Originally the only two panelists for the HRC/Logo Presidential Forum were going to be Joe Solmonese and Melissa Etheridge. It was easy to question their journalistic capabilities since one did not have a professional background in politics or journalism and the other is a lobbyist who has relationships to maintain, so the HRC added Washington Post editorialist Jonathan Capehart to the mix of questioners and Margaret Carlson (a straight woman) as the moderator of the event, and thank the Lord they did.
The word "unimpressive" doesn't really begin to describe Melissa's performance last night. I'm not going to criticize or give her credit for the questions themselves since I'm guessing they were all run by real journalists or activists more intimately involved with the legislation discussed, or even hand-written by the HRC. I don't know. But what I will say is that for a debate that was so pressed for time that it felt a need to exclude one of the candidates , and whose organizers dug their heels in the ground until some very public shaming occurred, Melissa seemed very happy to waste everyone's time with stories about her children, explanations of her Creator, and overall extreme verbosity when it came to any issue of substance.
She called out John Edwards for his supposed "uncomfortable with the gays" comment, which if she had done her research she would have known that he denied, implied that for some reason "lower-income people" have different issues with health care than gay and lesbian couples (issues for the latter can't be addressed with quality universal health care? News to me), and then, of course, asked Hillary if she'd be the same as her husband was. Ugh.
But the worst was when she "fawned" over Kucinich, and used the word "fawn" to describe her feelings for him, and called Gravel "refreshing" right there on the stage. Talk about objective journalism. Instead of fawning over Kucinich, why not ask him why he had such a recent change of heart over a reproductive choice? Or if we're staying away from "women's issues" at this forum, why not ask him why he's apparently disinterested in party-building when it's a necessary part of his fawn-worthy agenda? (Will Republicans the ENDA in Congress if they get a majority and there's a president Kucinich? You bet.)
Could she have maybe asked Mike Gravel if he was going to get the US to accede to the International Criminal Court to help bolster US human rights credibility to fight queer oppression abroad? Instead of, you know, asking him if there are gays in Alaska, could she have asked him what he was going to do about un-coupled people, queer and straight, getting older and not having support systems or resources that people with spouses and children have?
There were things to ask these people and she didn't have to fawn over them.
And then there's Joe. I'm not going to say that the guy isn't smart or that he doesn't know about the issues, but I will say that his chummy relationship with Clinton in the last segment of the debate made me wonder if a professional lobbyist should really be asking these questions. Sure, he did push, but was the push planned beforehand? Was her "very positive about civil unions" quip laid out while planning the debate? I don't know. Maybe it wasn't, maybe he pushed her like he would any other candidate, but we'll never actually know, will we?
And a straight moderator who even said that she had started learning about these issues from Logo three days before? Wasn't there a queer journalist qualified to moderate? To be clear, I think she was great, but since I'm not expecting an openly gay or trans moderator at any other debate (Anderson doesn't count), this would have been a great opportunity for one to get some more screen time. Aren't we supposed to be about supporting the community?
Jonathan Capehart was direct, thoughtful, and good with the follow-ups. To me, he was the refreshing one at the forum.
Marti pointed out that this debate could have been called the "HRC and Logo Presidential Forum on Marriage Equality". I think I'm with her on this one. In fact, I sorted out the questions by topic, excluding minor follow-ups and sticking with the planned ones, and by my count there were 22 questions on marriage or couples benefits in relation to marriage, 2 on HIV prevention, 2 on Don't Ask, 2 on employment discrimination, and 15 other questions on topics that weren't directly related to one another ("How can Kucinich become president?" "Do you think it's a choice?").
I know, I know, marriage is important to a lot of people. But when there are an estimated 670,000 same-sex couples living together in the country and estimates of the number of LGBT people range from 8 to 20 million. That's about
3 to 8% 6 to 16% of the queers in this country, and those couples aren't just worried about marriage-related issues.
It just seems like one small part of the "community" hijacked the debate when there was so much possibility for actually challenging some of the privileges given to couples in this country over single people, the latter a group LGBTQueer people will always be a disproportionately large part of. And it seems like a large waste of time in this debate to get a bunch more "I'm not there yet"s out of the candidates when there were plenty of other important issues to hear about from them (like, say, judicial nominees?).
But, well, this is just a convergence of everything we already knew. Oh, well. As Jasmyne Cannick says: we could do better, but we won't.