that said--Do you think that's how it should be for straight people too?

LD: Obama almost went there. He more or less said that marriage is a religious institution and that civil unions should have full federal rights. It had more of a progressive edge.

AS: Well, Edwards tried to go there when he said he wouldn't impose his faith on the nation.

LD: But his answer to the marriage question was the worst in some ways, totally self-contradictory. Clinton's answer was similar in content, but it was much more polished and practiced. She had clearly thought about how to respond and how her answer would be reported in the press. But Edwards seemed nervous, unthinking. It's like no one coached him at all. I was really sorry to see that because in some ways his positions, especially on poverty, are more progressive than the other candidates. His whole speech about homeless gay youth…

AS: That was pathetic! It's 2007, and it's like the first time he's ever heard of gay kids getting kicked out of their homes. Though I do give him credit for bringing it up --along with adoption and anti-discrimination in employment and other issues that the questioners weren't bothering to raise.

RK: What did you think about the way Obama addressed the analogy between marriage equality and the civil rights movement?

TN: I appreciated that he pointed out how gays are being scapegoated as a threat to the black family. Family values rhetoric resonates strongly in black political settings, and I'm thrilled Obama is willing to take it head on in venues like the Howard University debate, and not just in front of a gay audience. I also think he's figured out where the comparison between gay rights and civil rights falls apart and becomes unproductive. The whole tagline of "separate but equal" that the questioners kept bringing up, they kept talking about it as it if were just a tagline instead of a whole institutional structure of segregation.

LD: When the questioners asked Obama to compare marriage equality and civil rights, he first balked at the question, then he said we're not talking about Jim Crow here. We're talking about inequality, but we're not talking about Jim Crow, so he did reference the structural difference. But it's like people aren't familiar with the basic history of the civil rights movement, that there's a debate and discussion over the failure of purely formal civil rights to produce substantive equality. It's like the questioners were totally unaware of that discussion.

TN: In some ways nobody seemed to have watched the Howard debate because that was the context of the whole debate--the fact that formal quality doesn't match up to substantive equality. That's why we still need the black debate now, to address all the issues of racial inequality that are still around. That wasn't the language of the Howard debate, but that was the context.

AS: What did you think about Obama saying that if he had been counseling the civil rights movement at the time his parents got married, when they wouldn't have been able to do that in some states, that he would have advised that the more important issue was voting rights laws, not anti-miscegenation laws?

TN: I feel that he came up with that just to short circuit the comparison between anti-miscegenation laws and bans on gay marriage. He's been asked that question a lot because he makes his personal story so central to his own candidacy. He can use this personal narrative to diffuse the one-to-one analogy between marriage rights and civil rights.

LD: He's the one that gets pressured the most on that analogy. So he has to come up with a response to that analogy in a way that the other candidates just don't.

RK: There were a couple times in this debate where the Howard debate and the AFL-CIO debate were referenced. This debate could be seen as just another one in the identity politics primary. What do you think about that and the way gay issues play into identity politics? It's not clear to me that, in fact, this forum is the same as the AFL-CIO one, which has a real institutional base, or the Howard debate which had a constituency the Democrats really need.

LD: Labor politics can be translated into a kind of identity politics, as if it's a special interest politics, but it's not fundamentally. Meanwhile, the kind of sexual politics that exceeds the terms of identity politics--that wasn't represented at all tonight. The Howard debate had a lot of depth about economic issues intertwined with racial inequality issues. This one did not. The people who brought those structural issues up tonight were the candidates, not the questioners. And when the candidates were advocating employment nondiscrimination or improvements in health care, the questions would just come back to marriage.

RK: What did you all think about the way Bill Richardson answered the question, posed by Melissa Etheridge, about whether you are born gay or choose to be gay?

AS: I thought Richardson's failure to grasp that question was one of the most poignant moments of the entire forum. It honestly didn't matter to him. It just wasn't computing. Why would it matter? Why would protection from discrimination be appropriate for people who were born Jewish but not for people who converted to Judaism? It makes no logical sense whatsoever, and I think that's why it wasn't computing with him, and I found that kind of endearing and also heartening.

LD: I think it was the inadvertent best moment in the whole forum because his answer was basically so good. He said it doesn't matter, that equality isn't a matter of choice or biology. It's when he said, "I don't want to characterize people according to some standards of science that I don't understand."

AS: It was his least political, most direct answer. You could really see him processing the question and trying to think it through because for once, he didn't have a prepared answer. It was very naked and honest--and right-on.

LD: They pushed him on it over and over again. Margaret Carlson followed up and explained to him that saying you are born gay is the ground on which equality can be claimed. But he was clearly, absolutely resisting the language of choice versus biology. It's not clear to me why he was, but he was.

TN: That marks a certain political shift. I thought it was a positive sign.

