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Endorsements from abroad

6 November, 2012 Leave a comment

In considering who to declare our support in US presidential elections, even those of us who do not have a vote at all put ourselves in the position of a voter in the tipping point state, in this case calculated by Nate Silver to be Ohio. This is all-in-all quite a restrictive parlour game.

Like most others watching this election, I have a clear preference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to start a presidential term on 20 January. But this preference should not mean that we approach the given candidate obsequiously, nor that I believe that therefore all Americans should vote for that candidate. Let us judge the candidates fairly, and consider this a time for a review of Obama’s term of office to date. As foreign observers, who are not Democrats or Republicans, we should the question of which candidate we prefer more disinterestedly than I think becomes the norm. Even in our own countries, we shouldn’t end up thinking about our support for political parties in the way of a sports fan following their team, but there is much less of a cultural excuse for it watching from afar.

I supported Barack Obama ahead of the vote four years ago. What has occurred since that could lead me to change my view of him?

My criticism of President Obama is based on his policies in the conduct of war and the protection of civil liberties. While this is something that I have paid attention to from a number of sources over the last year, such as Glenn Greenwald and Conor Friedersdorf, I recently read Gene Healy’s False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency, which catalogues the increasing powers of the presidency under President Obama. As the name suggests, Healy is not an alarmist who believes that this is in any way unique to Obama, but rather that this is a continuation of a trend he explored in great detail in The Cult of the Presidency, written towards the end of President George W. Bush’s time in office. For example, on the question of healthcare, why should we be surprised that Obama sought to do what every Democratic president since Truman also did.

But on the question of civil liberties in particular, Obama has not governed as he campaigned. Most prominently, he has not closed Guantanamo Bay. But while that may be ascribed to the lack of Congressional support, this cannot be said in other areas. Healy quotes New Republic legal affairs editor Jeffrey Rosen as predicting in February 2008 that Obama would be the “first civil libertarian candidate”. Yet by 2010, policy analysts of contrasting perspectives were admitting how things had changed from that perspective. James Carafano, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, described Obama’s security programs as Bush clones, while Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Union for Civil Liberties, was quoted as being disgusted by Obama’s policies on civil liberties and national security issues.

George W. Bush was rightly and widely criticised for instituting indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. Yet the voices of criticism have been much softer since it was revealed earlier this year that Barack Obama had what has been dubbed a ‘kill list’, under which people identified as terrorist combatants, including American citizens, have been targeted for elimination by drones. This involved the death of a 16-year-old American citizen, which a spokesperson for the Obama administration defended. Of course a state must protect itself from attack, but not at the cost of the abandonment of jury trial after centuries of practice. And Obama has bended the constitutional requirement to require Congressional approval for war, aside from a direct attacks. ‘War’ has been redefined to exclude situations where no American soldiers are at risk, so that a foreign country can be bombed without the need for approval. He approved a National Defense Authorization Act, considered worse than infringements on civil liberties than under Bush.

Given this glimpse into these abuses of his power, I find the continuing fawning attitude towards Barak Obama a bit much, especially from those watching from outside the United States. There is no need to us to view their foreign policy in any way but critically, or to fret fearfully that such criticism would lead to a worse alternative in office. It really isn’t a good enough excuse to point out that Mitt Romney would be worse.

Because there is no reason to expect that Romney would not worse in many such respects. The saving grace from the point of view of conduct of war with the likely re-election of Obama is that Democratic-leaning civil libertarians will feel more comfortable being critical of him, and if his record does not improve, and that it could start a movement that is not based around an individual politician as was the case with Obama in 2007 and 2008, but around a set of ideal and principles.

As well as his likely policies on civil liberties and the conduct of war, Mitt Romney would win the presidency as the standard-bearer of a Republican Party that isn’t at all shy about showing its nasty party, and while some like to imagine that he would govern as a moderate, he has made it very difficult to allow himself to move away from hard-line positions on social questions. He has donated to the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against equal marriage across the United States, and the group have charted his record on this count favourably. In his time as Governor of Massachusetts, he had a poor track record on a range of LGBT issues, whether in education or with families of gay couples. It would be a marked shift for gay people from the first president to have declared his support for equal marriage in office; as would Paul Ryan be a shift from a vice president in Joe Biden who recently described transgender discrimination as the ‘civil right issue of our time’.

Those who dream of a ‘Moderate Mitt’ recall his time as governor of Massachusetts, where he co-operated with Democrats. But there he had to, given the scale of their majority, and he was not working with a Republican Party driven at a national level with a particular agenda. We should expect the Republicans to retain their majority in the House, and there is no reason to expect that Romney as president would in his own right moderate their actions, tho this may occur with a majority-Democratic Senate.

