Back during the budget standoff of 1995, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich faulted then-President Clinton for not meeting with him while both traveled together on Air Force One to (and from) the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, commenting, “This is petty. . . . You’ve been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off the plane by the back ramp.”
His criticism notwithstanding, the Speaker’s own words made him look petty. Instead of fuming about the exit he was required to use, he should simply have said, “If the president were serious about ending the budget impasse, he would have talked to Senator Dole and myself while we were together on the plane for such a long time.” Gingrich’s ill-considered remark not only helped Clinton strengthen his hand in the budget negotiations, but also allowed that Democrat to better position himself for his reelection campaign the following year.
Because of Gingrich’s remarks, no one (outside conservative political and media circles) paid much attention to Clinton’s intransigence, his failure to negotiate with Republican leaders in good faith — or even to meet with them while on the plane. One unfortunate remark would come to define the Republican position in the contentious budget negotiations that year.
So, I fear will New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s comment that homosexuality is a “choice” come to define his attitude on gay issues. Despite the Democrat’s efforts at “damage control,” as the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund wrote in OpinionJournal Political Diary (available by subscription),”the damage is done.” The Washington Post reports that gay rights’ activists were “frustrated” by the comment. Blogger Pam Spaulding believes Richardson “self-immolated . . . on live TV.”
It’s too bad because Richardson otherwise seemed to be the “most impressive” of the six candidates. Instead of offering empty platitudes as did most of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, he talked about his record as Governor–what he has done–and promised to do what is “achievable” to promote inclusion of gay people.
Even the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force‘s (NGLTF) Executive Director Matt Foreman singles out Richardson for praise, noting, according to Newsday, that he has “won passage of non-discrimination and hate-crime laws in his state.” And Steve Rails of the Service Members Legal Defense Network writes that on the vote that was “considered the key sign of support for or against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [,] Richardson voted the right way.”
Despite this solid record on gay issues, Richardson won’t be remembered as much for what he has done in office over a period of years–but for what he did say in a minute’s time during one presidential forum. It’s a sad sign of the way politics works in today’s media that one unfortunate remark counts for more than a politician’s entire record. In preparing for last week’s debate, the New Mexico Governor should perhaps have considered the history of his former Georgia colleague in the U.S. House of Representatives.
– B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)