Que(e)rying The Candidates

Nationally renowned writer, activist, scholar and public theologian Reverend Irene Monroe on the candidates… and where they stand on just about everything.

Depending on which media outlets you tune into for “fair and balanced” reporting on the election campaign’s presidential candidates, Senator Barack Obama can’t do any wrong and Senator John McCain can’t do any right. Or, Obama is spun as an elitist erudite, and McCain’s a swashbuckling maverick. The V.P. hopefuls—Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin—are not spared from the “info-tainment” and insults, either.

While the 2008 election coverage has been nonstop in providing excitement, so much political theater gets exhausting over time. With just under a month before we cast our ballots, the only thing many voters know is that we don’t know what we need to know about our candidates: where they stand on the issues of LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the war, the economy and the environment tend to get lost in the political game of one-upmanship before the camera. But a focused look at their legislative track records tells another story.

Gay Electorate on the Cheap

LGBTQ issues have been on the down-low in this election campaign. Both Log Cabin Republicans and Stonewall Democrats need to clarify why we should stay with political parties that manage to convince us that no time is the right time to push our singular  issues to the forefront, leaving behind matters such as marriage equality.

Marriage is a litmus test not only for those seeking our support but also for our government to honestly say that it grants equal rights to all its citizens. Democracy can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in the rest of society take for granted as their inalienable right. The gap between heterosexual marriage and un-recognized same-sex partnerships include more than 1,100 rights and protections, such as Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation, estate taxes, retirement savings, pensions, family leave and immigration law, to name a few. This election is no different than any other, in that no candidate has attempted to grant these rights and protections under the name of “marriage.”

John McCain voted “No” on a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, but he emphatically believes the institution of marriage is the union between one man and one woman. This old school position is not surprising coming from McCain, but what’s up with Palin, Biden and Obama?

While Palin boasts that some of her best friends are gay, she doesn’t support anything pro-queer—marriage, spousal benefits for state employees of same-sex couples, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), gays in the military, LGBTQ adoption and hate crime legislation. Why not hate crimes? “I believe all heinous crime is based on hate,” she told the Anchorage Daily News.

When asked during the V.P. debate if she supported equal benefits for same-sex couples, Palin gave a provisional “Yes.” “Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman…But I will tell Americans straight up that I don’t support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means.”

The Democratic V.P. candidate’s position isn’t much better. During the debate, Biden stated he would grant same-sex benefits because, “The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted…same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That’s only fair. It’s what the Constitution calls for.” But when asked if he supported same-sex marriage he emphatically stated, “No.”

To confuse matters more, in 1996, Biden supported the Defense of Marriage ACT (DOMA). There are two components of DOMA: First, it says that no state shall be required to recognize the laws of another state in regard to same-sex marriage; second, it defines the words “marriage” and “spouse” in Federal Law. Biden also voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed amendment that would limit marriage to unions between one man and one woman. ‘Scuse us?

But Biden wants the LGBTQ community to know he’s a staunch supporter on all our other issues, including: ENDA, hate crime legislation, LGBTQ adoption and support services for HIV/AIDS. In fact, Biden was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which helped pass the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)—which included a clause that repealed the controversial travel and immigration ban on people living with HIV. And he was also a co-sponsor of the original Ryan White Care Act.

Joe Biden supports lifting the ban on LGBTQ people serving in the military. And in a debate at Saint Anselm College in June 2007, Biden stated “Let me tell you something, nobody asked anybody else whether they’re gay in those foxholes. Our allies, the British, the French, all our major allies, gays openly serve…This is ridiculous.”

Right-wing talking heads may have warned Massachusetts residents that legalizing such an ungodly act as same-sex marriage would not only bring about the death the institution of marriage, but it would also bring about the demise of civilization. Many also said the righteous hand of God would stop same-sex marriage with ugly protests, with town clerks engaging in civil disobedience by refusing to issue licenses, and with last-minute unavoidable and inexplicable legal snafus.