Romney seems a comfortable leader of a party that tacks to extremes, which ostracizes those such as Indiana Senator Richard Lugar for co-operating with Democrats on standard bills, in favour of a candidate in Richard Mourdock who went on to discuss a pregnancy from rape as part of God’s plan; as well as the most famous incident of Todd Akin, there is also Rick Berg, Senate candidate in North Dakota, who proposed a bill that would give a life sentence to women who avail of abortion, whatever the circumstances; Romney also supports the tenor of many of the most extreme policies against immigrants, even if partially moderated during the debates.

I do think these things matter, even for us here, because of the United States position as a within the western cultural world.

While the jibes at Romney’s wealth during the campaign might have been amusing, they were not relevant to his ability to govern. What is relevant is the contempt he showed for those below a certain income by saying that the bottom 47% saw themselves as victims.

Could Obama have done a lot better on the economy? Probably, but on the one hand I don’t trust the instincts of a man looking for a trade war with China, and on the other, while it was disappointing that Obama didn’t embrace the reforms proposed by the Simpson–Bowles Commission, I do think that could be a likely outcome to the deadlock of an Obama second term with a Republican House and a Democratic Senate.

So what am I hoping for with tonight’s result? I would like to see Obama re-elected as president. Yet his record in foreign policy, the war on terror and related matters are such that I would also like to see a strong vote for decent third-party candidates outside of swing states. Most Americans do not live in a state that the candidates consider worth spending time or resources, such that MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who has lived in Massachusetts, New York and California, urged voters to support third-party candidates where it makes sense.

O’Donnell discusses here two issues which were covered in the debate between Dr Jill Stein of the Green Party, Gov. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Mayor Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, those of the drug war and indefinite detention of American citizens suspected of terrorism. On many such issues, the first three at least felt like they could have been comfortable in a debate between European political parties, and as a European observing the powers wielded by what is still the world’s most powerful country, I have no issue judging the election on such a standard, given that such voices do exist in the United States.

There are two of these minor candidates on the ballot in nearly every state, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party. Between those, I would favour Johnson. It is rare that a minor party candidate has significant relevant experience, and Gary Johnson served two successful terms as Governor of New Mexico, from 1995 to 2003. In economic terms, while I would not favour the extent of the swingeing cuts Johnson proposes, I would be happier to give a nod to that than to the skepticism to free trade of the US Green Party.

Were I an American, active in a Political Action Committee, this might be a hard stance to negotiate, to endorse Obama for president, but a vote for Johnson in most states. Not an impossible one, to be sure, but definitely one that it simpler from Ireland, as I’ll be watching results come in over the course of the night.

Other ballots and contests

And there will be other votes too. One of my earliest posts on this blog was about the 2009 vote on equal marriage in Maine, and what we can learn from it here. Maine is voting again tonight on the same question, and between it, Washington and Maryland, we are likely to see at least one state vote in favour of equal marriage. This will be highly significant, as they would be the first in the world to allow equal marriage by popular vote, and instructive for us here, as we are likely to have a campaign on it in the coming years.

Also from a gay point of view, I hope to see Tammy Baldwin elected as Democratic Senator for Wisconsin, defeating former Governor Tommy Thompson. She would be the first openly gay US Senator. There’s Richard Tisei, vying for a House seat in Massachusetts, who would be the first Republican openly gay on his election. And another Republican who I’d like to see in on similar grounds is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Florida, the only Republican member of the House to support the Respect for Marriage Bill.

In nearly all other cases, I’d imagine that I’d be rooting against the Republicans, tho I sure there are some honourably exceptions. I’m indifferent, for example, in the case of Linda McMahon, Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut. While not the best of them, I think the Republican caucus better for having some of the old Yankees within it. I might have classed Scott Brown in that mould before he named the reactionary Antonin Scalia as his model Supreme Court judge. And of course you’ll always find a smattering of races where the Democrat would be just clearly far worse, such as in Tennessee, where local Democratic party disowned their nominal candidate Mark Clayton, after his work with an anti-gay hate group came to light.

Gays and Republicans

30 August, 2012 Leave a comment

The Republican Party Platform remains as virulent as ever, if not stronger still, in its opposition to allowing gay or lesbian couples to marry. To give context, I have quoted these sections in full at the end of this piece.

