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Why I Don't Care About Gephardt's Lesbian Daughter

Paula Martinac | August 21, 2003

Let's face it: The national Democratic Party is a mess. The glut of presidential candidates - many seemingly indistinguishable from each other and a couple who might as well be Republican - has a lot of us feeling angry, frustrated, and politically voiceless. We also seem to be grasping at proverbial straws, like the often-slight differences the nine Democrats show on this or that gay issue. Disgruntled lesbian and gay progressives should refuse to be pacified by the candidates' checklists of support on our issues and instead push for change within the party so that it has a chance to win.

Frankly, I find all the reports in the press about where the presidential candidates stand on the hot-button topic of same-sex marriage tiresome - and a bit insulting. It's as if lesbians and gay men can't possibly care about anything except the specific interests of our community. We seem to be so caught up in the desire to walk down the aisle that we're ignoring other important aspects of the candidates' platforms.

For example, you undoubtedly know that Howard Dean signed Vermont's historic civil unions bill; but you probably don't know that he supports gun rights and the death penalty, issues of great concern to many progressives. I bet you've also heard that Dick Gephardt has a lesbian daughter; but you might not know that he has a detailed plan for universal health care, one he argues will help boost the economy.

Of course, the fact that many Americans, gay and straight, don't know the Democrats' positions on such important domestic issues has a lot to do with what the media chooses to cover. Much of what we read and hear about the candidates is how many millions of campaign dollars they've been able to rake in. Indeed, fundraising appears to be a primary qualification for the country's top job - almost as if the candidates are applying to be a not-for-profit development director, not the head of state of the most powerful nation in the world.

But there's also the question of what the candidates choose to stress about themselves when given a national platform. I guess Gephardt hasn't had time to advocate for his health-care plan, which actually might appeal to many Americans, because he's been too busy blasting Bush over the administration's Iraq policy. Gripping headlines on Gephardt's website read "Bush Has Left Us Unsafe" and "Gephardt Attacks Bush Foreign Policy as 'Machismo'." In fact, I agree with both of those positions. But since the congressman voted for the war in the first place, his emphasis on its failure simply makes him look to the public like a political opportunist without any ideas.

Amazingly, even after the devastating 2002 midterm elections and the Democratic leadership's promise to learn from the mistakes made then, the national party has not figured out that obscuring traditional Democratic positions on issues like the economy and health care is a losing strategy. Indeed, it's an approach that has either confused or alienated a large number of potential voters, who probably don't see a reason to switch from Bush to someone pretty much like him. Interestingly, the Republicans' recent position on prescription drugs seems to suggest that embracing Democratic issues may, in fact, be a winning strategy.

Among the many things at stake in the 2004 election is the appointment of federal judges and Supreme Court justices who have been so crucial to the struggle for gay rights. But there are also a host of nongay reasons to care about what happens, like the lasting damage that may be done to the working and middle classes if the Republicans continue pursuing their agenda of economic "reform."

Concerned lesbian and gay progressives should be making clear to the party that our concerns aren't just with issues like same-sex marriage, but also with the Democrats' seemingly aimless path. There are a number of openly gay officials at the Democratic National Committee (www.democrats.org) - Treasurer Andrew Tobias, Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council Director Lila Gracey, and Gay and Lesbian Outreach Director Eric J. Stern - who should be hearing that we want (and will financially support) a candidate who's not afraid to run openly as a traditional Democrat.

And we need to get over our anger with the Democrats and become pro-active - participating in local party precincts, where much of the nitty-gritty work takes place, and aspiring to become delegates to the national convention. We can also take an active part in the Stonewall Democrats (www.stonewalldemocrats.org), the national organization of gay party members with chapters around the country, and press for the group to pay as much attention to party reform as they do to the word "Stonewall" in their name.

Paula Martinac is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of seven books and editor in chief of Q Syndicate.

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