Scroll To Top

View From Washington: Off Message


This week brought some unusually candid talk from several political leaders in our country - not all of which was met warmly.

Former President Jimmy Carter levied the claim that "an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."

That suggestion was then summarily dismissed by an overwhelming portion of Democratic politicians as well as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who couldn't wait to the change the subject earlier in the week.

"The president does not believe that criticism comes based on the color of his skin," he said curtly Wednesday, moving on to the next question.

Carter, ever the unpredictable former leader of the free world, articulated something that until now has mostly been reserved for private exchanges between friends and colleagues, and in so doing, he forced an uncomfortable public conversation. Predictably, the radio talkers and many on the cable news circuit have used his words as an opening to stoke animosity rather than an opportunity for serious national reflection.

As Republicans feigned outrage, Democrats clearly concluded the race factor would be too electorally toxic for them to engage and so they almost uniformly scattered from the grenade that had been dropped into the middle of public discourse.

That's what made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's emotional reflection on the 1978 murders of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk all the more surprising.

"I have concerns about some of the language that's being used because I saw, I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco -- this kind of rhetoric was very frightening and it created a climate in which violence took place," said a glassy-eyed Pelosi, urging people to "curb" their enthusiasms since not everyone responds to vitriolic musings in balanced ways.

Given how hard Democrats had been working to avoid an all-out discussion on race - Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina reportedly implored his colleagues not to broach the subject even as he lead the effort to pass the disapproval resolution against Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson -- I have little doubt that Pelosi's comments, far from being scripted, welled up pure from within.

President Carter's diversion may not have been welcomed by a Party desperate to achieve health reform and Pelosi's comments potentially pushed the issue further, but they did the country the favor of naming a sickening feeling that has been lingering in the gut of a good many Americans.

It was a different type of off-message than what came out of the most powerful openly gay elected official in the nation: Congressman Barney Frank.

Frank stayed as true to character as Carter did this week when he bucked a united LGBT front and launched what can only be viewed as an assault on a DOMA repeal bill that debuted with 92 original cosponsors, plus statements of support from former President Clinton and the original author of the law, former Rep. Bob Barr. The substantial number of cosponsors even took some insiders by surprise. "We didn't anticipate that," said one person close to the situation.

Frank has two major beefs with the bill: 1) he fears the timing of the introduction will distract from other LGBT priorities - hate crimes, ENDA, domestic partner benefits for federal employees, and repealing "don't ask, don't tell" - all of which he says can be accomplished in this two-year Congressional session; and 2) he believes the "certainty provision," which guarantees that the federal government will recognize legally performed same-sex marriages regardless of which state you live in, is strategically problematic.

Mr. Chairman started by declining to cosponsor the bill, then he said, "Given that there is zero chance of this bill becoming law in the near future, it is a mistake to explicitly introduce this crossing state lines issue."

By Friday, he was telling Roll Call newspaper , "I do think it can complicate things electorally for Members ... People will interpret this as exporting marriage."

For anyone hoping the new Respect of Marriage Act (RMA) might gain a little traction this Congress, Frank's statements tilted the toxicity meter. A number of activists lamented that he had given his Democratic and Republican counterparts a perfect reason not to back the legislation.

Just as lawmakers who support civil unions over marriage sometimes offer, "I simply hold the same view as the President," don't be surprised to hear Congressional members who don't sign on to the bill say, "I agree with Barney."

The difference between the Carter/Pelosi brand of off-message and that of Congressman Frank, is that I'm not sure to what good end Frank's remarks come. No one I spoke with, including people in Rep. Jerrold Nadler's and Speaker Pelosi's office, seemed to be taking an RMA fantasy detour away from other LGBT priorities. Judging by her statements, the Speaker appears to be focused like a laser beam on hate crimes and ENDA this year.

As for next year, the fate of "don't ask, don't tell" rests with the will of the Obama administration not a DOMA repeal effort.

And so I am left to wonder, why hamstring a bill that's just getting out of the gate amid a field of horses that are already half way around the track?

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Kerry Eleveld