Edwards hit it out of the park. Hillary got smartly on base, to wild–even excessive–cheers. Obama struck out.
Last night LOGO, the subscription cable TV channel dedicated to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) content, broadcast a debate with six Democratic candidates. At the predominantly gay Boston venue Club Cafe, waiting for the debate to start, the small group at my table made a list of issues we wanted to hear discussed–while around us the noise level got louder and louder, until there was an SRO crowd. Our little group was annoyed that Melissa Etheridge was among the questioners, and wondered whether there would be some intelligent questions or whether only the M-word would be spoken. “Please,” one woman groaned, “let them talk about something besides marriage.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’re all in favor of full marriage rights; we live in the one state that offers them, and the club was jammed with many of the advocates who ensured that our legislature voted to uphold those marriage rights. But we know where a viable Democratic candidate has to stand–in favor of full-on civil unions but “not ready” for marriage–and so we wanted to hear whether they’d done any homework about any other issues. We made a short list of the issues we wanted discussed, and added a few others for bonus points.
It was a highly annoying format: Each candidate sat alone for fifteen minutes with the four questioners: Joe Solmonese, who heads the Human Rights Campaign, the largest and most mainstream of the gay rights groups, which co-sponsored the debate; Melissa E., who (in case you didn’t know) is not an actual journalist; moderator Margaret Carlson, longtime liberal columnist, formerly at Time, now at Bloomberg News; and Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post editorial page writer.
Obama was up first, poor man, and was pounded with marriage questions, one after another. He’s already stated his position: He favors full-on civil unions, with all of civil marriage’s rights and responsibilities, but not the word “marriage,” since so many people think the word is religious. (See Evan Wolfson’s eloquent points on that issue.) But here’s the problem: The senator didn’t know how to shift his answers. Any good politician knows how to take a bad question and turn it to better purposes. Not Barack, who got a little testy, repeating his same-old-same-old lines about knowing what it’s like to be excluded and noted that, after all, he had mentioned us in “the most important speech of my life” at the Democratic convention. Well, isn’t that special. (Melissa tossed him a nerf ball about inclusion, which he caught. Yawn.) Doesn’t this man have any lesbian or gay advisers who made sure he’d done his homework? Next!