By Steve Charing
The distant state of Iowa will have a profound effect on who will be our next president. For gays and lesbians the 2008 general election will present an opportunity to elect someone to the White House who is not only gay-friendly, but also possessing the will to enact change.
And hopefully a victory will translate into much-needed influence on Capitol Hill for repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT), nondiscrimination in employment (ENDA) and hate crimes legislation among other issues.
The Iowa caucuses on January 3 will be huge for both political parties but more critical for the Democratic candidates. The key state for the GOP will be South Carolina.
Even though Iowa, a small agricultural, mostly rural state, does not have the election-tipping number of electoral votes (7) that presidential candidates covet during the general campaign, it is ground zero for the nominating process simply because it’s first on the calendar. And being first sets the psychological tone as to who is perceived to be a winner and hence, electable.
During the 2004 election cycle, Gov. Howard Dean was heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination until his fall from grace in Iowa (remember the scream?). Sen. John Kerry’s surprisingly strong showing there led the Party to believe that his decorated military service would prove him electable against the hawkish Republican incumbent. Alas, Mr. Kerry and his campaign advisors fooled us all.
The Democrats face a similar scenario in Iowa with Sen. Hillary Clinton solidly ahead in the national polls, and an Iowa victory will ostensibly seal the deal.
But not so fast.
Sen. Barack Obama has gained some palpable momentum heading into Iowa on the wings of a more aggressive campaign. Currently, he leads both Clinton and Sen. John Edwards in the Iowa polls although it is within the margin of error. But an Obama victory there followed by a strong showing in New Hampshire only a few days later could substantially change the dynamic, and the "invincible" label will be peeled off Mrs. Clinton.
Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, as a gay man, I will support that candidate over any Republican in the field. The GOP offers a group of goofy contenders who basically trip over themselves to show how much they oppose same-sex marriage and the repeal of DADT.
Only Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel favor same-sex marriage, but they aren’t given any chance of capturing the nomination. The other Democratic candidates support civil unions or similar arrangements so that gay and lesbian couples can reap many of the benefits that are accorded heterosexual married couples.
That may fall short of our goals, but it is a monumental improvement over anything the Republican candidates have to offer. Notwithstanding same-sex marriage, all the Democratic candidates maintain gay-supportive stances in varying degrees and have disclosed their positions publicly.
But the key issue in the Democratic primaries and caucuses remains electability.
Should any one of the Republican candidates win the presidency, our hopes for any progress will be dashed for at least another four years. Not only would that person have an anti-gay mindset and would be beholden to the religious right for helping him get elected, he will also be in a position to potentially appoint two more justices to the Supreme Court, who, as expected would be conservative and anti-gay. It would seem like the Second Coming of George W. Bush.
John Edwards might do well in Iowa, but he lacks the fundraising capacity to remain competitive elsewhere. Assuming the two leading Democratic candidates remaining are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I must support Mr. Obama. Keeping in mind the dangers of a Republican win, Hillary, in my view, is not electable.
She has more baggage than a Heathrow Airport luggage carrousel and is not likable—big time hurdles in trying to win an election. The Republicans’ hatred of her husband; her sometimes abrasive personality, her ever-changing policy positions that do not seem to be borne from conviction, and her perceived "liberal" stances are problematic except for those on the left. Hillary is polarizing, as polls already indicate that half the country wouldn’t vote for her under any circumstances. In polispeak, she has too many negatives.
Although the GOP is dispirited, and rightly so, from the incompetent and devastating two terms of the Bush presidency, nothing will fuse them together better than a run at Hillary. They have already amassed an arsenal of smear attacks to do her in.
The far more likable Obama faces the uphill struggle of being an African-American seeking the top job and having limited Washington experience. But I think he can beat any GOP nominee in this weak field, especially if he can knock off Hillary and her mighty political apparatus. He is fresh, he is seeking to effect needed change, and he could garner a majority of the ever-important independent and moderate vote.
Yes, Obama demonstrated insensitivity to the LGBT community when he allowed the so-called ex-gay and now anti-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin to join him on a campaign tour in South Carolina. He did express his disagreement with the views of McClurkin as it pertains to gays and lesbians. And I also understand Obama’s need to share a stage with a popular gospel singer to appeal to gospel-loving African-Americans whose votes he must court and are crucial.
But overall, I do like his positions on gay-related issues as well as the other important issues of our time. I believe Obama is sincere with his religious rationale for not supporting same-sex "marriage," but he has been clear in advocating all the benefits that could be available through civil marriage. Moreover, he not only supports a repeal DADT, but he has been explicit as to what means he will undertake to oversee its demise.
The Republicans already have an appalling record on equality for gays and lesbians and ending discrimination. They have demonstrated that they cannot be counted on to help our cause. Instead, they created a wedge issue like "gay marriage" to bludgeon gays and lesbians and set us back.
While nowhere near perfect, the Democrats provide our best hope. The Democratic nominee must come to terms with the major issues facing the country and articulate solutions. At the same time he or she must be able to duck the mud the GOP is known for slinging. Such a candidate must be strong and electable.
While nothing is definite, I believe the results of the Iowa caucuses will give us a pretty good idea as to who that candidate might be. And personally, I hope it’s Barack Obama. We need to nominate an electable Democrat because we simply cannot afford the risk of another Republican in the White House—for the sake of the lgbt community and the country at large.