You would think that in their desire to win the White House and control two of the three branches of government the Democratic candidates would be making some effort to differentiate themselves from the Republicans and seize the high moral ground and attract disenchanted voters. When literally handed a golden opportunity to stand up for something meaningful, you would think that they would grab it with both hands.
Well, that golden prize was offered to them in Los Angeles on Thursday and they gawked at it like scared children, covered their asses and ran for safety.
All of the Democratic candidates except for Biden and Dodd appeared Thursday night at a forum held by the Human Rights Campaign and the gay cable network Logo. Questions were asked by noted gay activist and musician Melissa Etheridge, two gay journalists and the director of the HRC. The format was much more formal than a debate, with each candidate coming in separately to answer questions from the panel, with no direct interaction with their opponents.
Not surprisingly, among other questions on gay rights issues, they were asked where they stood on gay marriage. This was their chance to make a statement that would set them apart from the crowd, but what we got from the major candidates was hemming and hawing, half-measures and confusion. What we didn't get was any of the front-runners even coming close to endorsing gay marriage, though the two fringe candidates, Kucinich and Gravel who have little to lose by taking risks, did step up in support. The rest more or less endorsed the idea of civil unions, a position so uncontroversial that it's shared by President Bush and most of the major Republican candidates. Bill Richardson continued his plummet from most promising candidate to biggest disappointment by making an unasked for comment about homosexuality being a choice and then retracting it after the forum was over.
Other questions were handled a bit better, including all of the candidates agreeing that it was time to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military. Hillary Clinton did a reasonable job selling the idea that she had changed her position, despite her uninspiring record which includes a vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. Richardson also turned in an honest but not terribly reassuring defense of his vote for the act on the basis that it was a cynical political tactic to head off an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.