Minding the middle; tending to the fringe
One candidate recently said that barring military recruiters from universities is a 'mistake.' Another said 'I'm from a family and from a community with many, many members of many diverse backgrounds, and I'm not going to judge someone on whether they believe homosexuality is a choice or genetic.'
The first was Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, a candidate who simultaneously believes that Congress should repeal the military's policy of excluding open gays. The latter was Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who also expressed the opinion that the pro-gay book for kids, Daddy's Roommate, should be banned from the public library.
This is what happens when the party conventions are over and campaigns begin running toward the political middle. But in close contests, candidates must fight for the middle while hanging on to the fringes.
The down-to-the-wire, razor-thin character of the 2008 presidential contest may explain why Palin seemed to choose her words so very carefully when asked by ABC's Charles Gibbons whether homosexuality is a matter of genetics or choice.
'Oh, I don't—I don't know,' said Palin, 'but I'm not one to judge. And you know, I'm from a family and from a community with many, many members of many diverse backgrounds, and I'm not going to judge someone on whether they believe homosexuality is a choice or genetic. I'm not going to judge them.'
It may also explain Obama's response, when asked during the Sept. 11 forum whether universities that have excluded military recruiters from their campuses should 'invite them back on campus?'
'Yes, I think we've made a mistake on that,' said Obama.
The answer likely surprised those viewers who know of Obama's own hardline position against the military's policy of excluding gays. He obviously anticipated that.
'I recognize that there are students here who have differences in terms of military policy,' continued Obama. 'But, the notion that young people … in any university aren't offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake. That does not mean we disregard any potential differences in various issues that are raised by the students here, but it does mean that we should have an honest debate while still offering opportunities for everybody to serve, and that's something I'm pretty clear about.'
Maybe not. Suddenly, the campaign was hosting a telephone conference call with reporters to 'discuss the failure of Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.' Speaking for the campaign Sept. 17, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., said the positions are 'very consistent' but he sidestepped the question of whether Obama's remarks about recruiters signaled that the candidate believes the military's need to recruit trumps a university's non-discrimination policies. No opportunity for a follow-up was allowed.
A spokesperson for the campaign said the conference call had been planned since the convention in Denver and 'just happened to come up when it did.'
The bean-counters and number-crunchers say the presidential race is simply too close to call, but the national surveys don't count because our presidential elections are decided by electoral votes, state by state. Polls show voters in California, Illinois and Massachusetts are solidly behind Obama; voters in Texas are solidly behind Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Washington state leans Democratic; Florida leans Republican.
But in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and at least three other states, voters are divided enough that even the most daring prognosticator dare not venture a prediction. They ar impossible to call and hold enough electoral votes to tip the balance. So, the candidates can't really afford to alienate the 3 or 4 percent of voters in each of these states who are LGBT.
That may be why the McCain campaign was concerned enough about reports that Palin sought to ban certain books in the public library when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, to counter those reports.
Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the campaign, told the Associated Press last week that Palin only made inquiries—on three occasions—about how the public librarian would handle any effort to ban books. These inquiries, he said, were merely hypothetical and reasonable.
'Gov. Sarah Palin has never asked anyone to ban a book, period,' said the campaign in a statement.
The librarian told reporters she had been quite blunt in her response, telling Palin she would fight any attempt to remove any book from the library. So the fact that Palin required three such inquiries in order to understand the library's policy concerning book removals might suggest to many that Palin may have difficulty handling the much complex matters with which a president is constantly confronted.
Others simply have a hard time believing Palin's inquiries were academic. The author of a book advocating respectful treatment of gay people by the Christian church says he is certain Palin tried to ban his book, Pastor, I Am Gay.
'To believe that my book was not targeted in this is a joke,' Bess told reporters.
And on Sept. 14, the New York Times reported that, in 1995, when Palin was a member of the Wasilla City Council, she told her colleagues on the Council that she noticed the book Daddy's Roommate in the local public library and that she didn't think it should be. The 1994 book, by Michael Willhoite, conveys through pictures and captions to kids between the ages of 4 and 7, what daily activities are like in the household of a child who has two male parents.
Palin's former campaign manager, Laura Chase, said she read the book and told Palin she found it inoffensive and helpful in enabling children to understand homosexuality. Chase said she suggested to Palin that she read the book, too. But Palin, said Chase, 'said she didn't need to read that stuff.'
'It was disturbing,' Chase told the Times, 'that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn't even read it.'
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is making sure LGBT voters have something to read before November. After snubbing all but one gay publication's request for an interview during the primaries, the candidate this month appears to be doing two—one by e-mail with a publisher of Window Media papers ( which include the Washington Blade and others ) and one by phone with Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal. Segal said his interview took place by phone Sept. 16 with Obama and lasted 10 minutes. He declined to provide any details until the interview is published in a number of LGBT papers this week around the country.
An editor's note with the Washington Blade interview notes that the 'campaign … agreed to respond in writing' to questions submitted by Window Media Co-President William Kapfer. The wording of the answers read as if they came from the candidate himself, but a spokesperson for the campaign said, 'The responses were provided by those authorized to speak directly on the senator's behalf.'
In response to a question of whether Obama would decline to nominate a Supreme Court justice or cabinet member who had a history of anti-gay rulings, the responder replies: 'I would have to consider the totality of the candidate's record and qualifications. However, I think someone who has an established record of failing to support equal opportunities for all Americans would not fare well in an Obama-Biden administration.'
The e-mail interview was unable to press Obama on what he would do in his first year as president or whether he believes—as Hillary Clinton argued—that repealing all of the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) might prompt Congress to approve a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Obama said only that he would 'work hard' to repeal DOMA 'as soon as possible' and that, if a Democratic Congress repeals DOMA it 'would not be likely' to pass a constitutional amendment.
The Blade noted that Kapfer is not affiliated with the Obama campaign and has not donated money to anyone running for president. It also noted that it did not receive answers to three questions it submitted: whether his support for full repeal of DOMA amounts to supporting same-sex marriage, how he would handle anti-gay institutions such as the Boy Scouts and whether he would support an effort by Congress to overturn a same-sex marriage law, should it be approved by the District of Columbia.
©2008 Keen News Service