Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NOW Takes a Terrific Risk on Lamont; HRC, true to form, backs Lieberman

AP reports that the National Organization for Women's PAC has backed Ned Lamont in his challenge to Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary for Senate. Citing Lamont's strong support of "the full range of feminist issues" including full access to emergency contraception for rape victims, equal marriage, and a swift end to the war (rightly including that as a feminist issue!) as opposed to Lieberman's bizarre support for Catholic hospitals that fail to administer EC on "moral grounds", as well as his failure to join the filibuster against Alito and his membership in the "Gang of 14" who oppose filibustering judges except in "extraordinary circumstances," NOW writes, in words that truly inspire:

The stacking of the courts has emboldened those who wish to turn back all progress in the area of civil rights, privacy rights, and of course reproductive rights. The attack on Roe in South Dakota was predictable and a direct consequence of the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. The strategy to pack the courts with right-wing judges who are committed to overturning Roe is no secret. Yet, Senator Lieberman is one of seven Democrats who have promised not to filibuster any of President Bush's judicial nominees, except under "extraordinary circumstances." Well if packing the Supreme Court with abortion opponents like John Roberts and Samuel Alito is not an extraordinary circumstance, then we don't know what is.

These are precarious times for women. We cannot be satisfied with a senator who votes for women much of the time, or even most of the time. We need courageous leaders who will protect and advance all of our rights all of the time. The winner of this election will have profound influence on national policy which directly affects women and girls in Connecticut, in the nation and throughout the world. We are confident that we have found principled leadership in Ned Lamont and are proud to endorse his candidacy for U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign's PAC has predictably endorsed Joe Lieberman.

"Sen. Lieberman's strong support of fairness for all Americans -- gay or straight -- dates back three decades to a time when few of his peers were standing by his side," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

While I understand the fear by HRC and many groups (such as most of organized labor) in endorsing an untested challenger like Lamont, I especially question why HRC would make this endorsement. Joe Lieberman has consistently failed to support marriage equality. Voting against the Federal Marriage Amendment is not good enough and should not be good enough in a race and a state where support of equal marriage is possible and where a candidate can win with that position. It's also especially troubling after Joe Solomnese's strong statement a few days ago for Howard Dean and the DNC to be "clear and unequivocal" in their support of LGBT equality. But how can the LGBT community hold the Democratic Party to account when it continues to support candidates who vote against their interests?

Full disclosure: Lieberman has been a supporter of the LGBT community, no doubt - co-sponsoring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for one, which in my view is definitely a more important piece of legislation as far as it concerns the rights of all LGBT Americans and not merely those who are priviliged enough to have employment and other benefits that they can give to a spouse. His position on trans rights is less clear, from what I can discern. But when you have an opportunity to help elect a senator who will "protect and support all of our rights all of the time," why would you settle?

It's a revealing endorsement but not an unpredictable one. Ultimately, what HRC values is access to power, and its money certainly does provide it with access. Consistent support of an incumbent like Lieberman, especially when he is facing a tough race, is certainly a way, if he is elected, to help maintain that access. But HRC is never going to lose its access or influence by not supporting people like Lieberman. It would only stand to gain by withholding support in the race, or by coming out strongly for Lamont. HRC already has access, but what good has it been, when the situation of LGBT Americans has for the past decade remained little changed?

The only way the LGBT community is going to win equality is if we build up not our access, but our real political power. If we are unwilling to demand that candidates take the best stands on our issues - especially when it is completely politically possible, as it is in Connecticut - then how will we ever build a pro-marriage, pro-equality majority in either house of Congress?

I'm not even saying that the HRC had to endorse Lamont (though that would have certainly been nice). But in such a high-profile contest, on the same day that NOW is willing to take a stand not only for women but for queers too (because they, unlike HRC, understand that the feminist and queer struggles are inextricably bound up with one another), why does HRC feel the need to use its (unearned) position as the leading LGBT advocacy group to undercut them that same day? There was no need for HRC to endorse in this race, and in doing so they continue to undermine the fight for LGBT equality in this country both by acting against their interests and by alienating key progressive allies gay and straight.


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