The platform attacks the judiciary and the president for their actions, and affirms the party’s commitment to an amendment to the US Constitution which would define marriage as between a man and a woman, thereby overturning laws in six states which currently allow equal marriage. It also refers to social experimentation, a reference to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, allowing gay soldiers to serve openly. These sections were effectively written by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. The most the disappointed Log Cabin Republicans could secure was the line, “We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity”, which means little in the context of the previous passage.

Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and an advisor to Gov. Mitt Romney on immigration, defended these sections by comparing it to government regulation of behaviour like drugs and polygamy.

This is not just a party which is not yet on board, whose leaders are still evolving, where members have different points of view. It is one whose default position is organised opposition at every level to difference of opinion on the question. Gov. Mitt Romney, who in 1994 claimed to better than Ted Kennedy on gay rights, signed the pledge to support such a Federal Marriage Amendment from the National Organization for Marriage

And yet, in New York, New Hampshire and Washington, equal marriage exists in these states because of the support of certain Republican legislators. The party is not absolute either in its position. The Respect for Marriage Act, has one Republican sponsor, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. And there are two groups of gay members of the Republican Party, the Log Cabin Republicans, founded in 1977, and GOProud, founded in 2009.

The Log Cabins put a much greater emphasis on equality for LGBT people than GOProud do. The former lists “Protecting LGBT families” and “Freedom to Marry”, where GOProud make no direct reference in their headline points in their ‘What We Believe’. The Log Cabins refused to endorse President George H. W. Bush in 1992 or President George W. Bush in 2004. They have yet to make an endorsement this year. They played a part in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, suing the US in a federal lawsuit.

GOProud could crudely be described as Tea Party response to the Log Cabins. They proven themselves much more likely to emphasise issues other than rights for gay people in their endorsements. In the primary for the California Senate in 2010, they endorsed Carly Fiorina, who had supported Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in the state, as against Tom Campbell, who had penned a piece calling for a No vote in that ballot, and who was promoted by the libertarian magazine Reason, so no fan of big government. They have already endorsed Mitt Romney.

I think the Republican Party is definitely better for having the Log Cabin Republicans within it. They serve as a touching point for the still small but growing number of prominent Republicans who are speaking out for equality, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, now out former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, Colin Powell, Bush Solicitor-General Ted Olson, Mayor of San Diego Jerry Sanders. With the new group, Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, they took out ads leading up to this week’s Republican National Convention, and they are adding to the conversation within the Republican Party. I’m not so sure I could say the same of the GOProud, who effectively send the message that while questions of marriage are worth talking about, taxes will always trump protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Republicans in favour of equality are definitely worth supporting. American Unity was formed earlier this year by a Republican donor with a gay son, and is funding candidates it believes worthy of support.

Because I would like to support the Republican Party (from afar in my case, of course). But I can’t. It is an unreasonable compact to ask someone to make, to support a party that will denigrate their fundamental personal relationships, prey on unfounded concerns, because they will improve people’s financial lives. It is a compact that some rich an well connected gay people can live with; whether equal marriage is five or fifteen years away for them, they don’t suffer or feel the social and economic consequences of so many gay people because of this legal inequality. And I don’t say this even as one who thinks a party’s position on gay rights should be the determining factor in whether to vote for or join a party, or I would not be in Fine Gael.

As with the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is and always has been a coalition. Within the Republican Party, these are crudely characterised as being between the fiscal hawks, religious conservatives and military hawks. What this misses is how the party targets the fears of poorer voters on social issues through a process of misdirection. Where the Republicans stand on gay rights resonates most with me because I’m gay. But there is more that is wrong with them. Take for example their very poor track record on immigration, as seen in recent laws in Arizona and Alabama. Rather than focus on the benefit of immigrants brining diverse skills and ideas to a community, they spin a protectionist story that has not helped these states economically. This year’s platform endorses these measures, a stark contrast from their 1960 platform when Richard Nixon ran for the first time, which for an increase in immigration.

The Republicans could have been a party that would make a strong moral and efficacious argument for the market and individual liberty. There are elected representatives and activists who do hold firm to these values. There are many with a view miles apart. But perhaps worse are those who assume a veil of prejudice because it is politically convenient.

Not that there is no hope with the Republican Party. On the question of equality for gay people, it does take a long view. Former Congressman Jim Kolbe, who was outed as gay while in office, believes that this is the last time the Republican platform will take these anti-gay positions. He could be right. If either Maine or Washington vote in favour of equal marriage at the polls in November, they will become the first state to do so by popular vote. That will change things, making it clear that there are votes to be lost. Perhaps a candidate like Gov. Mitch Daniels could take a stance similar to that of Barack Obama in 2008, when he stated that he was against same-sex marriage, but would vote No to Proposition 8 in California. But it’s a lot to expect.