But none of that happened. And guess what—the sky didn’t fall either!

Ugly rhetoric against same-sex marriage is all too similar to this country’s legal battle against miscegenation. And here are the three arguments used: First, like the judges who were against interracial marriage, judges against same-sex marriage have claimed that marriage belongs under the control of the states rather than the federal government. Second, just as anti-miscegenation judges defined and labeled interracial relationships as illicit sex, so too do anti-marriage equality judges. Third, anti-miscegenation judges insisted that interracial marriage was contrary to God’s will.

Now let’s talk Barack. He too has been an “Obama-nation” on marriage equality. As a former civil rights lawyer, the progeny of biracial parentage, and the beneficiary of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court that declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the case of Loving v. Virginia, Obama ought to know better. Yet if there’s one issue he “flip-flops” on, it’s the issue of marriage equality.

Against: He’s cited societal preparedness. “I am somebody who has not embraced gay marriage. I’ve said that it’s not something that I think the society is necessarily ready for. And it strikes me that in a lot of ways for a lot a people, it may intrude in how they understand marriage,” Obama stated on CNN’s Larry King Live in 2006.

Formerly against, later for: He’s cited religion. “I was reminded that it is my obligation not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society, but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided,” Obama wrote in his 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope.

Both: Obama went Shakespearean at the August 2007 HRC-Logo candidates’ forum imvoking, “what’s in a name?” “As I proposed [civil unions], it wouldn’t be a lesser thing [than marriage] from my perspective,” he told the panel. When asked why he supports civil unions and not marriage, Obama said the difference is merely one of nomenclature. “Semantics may be important to some. From my perspective, what I’m interested [in] is making sure that those legal rights are available to people.”

We’ll take all of those rights, nomenclature and all, thank you very much. Marriage equality in this country is one of the prisms through which democracy tends to splinter. Obama may sound like he sees the light, but unfortunately what he stands for is
not equality.

Lipstick Issues

Women’s issues have never been so exciting—and so frightening—in a presidential campaign until this August when McCain picked Palin as his running mate. Viewed by many women Democrats as the G.O.P.’s drag queen, lip-synching the party’s rhetoric, Palin may be the one to do what Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro couldn’t—break through the “18 million cracks” in America’s political glass ceiling. But the moose-hunting, gun-toting hockey mom of five has the worst record on women’s issues of all four candidates, including McCain’s. Even the National Organization of Women has refused to support her.

Palin has a consistent pro-life record. She opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest, and only approves of an abortion if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. In a recent interview on CBS Evening News, Katie Couric asked Palin, “If a 15-year-old is raped by her father, do you believe it should be illegal for her to get an abortion, and why?” Palin replied, “I am pro-life. And I’m unapologetic in my position that I am pro-life… I would counsel to choose life. I would also like to see a culture of life in this country.”

Palin has been applauded for choosing to give birth to her now 4-month-old baby with Down Syndrome, and supported overturning the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.

Her running mate also opposes abortion, but unlike Palin, McCain will bend on the issue if a woman is raped, is a victim of incest or if her health is in danger. Both McCain and Palin oppose “partial-birth abortion” and public funding of abortions and organizations that perform or advocate abortion. If elected, McCain plans to overturn Roe v. Wade stating that he will “nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.”

Biden, a practicing Catholic, personally opposes abortion but has stated, “I don’t think I have a right to impose my view on the rest of society.” Biden has consistently voted in favor of reproductive rights, receiving a 100% voting record three years running from National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL).

Obama has a consistent pro-choice record. He has voted against banning “partial-birth abortion,” and has pledged federal funding for abortion. Obama opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The candidates are all fairly predictable on their sex education stances. Obama supports a comprehensive approach to sex education that focuses on abstinence, but recognizes the need for age-appropriate education to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. He believes “that contraception has to be part of the education process.” Biden voted in favor of spending $100 million to fund contraceptives and education in order to reduce teen pregnancy. McCain and Palin, however, advocate for increased funding for abstinence-only programs, and cutting funding for family planning and teen pregnancy prevention programs. Palin goes as far as to oppose teaching children about any form of contraception in schools. In reality, that hasn’t worked too well for her: In case you haven’t heard, Palin’s unwed 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.

