Comment: The maverick Presidential hopefuls

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For one bright, shining moment last summer, LGBT political activists had a direct impact on the 2008 presidential race in a positive way.

Former Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel was not deemed to be a viable Democratic presidential candidate and therefore was not invited to participate in the historic Visible Vote ’08 Presidential Forum in Los Angeles hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and broadcast on Logo.

That made many LGBT activists and bloggers angry.

After all, the seemingly grumpy old straight white man was only one of two Presidential candidates, the other being Representative Dennis Kucinich, who unapologetically supports marriage for gay people and includes it in his message.

Here’s what he said during the Democratic National Committee Conference last February:

“Since the Second World War, various political leaders have fostered fear in the American people. Fear of communism, fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of people based on race and religion, fears of gays and lesbians in love who just want to get married.

“Fear of people who are just different. It is fear that allows our political leaders to manipulate us all and to distort our national priorities.”

Gravel also supports repealing the military’s antigay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; extending hate crime legislation to include gay people; and decriminalising marijuana, for medical use or otherwise.

He also marched in the San Francisco Gay Pride parade.

Gravel was outraged by the debate snub.

“According to a HRC spokesperson, I didn’t raise enough money and therefore my candidacy did not meet their standard of ‘viability’.

“But that’s strange. CNN, PBS, NBC and the NAACP invited me to their debates without evaluating my financial viability. Ironically I think the real reason why HRC didn’t invite me is that I’m too vocal in my advocacy of gay rights.

“None of the top tier candidates would have been comfortable facing an opponent who consistently points out their refusal to embrace true equality for gays and lesbians.

“HRC simply bowed to the star factor. It’s just a shame that this travesty was perpetrated in the name of the LGBT community. (Dennis, I’ll be rootin’ for ya.),” Gravel said in a press release.

“Yesterday I got an email from a grateful supporter who worried that this snub would make me bitter and less committed to gay rights.

“Far from it, in fact I’m going to rejoin the battle with even more determination to advance the gay rights discussion during the other debates. So stay tuned, because this old soldier has only just begun to fight,” Gravel said. took up the fight and along with scores of other bloggers, some of whom do not support him but were angered by the HRC exclusion, pressed HRC and Logo to allow his participation.

And, far from being the angry old man of previous debates who delights Clinton-haters with his swipes at the Democratic front-runner, Gravel came across as someone’s funny, white-haired maverick uncle who stopped by after the Army-Navy game and confidently asserted that marriage equality will not be an issue in five years.

Gravel was also excluded from the recent Iowa Democratic debate sponsored by the Des Moines Register because he did not qualify with enough money or a campaign office in the state.

But he regularly blogs at the Huffington Post.

In his August 14th post-HRC/Logo forum missive he again swung a hammer at Presidential candidate and New York Senator Hillary Clinton, comparing her to segregationists John Calhoun and Strom Thurmond for supporting states rights to justify her opposition to gay marriage.

“States rights has always been the last refuge of the bigots.

“Now Hillary has given rhetorical cover to the homophobes. If she wins the Democratic nomination, opponents of gay marriage will cite her statement to justify their opposition to national marriage equality over the next decade,” Gravel wrote.

The other funny, white-haired maverick uncle in the race is Libertarian Republican Ron Paul.

His no-nonsense anti-Iraq war tirades during the GOP debates have made him the darling of independents, college students, and grassroots activists who raised $6 million (£3m) over the Internet on December 16th, which, by the way, was the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

About a month and a half earlier, his supporters raised $4.2 million in another 24 hour period.

Paul’s supporters have the intense fury of the activists that drove the political campaigns of Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000.

And, unlike Perot or Nader, Paul is in his 10th term as a Congressional Republican from Texas.

The key to Paul is his absolute fidelity to libertarian principles: no big government, including no Patriot Act, Internal Revenue Service, or Department of Education or Homeland Security; no affirmative action; and no federal ban on same-sex marriage.

“I’m for the individual,” Paul told the Washington Post last June. “I’m not for the government.”

But Paul, a former obstetrician, is also a conservative Christian who is adamantly pro-life, believing that a foetus is a human who possesses legal rights.

He thinks regulations about maternal or foetal health should be handled at the state, not the federal level as Roe. V. Wade holds.

In 2005, he introduced The Sanctity of Life Act, which would define human life as beginning at conception.

That year he also introduced the We the People Act which would have removed “any claim based upon the right of privacy, including any such claim related to any issue of… reproduction” from the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

Neither bill passed. The confusion here is, of course, that the woman bearing the foetus is also an individual whose rights seem less important to Paul than those of the foetus or the state government.

Paul also thinks “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a “decent policy.”

“And the problem that we have with dealing with this subject is we see people as groups, as they belong to certain groups and that they derive their rights as belonging to groups,” Paul said during the June 5th Republican debate.

“We don’t get our rights because we’re gays or women or minorities. We get our rights from our Creator as individuals. So every individual should be treated the same way.

“So if there is homosexual behaviour in the military that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. But if there’s heterosexual behaviour that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. So it isn’t the issue of homosexuality.

“It’s the concept and the understanding of individual rights. If we understood that, we would not be dealing with this very important problem.”

Paul also disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, in which sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional.

In an essay for Lew Rockwell’s website (, he wrote: “Consider the Lawrence case decided by the Supreme Court in June.

“The Court determined that Texas had no right to establish its own standards for private sexual conduct, because gay sodomy is somehow protected under the 14th amendment ‘right to privacy.’

“Ridiculous as sodomy laws may be, there clearly is no right to privacy nor sodomy found anywhere in the Constitution. There are, however, states’ rights, rights plainly affirmed in the Ninth and Tenth amendments.

“Under those amendments, the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards.”

Someone should sponsor a debate over states rights and offer the podiums to Mike Gravel and Ron Paul. Now that would be a debate!

Karen Ocamb © 2007; All Rights Reserved