After last week's Democratic National Convention, I spoke with Rep. Adam Schiff - the Congressmember who now represents much of the LA County LGBT community from Silver Lake to West Hollywood - about how historic the convention was in recognizing and advancing LGBT rights. Schiff, too, thought the convention was a "tipping point" for marriage equality. He also found a number of other moments moving:
(Rep. Adam Schiff with Joaquin Castro, Mayor of San Antonio after Castro's well-received keynote address. Photo courtesy Schiff's office)
On Wednesday, I was seated between [openly gay VP Chair of the California Democratic Party and Chair of the LA County Democratic Party] Eric Bauman and Garry Shay [the openly gay DNC Super Delegate who devised the Party's LGBT Inclusion Rule] and Garry was saying how blown away he was. We were comparing this convention with four years ago on LGBT issues and he said four years ago you had to fight for there to be any kind of a mention - and there basically wasn't. This year just about every speaker raises it. It's just really incredible.
I had a wonderful time at the convention. I thought superbly well done. And I'm very proud of the party and particularly proud of the party's embrace of marriage equality. It wasn't shied away from - it was proudly a central part of the platform. And the components of many of the speakers and many of the videos and really part of the seamless whole of the convention and I think that's just wonderful. It is such a dramatic contrast from four years ago. I think the country has gone past a tipping point. I was having this discussion with Mark Leno last night - I think the President's speech - not the convention speech but his embrace of marriage equality - was a really pivotal moment. Some have claimed that there was a certain inevitability about that politically. I don't think it was politically inevitable at all. I think it was a courageous thing for him to do and I think it is having a catalytic effect.
With so many extraordinary speeches and videos, I asked Schiff what moments stood out at the convention.
I was expecting that President Clinton and President Obama would give wonderful speeches - and they did. They're two of the most gifted orators of our generation. I think the one that blew me away - mostly because I wasn't expecting it to be so out of the park phenomenal - was Michelle Obama. I think she was the unexpected star of the convention in many ways. And maybe part of it was that I thought many of the best parts of each of the speeches were often the story of how those leaders became the people they are - the back story. So I thought it was tremendously powerful and effective. So that was very memorable to me. The wonderfully methodical case President Clinton made just reminded everyone what an incredible talent he is.
There were a few other moments that I thought were very powerful. I love the video of where "Fired up, Ready to go!" came from. That was fantastic.
The other moment that stands out for me was that video on veterans when that mother who lost her son read that poem she wrote. She recited all the things her son had done when she expected her son to protest - but he didn't. 'I expected you to come home - but you didn't'.
Schiff also talked about that moving moment when former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt, delivered the Pledge of Allegiance:
It was so moving and I was with Barbara Lee (D- Oakland) and Sam Farr (D- Monterey) when she came out on the stage. There were really tears in all of our eyes and for those of us who know here personally and work with her, it was all the more personal and powerful to see her out there and to see that trademark grin and see her determination and to see just how difficult it was for her to just walk out on the stage - but how she is as determined as ever.
I asked Schiff the members of the Platform committee and Convention Chair LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were actually as giddy as they appeared to be when passing the Democratic Party Platform - knowing how historic it was.
I think all of us saw it coming. We knew the Platform Committee was solidly behind it and the delegates were behind it. But nonetheless, even when you see it coming, it's exhilarating when something that historic takes place. And I don't want the subsequent kerfuffle over the other issues to obscure what was a signal historic victory for the Democratic Party.
I also asked Schiff about what seemed like the odd ending with anti-gay Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan delivering the benediction at the end of the convention, noting that most angry LGBT people nonetheless maintained a respectful silence.
His benediction went on for quite some time. And it did seem at times to strike a dissonant chord so I think it did take people by surprise. There was a respectful silence - during benedictions, it's usually not the opportunity to disagree or debate. But it seemed like an odd choice for the convention, to put it diplomatically.
One thing the Republican and Democratic conventions seemed to make very clear was the sharp distinctions between the two political parties, especially for LGBT people. Schiff agreed:
I think that the President's campaign motto this year applies to the LGBT community more so than perhaps any other when the President talks about moving forward and not going backward. Here we've reached this historic tipping point in favor of marriage equality and an end of discrimination in all its manifestations. That is the way forward, that is the path forward. But you look at the Republican Party Platform, you look at what Mitt Romney had to say - and they clearly want to move backward on these issues. So the choice is crystal clear. It's like what President Clinton said: the Republicans have made it clear what they'd like to do and the concern is not that they won't keep their promises. The concern is that they will!
That said, it was unclear to me why going into the DNC convention, President Obama and Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seemed tied as of Labor Day.
Schiff said he thinks people may be reading too much into the closeness of the horse race:
I think the story of this election may ultimately be that it was a non-story that the President started out with a modest lead. In the middle of the campaign, he had a modest lead and on Election Day, he won by a modest margin. The country remains polarized to an historic degree. There have been many things to re-enforce that with the Super PACS and the all-news cable programs that people tune in to have validated views they had before they turned on the TV. So, in that sense, it's not surprise that it's close and really hasn't moved very much.
He could be right. The most recent Real Clear Politics poll graph, which averages out all the reliable national polls, shows Obama with a slight lead with an additional slight lead in the toss-up states. Of course, all of this can change after the debates (the first is Oct. 3) and voter turnout. Presumably, the prominent display of support for LGBT rights and equality at the DNC will help Obama turn out his LGBT and allied base.