RK: Do you feel like the questioners treated Clinton, Edwards and Obama differently than they treated the other candidates?

AS: I think HRC felt that with Gravel and Kucinich, they [HRC] were doing those marginal candidates a favor by letting them participate. Gravel even called Joe Solmonese on his decision to exclude him at first. But with the other candidates, the vibe was more that those front-running candidates were doing HRC a favor just by showing up--sort of feeding the tacit expression of need that Tavia mentioned earlier. Melissa Etheridge kept telling candidates how honored and grateful she was that they came, as if we don't have every right simply to expect candidates to show up.

LD: Kucinich went down the list of economic issues, peace and war issues, all the big issues in this election that matter to everyone. He went down the list of gay issues too, but he also mentioned universal healthcare. He used the words "not for profit" and "Medicare for all," and he was the only one to do so.

AS: Those were the points that got no applause. His answer to the question about health benefits for same-sex partners was that there should be healthcare for all. If he had said marriage rights, everyone would have clapped. But they didn't clap for universal healthcare. It was the same thing when he said he voted against the war. Silence.

RK: What did you think about the format of the forum? What about the audience?

TN: The audience was salted with former and current Logo talent and the cast of Noah's Ark. It's like, they didn't even go outside the building to get the audience. It was a talk show format instead of a political debate or discussion.

AS: There was no idea of collectivity or movement because of the format.

RK: Who do you think won?

LD: Substantively, I think Obama won. But in terms of positioning and media savvy, I think Hillary Clinton did.

TN: I thought Hillary was a clear winner in the Howard debate, which was surprising. She did so much better than Obama and Richardson, and she really connected with the crowd, which was huge there. Here there was no crowd, a tiny studio audience, so it was harder for her to do that. I thought she did well and was very polished, but I think the performances evened out here. She did better than Edwards. The hardest question for her to deal with was when Melissa Etheridge asked her why her husband had abandoned gay people in 1996…

AS: She said, "You threw us under a bus!"

TN: Right, it was the toughest question of the night because she has a record to stand on, when her husband was in the White House and her votes in the Senate. I think there's some kind of spell that Hillary Clinton puts us under. Because if you follow the logic of her reasoning, her narration is that we've been steadily moving along a progressive path since the ‘90s in this country, and that's totally counterfactual.

AS: I think what she said was more complicated and calculated. She said we had been in a horrifying moment, and when anti-gay politics was used cynically and viciously, and it got personal. It was ugly, and we really had to fight against that and it was a big setback for us. She used that description to define a difference between Democrats and Republicans as well as to excuse some of her questionable earlier support for such legislation as DOMA, which she characterized as a bulwark against the riled up pressure for a marriage amendment.

LD: What about when she was asked why, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, why she didn't introduce legislation to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

AS: You didn't find her answer persuasive?

LD: No.

AS: Why didn't you? Not that I did, necessarily. But where do you see the flaw in her being strategic as a legislator and asking--Why bother under a Republican Congress, under a completely hostile President?

LD: Because there are other reasons than winning to introduce legislation. If you accept her pragmatic terms, the kind of politician she is, then that's the answer. But if you were a different kind of politician, then there's another kind of answer.

TN: Bill Richardson tried to get domestic partnership rights in New Mexico. That's the one thing I really responded to in his attempt to say he has a progressive record. I found myself sympathizing with him when he said that he's been trying to get this done in a Western state, not Massachusetts, but spending political capital in this area. What irks me about Hillary's progress narrative is that it re-writes her own history. She could have actually taken a symbolic stand on a bill in the Senate to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But she's not prepared to do that kind of thing. Richardson was willing to call a special session and lose.

LD: Going back to the progress narrative…the problem is that it frames as inevitable something which requires political will. So rather than saying we need political will, we just say we should trust in inevitability or in the goodness of the American people. So it lets everyone off the hook in terms of the risks and efforts that are required to organize political will. One of the central tricks of American liberal discourse is to frame political progress as inevitable. So you let everyone off the hook.

AS: That's one way to read it, but another way--which the candidates at the forum also invoked--is to applaud the LGBT movement, to say what you are doing is admirable. You are on the streets. And I'm right there with you. Still another way of using the progress narrative is to stir people, to say that the train is going, and you should get on, and you should help push.

RK: Kucinich and Gravel said things similar to that…

TN: Here's where I miss Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton would have said, "I support gay marriage. I've performed gay marriage." But then he would have turned it around and made the conversation much more political. And I think, even Kucinich, he kind of resorted to a kind of "I love gays" argument.

LD: I miss Sharpton and Jesse Jackson too, because they were the kind of candidates who would turn things around and challenge the questioners and challenge the audience. They would turn around and say, "Well I'm for this, but what are you for? Are you standing up for other people too?" And none of these candidates did that tonight.