Friday, August 10, 2007

A la carte at week's end

Action (and inaction) on a number of fronts:

The ’08 Democratic presidential candidates hemmed and hawed and wriggled and twisted last night, as they took questions at a gay forum in Los Angeles (video here). They dearly want gay votes and gay donations, but the gay marriage issue still scares them witless. A majority of Americans remain cool to the concept, and the Republicans (those exemplars of morality) are poised to pounce on the first major Democratic contender who warms to it.

So last night most of the candidates floated a variety of rationales for their continued opposition:

Hillary Clinton said it was a “personal decision,” although it sounded more like a political science decision when she suggested that all marriage laws should be determined by the state legislatures. (When a Washington Democrat invokes “state’s rights,” you know that it’s a dodge.)

Bill Richardson said it was a pragmatic decision, explaining that “the country isn’t there yet.” (Which means, in translation, that he has no appetite for leading on that issue.)

Barack Obama said, “We should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word ‘marriage,’ which has religious connotation to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples.” (Which suggests, in translation, that he doesn’t want to risk a backlash from people of faith who oppose the concept. That includes many people in the black community.)

And John Edwards, who has been tripping over his shoelaces on this issue since 2003, did it again. He has long suggested that he has personal religious reasons for opposing gay marriage, but last night he decided to dump that argument. He basically apologized for having previously said that his opposition was guided by his faith. In his words, “I shouldn’t have said that.” But if his faith is not the source of his opposition, then what is? He never explained.

But it was Richardson who had the worst moment. When asked whether he believed that being gay was a personal choice or inherent biology, he quickly replied: “It is a choice.”

Ouch. That’s the equivalent of a Republican candidate standing on stage at a Christian Coalition forum, and declaring that religion has no place in the public square.

Richardson knew he had goofed on that one. Shortly after his forum appearance, he emailed this statement: “Let me be clear -- I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice. But I'm not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law…”

You know how the Republican candidates would prefer not to talk about Iraq, because they fear that the issue will hurt them with independent swing voters? For Democrats, gay marriage is the same kind of headache.


In his press conference yesterday, President Bush – always anxious to demonstrate his leadership – declared that he will stand in opposition to the notion that American motorists should pay a few extra cents per gallon of gas, as a way to finance much-needed road and bridge repairs. “That’s not the right way to prioritize the people’s money,” said the guy who is spending roughly $10 billion of the people’s money every month, just to keep U.S. troops entrapped in the midst of an Iraqi civil war.

He basically argued that Congress has had plenty of road and bridge money already, but that Congress has spent it badly. Referring to special-interest earmarks, he complained: “From my perspective, the way it seems to have worked is that each member on that (transportation) committee gets to set his or her priority first…” And he’s right, because that’s how we wound up with “the bridge to nowhere” in Alaska, and other wasteful junk.

But, as usual, Bush omitted a basic empirical fact: It was his free-spending Republican Congress that ran rampant with earmarks over a four-year period (including the bridge to nowhere in 2005), and Bush never said a word about it. Yet now he’s invoking the issue as an excuse for not supporting a hike in the gas tax, which would be the first in 14 years.

But elsewhere in the press conference, Bush gave us the quote of the week. The topic was Iraq: “If one were to look hard, they could find indications that – more than indications – facts that show the government is learning how to function.”

Just one week ago, the largest Sunni political faction walked out of the government, vacating five Cabinet positions. Bush apparently has a flexible definition of "learning."


There might actually be a good reason to track the Iowa Republican straw poll results on Saturday night, despite the fact that you can probably think of 100 better things to do on a summer Saturday night. The wild card, potentially, is the antiwar libertarian, Ron Paul. He may not have the money to buy enough votes in the straw poll tradition, but it’s conceivable that some of his followers might gain entry by stealth - allowing other candidates to pay for their tickets, then declaring their allegiance to Paul.

The Mitt Romney camp is banking on a media boomlet for their man, who is expected to win handily against second-tier opposition. Sharing the Sunday story would Ron Paul would be their idea of a good time.

As for Romney, the sole first-tier candidate at the straw poll, he wins our Mitt Romney Flip Flop of the Week award (a category reserved for him).

Back in February, he said he opposed the crown jewel of the pro-life movement: a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban abortions nationwide. This proposal, known as the Human Life Amendment, has long been a plank in the Republican party platform. But Romney told the National Journal magazine on Feb. 9: “My view is not to impose a single federal rule on the entire nation -- a one-size-fits all approach -- but instead allow states to make their own decisions in this regard.” A week later he repeated the argument on ABC News: “My view is that we should let each state have its own responsibility for guiding its laws relating to abortion.”

Well, apparently Romney was against it before he was for it. Asked again about the Human Life Amendment earlier this week, he told ABC News: "You know, I do support the Republican platform, and I support that being part of the Republican platform.”


And speaking of hypocrisy, let’s update the extracurricular activities on the family-values front. Everything comes in threes:

First we had David Vitter, the family-values GOP senator from Louisiana, exposed as a longtime patron of prostitutes in Washington and Louisiana. Then we had Bob Allen, the anti-gay rights GOP Florida lawmaker, who got busted for offering to pay a cop $20 for the privilege of performing oral sex on the cop…and now we have Glenn Murphy Jr., (until recently) the GOP chairman in Clark County, Indiana, and (until recently) the chair of the Young Republican National Federation.

He’s reportedly under investigation for criminal deviate conduct, after a young associate filed a police complaint alleging that, while he and Murphy were bunking in the same room during a work trip, he awoke around dawn to discover that the GOP chairman was performing an X-rated act upon his person.

The police probe may well last a month or two. Murphy has quit both chairmanships, explaining that he has suddenly discovered some business opportunities worthy of his pursuit. The Young Republican National Federation has erased all traces of Murphy from its website. To paraphrase George Orwell in his book 1984, Murphy doesn’t exist; he never existed.

Back on Sunday.