Hotline's Todd oblivious to McCain's inconsistencies on gay and lesbian rights

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

Ignoring conflicting statements by John McCain on gay and lesbian issues, The Hotline's Chuck Todd asserted that on the issue of same-sex marriage, McCain is "being true to what he is and what he thought conservatism was." Todd also likened McCain to Barry Goldwater, suggesting they held similar views on gay rights; in fact, while McCain supported an Arizona effort to ban legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples and supports the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, Goldwater became a strong supporter of gay rights and opposed the ban on gays in the military.

On the January 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of National Journal's The Hotline, ignored Sen. John McCain's inconsistencies on gay and lesbian rights issues and stated that in his support for private commitment ceremonies combined with his opposition to same-sex marriage, McCain is "being true to what he is and what he thought conservatism was." In fact, McCain (R-AZ) has taken a number of conflicting positions on gay rights issues, as Media Matters for America has noted. For instance, while claiming to be "opposed to discrimination against anybody under any circumstances," he continues to voice support for the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military and voted against a bill prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. On the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions, on the November 19, 2006, edition of ABC News' This Week, McCain denied both that he was "for" civil unions and that he was "against" them.

Further, Todd asserted that "McCain is no different than [former Sen.] Barry Goldwater [R-AZ]," suggesting they were both libertarians and suggesting they held similar views on gay rights. As purported evidence of McCain's libertarianism, Todd noted that McCain represents a state that was "the only state in the union to actually reject a gay marriage ban," referring to Arizona Proposition 107, which Arizona voters rejected in a November 7, 2006, election. But McCain supported Proposition 107, even though it would have gone further than simply denying gays and lesbians the right to marry. Moreover, Goldwater advocated lifting the ban on gays and lesbians in the military and banning job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, while McCain has recently expressed support for the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 1996.

While discussing McCain's presidential ambitions, Vanity Fair national editor and political correspondent Todd Purdum noted that during an October 18, 2006, Hardball appearance, McCain first said he had "no problem" with a "gay marriage ... ceremony," then said he opposed making gay marriage legal:

MATTHEWS: Should there be -- should gay marriage be allowed?

McCAIN: I think -- I think that gay marriage should be allowed if there's a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that. I don't have any problem with that. But I do believe in preserving the sanctity of a union between man and woman.

[...]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Don McDowell (ph), I'm the chairman of the Iowa State College Republicans, and since this is Iowa and Iowa State University and the next Congress will be taking up the farm bill, what sort of provisions do you see in terms of renewable energy, as well as subsidies in the next farm bill?

McCAIN: Well Don, thank you for your magnificent work. You're a great American, being chairman of the College Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

McCAIN: I -- on the issue of the farm bill, we're going to re-authorize it. I am against some subsidies. Don't think ethanol needs a subsidy. I think we ought to make sure that the people who need subsidies, the most, which are the small farmers, not the big agro-businesses, not the big huge farms that get millions of dollars. So I think we ought to look at an area of need, as opposed to size and I think that some of that has to be looked at very carefully.

Could I just mention one other thing? On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe that if people want to have private ceremonies, that's fine. I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal.

After viewing the clip, Purdum asserted that McCain has a "libertarian, live-and-let-live, 'You stay out of my life, I'll stay out of your life' approach." Todd agreed and suggested that McCain's positions on gay rights showed that McCain is "being true to what he is and what he thought conservatism was."

But McCain has not been "true" or consistent on gay and lesbian issues. As Media Matters has noted, on the November 19, 2006, edition of ABC News' This Week, McCain denied both that he was "for" civil unions and that he was "against" them. Host George Stephanopoulos specifically asked McCain: "Are you against civil unions for gay couples?" to which McCain responded: "No, I am not." Seconds later, however, Stephanopoulos asked: "So you're for civil unions?" to which McCain responded: "No."

Further, to the extent that Arizona's rejection of a constitutional amendment banning legal recognition of gay unions is indicative of the state's libertarianism, despite Todd's suggestion, the state's rejection of the amendment is not indicative of McCain's views on the issue. As Media Matters noted, The Arizona Republic reported on August 26, 2005, that McCain said "he supports an initiative that would change Arizona's Constitution to ban gay marriages and deny government benefits to unmarried couples." The proposition would have defined a marriage as being between a man and woman, and denied "legal status for unmarried persons ... that is similar to that of marriage."