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Great News: President Barack Obama openly supports equal marriage for gay couples

It is great news that President Barack Obama again holds the position he held in 1996, saying, “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” (with video here). Having publicly opposed equality in the intervening years, it is a major statement that he joins Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on the side of equality. Whether or not this was prompted by Vice President Joe Biden’s comments on Sunday, he is stating what most presume he believed, but it makes a difference that he sees it politically possible to do so.

 

With national opinion polls showing majorities in favour of equal marriage, there was no reason left for him to pretend not be on the right side of history on this question. Most imagined that a year or two into his second term, that he would announce that his position had finally evolved to support equality for gay and lesbian families. But he could reasonably have been accused of political cowardice; this way, he enters his second term clear on this policy.

Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post has analysed the political implications, predicting that there will be some downside for him on this. I’d broadly disagree. I think most Americans for whom opposition to equality in marriage is a salient issue would already be voting against Obama. He has made a commitment to equality for gay people part of his first term, from not defending the Defense of Marriage Act to his part in the end of Don’t Act Don’t Tell in the military. Some may point to polls against equality in swing states; what matters though, is for how many wing voters in these states is this a swing issue. Ultimately, no one should have been in any fundamental doubt about where he was on the spectrum.

For politically cynical among the Democrats, this will help his funding, bring out some voters, and stop others from who voted for him in 2008 casting votes instead for the Libertarian, Green or Justice Party candidates. But it will also force Mitt Romney to talk about this issue, which he really doesn’t want to do, but has signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge to support a Federal Marriage Amendment, banning same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I think the advantage in this regard would have been greater still had Obama announced this during the primaries, while Rick Santorum would have been there do highlight the religious fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party. On the whole, I think the political implications of this are marginal, though Obama may lose North Carolina.

Someone remarked to me yesterday evening that Obama in 2008 will presumably be the last time a Democratic candidate for president to be publicly opposed to allowing gay couples to marry. Could we see 2016 as the equivalent election for Republicans? Given the strong trend which is only gathering momentum, it wouldn’t surprise me, though I would certainly say so in the case of 2020.

Again, back to Barack Obama last night, this is indeed great news. This is not just about the electoral cycle. It is about every gay person in the United States, particularly those in difficult situations because of their sexuality, who knows that the president is a clear ally, finally the fierce advocate he promised he would be. And this will change minds. There are people till yesterday who could say to themselves that domestic/civil unions/partnerships must be all right, as it was the position of even Barack Obama. Now they will have to think again. This will change culture, which is just as important as changes in the law, the one complementing the other. The United States is a good few steps away now from achieving proper equality for all its gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender citizens. But with POTUS on board, it has moved a major step in that direction.

If Gingrich dropped out

14 March, 2012 3 comments

Rick Santorum did better last night than polling expected, winning the primaries in both Alabama and Mississippi. In only one of eight polls on Nate Silver’s blog was Santorum ahead in Alabama. Between them, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were expected to win these, where a sweep for one candidate or a split between them. Although Gingrich has had a poor campaign, his political base since 1979 has been in nearby Georgia, which he won on Tuesday, 6 March.

In the end, the results were:

Alabama: Santorum 35%, Gingrich 29%, Romney 29%, Paul 5%

Mississippi: Santorum 33%, Gingrich 31%, Romney 30%, Paul 4%

Now the tally between the states stand at 15–9–2 to Romney–Santorum–Gingrich. Romney has neither a convincing enough lead nor the momentum to to force the others out, so will muddle on.

Had Gingrich dropped out two weeks ago, we could have been looking at a 14–10–1 split instead; this assumes that most Gingrich voters would have voted for Santorum in Ohio, which Romney won by less than 1%, and in Georgia.

We’re looking at a similar situation now. The next state up is Illinois, this coming Tuesday, and the latest polling shows Romney 35%, Santorum 31%, Gingrich 12% and Ron Paul 7%. New Gingrich is talking more about stopping Mitt Romney and less about becoming the next president of the United States. But he still intends to carry on to the Republican National Convention Tampa, Florida on 27–30 August.

If Gingrich did pull out, and Illinois Republicans voted for Santorum, Romney would be seriously damaged. Still more likely to be the nominee, but less likely than he is right now. It would be a one-on-one race between Santorum and Romney (with Paul picking up votes that would probably not otherwise go to either in the primaries). But with Gingrich’s sense of self-worth, seeing votes come in for his name as a candidate for president probably means more to Newt than damaging Romney’s chances. As it is, he serves simply as a spoiler for Romney.