With women earning only 77 cents for every full-time workingman’s dollar, pay equity is still a huge issue. Women’s wage gaps continue to undervalue our work regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, educational status and occupation. When H.R. 2831, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was introduced, Obama and Joe Biden supported the bill, while McCain did not. Palin has made a public statement that she agrees with McCain’s refusal to support the H.R. 2831 bill. Obama, on the other hand, has introduced the Fair Pay Restoration Act, an act that allows victims of pay discrimination to sue. McCain did not support this act.  Obama and McCain both propose to invest in women-owned small businesses (WOSB) by enacting more policies to reduce discrimination in lending practices. Both passed Senate Bill S 3077 Strengthening Tran-sparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008, which would publicly disclose all recipients of federal funding and financial assistance.

Astonishingly during the Biden/Palin debate, women’s issues were scantly touched on. And if you were not listening closely you would have missed this topic all together. More amazing was that the moderator, PBS’s Gwen Ifill, a noted African-American female journalist, never broached the topic head-on by asking the candidates questions concerning women. Only Biden briefly mentioned Roe v. Wade. And though Biden authored the Violence Against Women Act, he did not take the time to stress the significance of the bill.

It’s the Economy, Stupid!

In the face of financial Armageddon, the economy has finally become the center of the campaign.

Obama’s economic stimulus plan would enact a windfall profits tax on excessive oil company profits, giving families an immediate $1,000 emergency energy rebate. His plan would also create a $25 billion State Growth Fund to prevent state and local cuts in health, education, housing and heating assistance, or increases in property taxes, tolls or fees. Biden would restore U.S. competitiveness through increased funding in education and infrastructure. And to pay for this, he would re-appropriate Defense Department funds by ending the war in Iraq.

While Obama’s plan would put money into consumers’ pockets, help boost the economy, and reduce the country’s dependence on oil, some of his measures could potentially be harmful for the economy. For example, adding too many labor safeguards to trade agreements may force some corporations to relocate outside the U.S. Overall, however, Obama’s plan will help address important economic issues, including relieving income inequality and reliance on foreign oil.

McCain’s economic stimulus plan would lower the corporate tax rate from 37 percentto 25 percent. But to successfully fund the reductions it would have to be with dramatic cuts in “pork-barrel spending,” like the 10,000 local projects that total over $10 billion, which Bush recently signed in legislation. As a stimulus measure, McCain would repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which cost middle class families nearly $60 billion a year. What’s AMT? When it was discovered that many wealthy individuals paid no taxes at all because they had tax deductions not available to the average taxpayer, the AMT was created to factor back in those deductions and apply a higher tax rate to wealthy individuals. McCain wants to do away with that.

McCain advocates free trade. He wants to lower barriers in order to level the global playing field and increase enforcement of existing trade agreements. McCain also wants to retrain American workers to make us more competitive. McCain has proposed to balance the budget by the end of his first year in office, an ambitious goal not necessarily supported by his economic platform.  McCain’s call to reduce government spending is laudable, but the devil is in the detail, which McCain has yet to reveal.

Palin’s economic principles were demonstrated in Alaska. As mayor of Wasilla, she cut property taxes 60 percent. As governor, she sold a $2.1 million corporate jet bought by her predecessor, and cut $231 million from Alaska’s $550 million capital budget. She might know a thing or two about budgets, then again, the $256 million in federal earmarks she requested in her first year as governor may have had something to with her perceived successes. And don’t forget that the town of Wasilla went into deficit due to the building of a $15 million hockey rink, during a period when rape victims had to pay for their own forensic kits.