Todd also asserted that "McCain is no different than Barry Goldwater" in his "conservative Republicanism," suggesting the two held similar views regarding gay rights. In fact, in the 1990s, Goldwater expressed strong support for gay and lesbian rights on at least two issues -- the military and employment. In a June 10, 1993, Washington Post opinion column, Goldwater called the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military "un-American," writing "there's no valid reason for keeping the ban on gays" and criticized "a compromise policy like 'Don't ask, don't tell'" because "[t]hat compromise doesn't deal with the issue -- it tries to hide it." In a 1993 letter to the Post, Goldwater famously stated: "You don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight." McCain, in contrast, has steadfastly supported the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, recently stating during his November 19, 2006, This Week appearance that "the don't ask, don't tell policy has been very effective. We've got the best military we've ever had and are well into all-volunteer force, so I think the policy is working."

Goldwater also advocated for a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace. As The Washington Post noted, in 1994, Goldwater "signed on as honorary co-chairman of a drive to pass a federal law preventing job discrimination against homosexuals." In explaining his decision, Goldwater stated: "The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they're gay. ... You don't have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that's what brings me into it." For his part, McCain voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 1996, which failed by only one vote, and defended his decision on the February 27, 2000, edition of This Week. McCain, while claiming to be "opposed to discrimination against anybody under any circumstances," stated: "I don't believe that they [homosexuals] belong in a special category. ... That's why I voted the way that I did. I think that enforcement of existing law could work rather than passing special laws for special categories of people."

From the January 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. The night before they started the 110th Congress -- they open tomorrow. We're back with Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum and The Hotline's Chuck Todd.

Todd Purdum, as opposed to Chuck Todd -- I love it, it's like dominoes, the Todd part connects -- let me ask you about -- to give us the lead you wrote to your big Vanity Fair piece about McCain and his conundrum of trying to reconcile the right and the center.

PURDUM: Well, you were at Hardball at Iowa State University at Ames. And you asked him a question, given the Mark Foley scandal, about the kind of prevalence of gay people in all walks of life and whether he thought there should be gay marriage. And he began to answer, apparently quite openly, that he thought if people wanted to have a marriage ceremony -- he was looking for a word, I sensed, like commitment ceremony or civil union; he couldn't quite find it. But he basically said, "If people want to go off and have something they call a marriage, that's OK, but I believe in the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman." At the next commercial break, his adviser John Weaver went up and talked to him -- you guys were making a move down onto the floor of the auditorium --

MATTHEWS: Right.

PURDUM: -- and in his first answer after the break, which was about agriculture subsidies, he suddenly interrupted himself and said, "Can I just say one other thing about gay marriage? I don't think it should be legal." And the whole audience booed. These were kids, you know, from --

MATTHEWS: OK.

PURDUM: -- Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Todd, let's -- since you're advertising our show, we can only show the tapes. Let's show them right now. This is John McCain unedited, and then John McCain after he's been advised how to say it by his top staffer.

[begin video clip]

MATTHEWS: Should there be -- should gay marriage be allowed?

McCAIN: I think -- I think that gay marriage should be allowed if there's a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that. I don't have any problem with that. But I do believe in preserving the sanctity of a union between man and woman.

[end video clip]

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: Could I just mention one other thing? On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe that if people want to have private ceremonies, that's fine. I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal.

CROWD: [booing]

[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: Well, you heard it there. Todd, that was interesting. What does that tell you as a journalist about the problem he faces in winning the Republican nomination and going on to win the general?

PURDUM: Well, it's hard, because what happened next was he came back on the stage and said to John Weaver, standing in the wings, in a very kind of disappointed tone, "Did I fix it? Did I fix it?" And the problem for Senator McCain is he can't quite fix it. He can't quite square the circle of appealing to the most conservative elements of the party that have a disproportionate voice in the nominating process and saying what he really thinks because the truth is, what he really thinks on a lot of these issues is a kind of libertarian, live-and-let-live, "You stay out of my life, I'll stay out of your life" approach. And that's like the person he is. It's very in keeping with his, you know, sort of rebellious, "Don't get in my way, I won't get in your way" type of person.

MATTHEWS: And you know what, Chuck? It's also the issue of gay marriage. It's not simply a question of, "Can two people pair off if they happen to be the same sex because they're attracted to each other and love each other and want to spend their life together?" It's, "Should society recognize those relationships as marriages?" So they're both relevant questions. Depending on your position, you will say, "One's more important than the other." Some people who are for gay marriage will say, "It's more important about the love relationship than whether society likes it or not." Others will say, "Wait a minute. Society is what recognizes marriages. That's why they are marriages."

TODD: Well, it's interesting that he just pointed out -- he called -- he called -- Todd [Purdum] called McCain a Western Republican. What's interesting is, actually, McCain is no different than Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were when they brought what -- defined what conservative Republicanism was in the '60s and '70s. What's interesting is, it is still what they defined out West. You know, Arizona is the only state in the union to actually reject a gay marriage ban. That's John McCain's home state. McCain's only being true to what he is and what he thought conservatism was.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Elections
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, The Hotline
Person
Chuck Todd
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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