Mr Burns and Ayatollah Khamenei for US President

4 March, 2012 2 comments

First Foreign Policy gave us a Who said it? quiz with statements from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, and from Rick Santorum, Senator for Pennsylvania, 1994–2006 and second-place candidate in the ongoing Republican presidential primaries, from Foreign Policy. I guessed two of these wrong, it’s tough enough to discern one from the other.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rick Santorum

Now Mad Magazine presents us with a similar quiz, with the front-runner in that primary race:
Who Said It? Mitt Romney or Mr. Burns?

Romney and Paul, 2008 and 2012

8 February, 2012 Leave a comment

I was wrong in my assumption that states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2008 would be likely to vote for him again this year. At the outset of the primary and caucus season, I had thought that with wins in all states bar South Carolina, the race could finish up even before Super Tuesday on 6 March. However, his positioning in the race relative to the other candidates is different; where in 2008, he was a conservative to the right of perceived moderate frontrunner John McCain, this year he is the one perceived as the moderate frontrunner. So it eventually emerged that Romney had lost very narrowly in Iowa to socially conservative former Senator Rick Santorum, and lost night lost in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, putting the current score at 4–3–1, to Santorum–Romney–Gingrich.

So between the two candidates who also contested in 2008, here’s how they compared:

State Paul Romney
2008 2012 +/− 2008 2012 +/−
Iowa 9.9% 21.4% +11.5% 25.2% 24.5% −0.7%
New Hampshire 7.8% 22.9% +15.1% 31.6% 39.3% +7.7%
South Carolina 3.6% 13.0% +9.4% 15.3% 27.9% +12.6%
Florida 3.2% 7.0% +3.8% 31.0% 46.4% +15.4%
Nevada 13.7% 18.7% +5% 51.1% 50.0% −1.1%
Colorado 8.4% 11.8% +3.4% 60.1% 34.9% −25.2%
Minnesota 15.7% 27.2% +11.5% 41.4% 16.9% −24.5%
Missouri 4.5% 12.2% +7.7% 29.3% 25.3% −4%

There is at best then quite an imperfect correlation between these candidates’ support between the two years. Perhaps the biggest difference for Romney is the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, modelled in part on the health care plan implemented by Mitt Romney while Governor of Massachusetts.

The victories yesterday did not allocate convention delegates, but were yet an indicator of Mitt Romney’s waning fortune in his position as frontrunner. He’s still most likely to be the nominee, but it will take longer to establish this than I presumed at the start of the year.

Are the victories by Rick Santorum an indication that cultural issues are playing a bigger role in Republican voters’ minds? Some recent events may shift their minds to such issue, between the Ninth Circuit ruling invalidating Proposition 8 in California (which I obviously welcome), and the mandate requiring all employers, including religious organizations, to provide contraceptive services (which I would be less enthusiastic about). While these issues may make Romney feel required to have a clearly conservative running mate, but I can’t see it gaining the party many votes this year.

Obama should support equal marriage in his State of the Union address

24 January, 2012 2 comments

This is not 2004. In that year, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favour of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, the first US state to allow this. It was only a year after Lawrence v. Texas, in which the US Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws in 14 states. In that year’s presidential election, the Republican incumbent George W. Bush proposed a Federal Marriage Amendment to amend the US Constitution to define marriage as between a man and and a woman, prohibiting states from enacting laws to contrary effect. It would have been the second Amendment to restrict the freedoms of US citizens, the first being the 18th Amendment in 1919, introducing prohibition (repealed in 1933). President Bush’s Democratic opponent, John Kerry, a Senator from Massachusetts, supported civil unions, while opposing both equal marriage and any proposal to define marriage at a federal level. Referendums to amend state constitutions to define marriage as only between a man and a woman appeared on the ballot in a number of states in November 2004, driving up conservative turnout, and contributing to the vote of Bush against Kerry, in what was a close election.

But a lot has changed in those eight years on the issue of gay marriage. Then it seemed destined to be a nice feature of certain liberal enclaves, whether in the US or in Europe. Now it seems an inevitability, only a matter of time across most of the developed world. Last year, public tracking polling by Gallup showed for the first time that a majority of Americans supported legal gay marriage, with 53% in favour and 45% against. The figures in 2004 were 55% in favour, and 42% against. The figures in 2004 were 42% in favour and 55% against, and they remained steady till last year. An annual tracking poll should be reliable, but in case it looks too sudden to be credible, it was corroborated by similar figures from the Washington Post (53%) and CNN (51%).

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