To Air or Not to Err

Very few Americans are breathing easy today with spiked fuel bills and the devastating effects of global warming. Environmentalists are trying to come up with viable solutions. Our candidates have weighed in on the issue too. But not all of them are environmentally friendly.

Believe it or not, Obama and McCain agree on some similar initiatives to solve our environmental troubles. For example, both Obama and McCain support a cap-and-trade system to phase out greenhouse gas emissions by factories, and expansion of liquefied coal and ethanol energy technology. Both oppose oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and agree that humans contribute to global climate change.

They differ, however, on Cheney’s 2005 Energy Bill, which included huge tax giveaways to oil companies with record revenues. Obama actually supported the bill, while McCain opposed it. Obama supported another law requiring 25 percent of U.S. energy to come from renewable sources by 2025, but McCain opposed a similar federal law. McCain also opposed the 2007 Energy Bill written by Democrats, which mandated improved vehicle fuel economy standards by 2020. Obama supported the bill. And Obama did not join McCain and 44 other Republican and Democratic senators in urging the Environmental Protection Agency to draft stricter mercury restrictions.

Biden is a big supporter of biofuels and renewable energy. He opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and takes a cautious approach to increasing our reliance on nuclear energy.

Palin is considered an environmentalist’s worst nightmare. She does not believe climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are man-made. Palin supports expanded drilling in Alaska, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She opposes listing polar bears as species threatened by the effects of global climate change, and she promotes the expansion of oil and gas usage.

Going After the Evildoers

McCain defines terrorism as “violent Islamist extremism,” with Al Qaeda as the primary source. McCain believes Al Qaeda is a significant threat to U.S. security and the world. His solution advocates for greater military capabilities, such as missile defense and an increase in the number of troops.

Like McCain, Biden supports an assertive military response to Al Qaeda. He agrees that there is a significant threat of global terrorism against the U.S.

Obama, however, views the “war on terrorism” as concerns of human and civil rights issues. He opposed the passage of the Military Commissions Act in September 2006, which granted the Bush Administration unbridled latitude to define what would constitute the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

McCain has always supported the war in Iraq. Biden initially did, but later recanted, and in April 2008, said the troop surge was a failure. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War is not only well-known, but is consistently reiterated in every speech. Though his position won him the trust of anti-war voters, his anti-Iraq War stance has weakened. In July 2008, Obama announced his grand plans to begin withdrawing the troops in 16 months, but he has since back-pedaled. On The O’Reilly Factor in September 2008, Obama admitted that the troop surge was a success. Biden stated during the V.P. debate that the surge worked but our government is spending too much money on the Iraq war and that it’s time for the Iraqis to “begin to take their own responsibility and gradually, over 16 months withdrawal.”

Where is Palin on the war on terrorism? She disagrees with Obama and Biden: “Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq, and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure…We’ll know when we’re finished in Iraq when the Iraqi government can govern its people and when the Iraqi security forces can secure its people.” Well, if the evildoers cross our borders via Alaska while she’s out moose-hunting, don’t worry, the girl can shoot.

So, where are we?

This depends on how these issues will drive your vote. I am voting for Obama not because I believe in his rhetoric of change, but merely because I just need a change.

A native of Brooklyn, the Reverend Irene Monroe is a graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University. She re-ceived her doctorate from Harvard Divinity School. Monroe writes “The Religion Thang”, for New England Blade, “Faith Matters” for the Advocate, and “Queer Take”, for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal, and Black Commentator. As a nationally renowned African American lesbian activist, scholar and public theologian her writings have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Bay State Banner, Cambridge Chronicle, and Metro News. Her award-winning essay, Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia, was greeted with critical acclaim. Reverend Monroe has also been profiled in Oprah Magazine, and recently on CNNs “Paula Zahn Now”, and “CNN Headline News.” Monroe’s profile in the Gay Pride Episode of “In the Life TV” were the segment on me was nominated for an educational Emmy. Monroe has received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching. irenemonroe.com

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