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How to blow your campaign, Obama-style

And why was a statement like this not passed out at the McClurkin gay-bashing concert on Sunday — and was absent from Obama's video welcome at the event?

The concert was to be the highlight of this outreach and while the crowd left excited, it was clear the campaign still regarded the controversy as complicated. Aides gave reporters a three-page memo detailing McClurkin's and Obama's views on gay rights that noted in capital letters “MCCLURKIN DOES NOT WANT TO CHANGE GAYS AND LESBIANS WHO ARE HAPPY WITH THEIR LIVES AND HAS CRITICIZED CHURCH LEADERS WHO DEMONIZE HOMOSEXUALS,” with quotes detailing those statements from the singer.


Why? Because his campaign feels that any support of the LGBT community must remain on the DL with religious black gays in the South. It's all about the numbers game.

With 90 percent in most elections voting for Democrats, African-Americans are one of the most loyal parts of the Democratic base. At the same time, they differ from the rest of the party in terms of church attendance (more) and support for gay rights (less). Exit polling from the 2004 South Carolina Democratic primary, which John Edwards won, showed 72 percent of blacks who voted attend church weekly, compared to 55 percent of all South Carolina Democrats and 37 percent of Democrats nationally who voted in the general election. According to Washington Post-ABC News national surveys this year, 43 percent of white Democrats support gay marriage, compared to 22 percent of blacks. Around half of blacks, 52 percent, don't support civil unions or gay marriage for gay couples, compared to only 26 percent of whites.

And a sad note about demographics of the vigil, which was no surprise to me.

A vigil that was planned to protest outside of the concert included only about 20 people, almost all white, who held signs like “We are Here, We are Queer, we are voting next year,” while across the street long lines of African-Americans, who seemed still dressed for church, waited to go into the event that started at 6 p.m.

The fact that black gays and lesbians were not well-represented in the vigil crowd is telling on two points: 1) not enough of them are out of the closet and political enough to confront their community, and 2) the vigil's composition, along with the presence of openly gay pastor Rev. Sidden, reinforced the idea that gay=white.


[More after the jump.] 

Chris Bowers at Open Left has an interesting post-mortem on the affair. He initially wrote about the Obama camp's moves as a campaign mistake, but now sees the McClurkin debacle not as the undoing of Obama's bid, but emblematic of how the campaign crapped on the progressive coalition most supportive of his candidacy (the “creative class“) and now it's drifting away.

If the Obama campaign is not only keeping McClurkin as the headliner of the concert, but also issuing memos defending his views, producing videos endorsing McClurkin before the event, and then allowing McClurkin to emcee the event, it is pre-meditated, not a mistake.

…Why would someone repeatedly attack his strongest demographic, especially when that demographic makes up one-fifth of the national electorate in the Democratic primary season? Consider further how that demographic is heavily oversampled both in New Hampshire (one of the five most secular states in the country) and in the key activist / buzz community of the netroots and blogosphere (which is about 40-45% secular in polls I have seen). Attacking your strongest supports seems like a colossally stupid campaign strategy. It seems like the kind of thing someone does if s/he wants to lose. Not surprisingly, given this tactic, Obama saw his early advantage among the progressive creative class disappear by early August

…Obama has long criticized the left for being hostile to Americans of faith whenever he was pushed on this topic. In fact, he often made such criticisms without even being pushed. As such, there was no reason to expect that his reaction to criticism of choosing McClurkin, or really his reaction to any progressive criticism, would be any different. If Democrats and progressives criticized anything in his campaign that had to do with faith, those same Democrats and progressives would simply be told that they aren't properly reaching out to people of faith. At the same time, he has consistently failed to offer progressives and Democrats any red meat, no matter what Republicans would do or say. This is a clear pattern for Obama. We should have seen it coming.

It's too easy to say this is a battle between the secular and religious, but campaigns try mightily to simplify things. The inconvenient truth is that there are people of color in the faith community who are LGBT. These people are ignored, because for politicians, the complexity of addressing that matter is not worth the political cost. It's about the numbers game, and LGBT minorities of faith are to be tossed out like yesterday's trash.

On the other hand (and there is always the other hand), the homophobia in the black community will continue to flourish as long as SGL men and women remain in the closet — and silent in the pews — as hate and misinformation spews from the pulpit. Without visibility, the denial and demonization will continue.

And before the newbies out there start bleating that I'm somehow flacking for Clinton, there's plenty of Blend out there to read that shows I'm not a shill for that campaign. All of the 2008 model Dems have shown great strides in discussing LGBT issues over the pathetic silence and skittishness in 2004. Are any of them where we want them to be? No. But their current positions are light years beyond those of the hard-line bigots and kowtowing flip-floppers in the GOP.

That's why this Obama/McClurkin debacle is so unnerving. Don't expect the LGBT crowd to fork over dough while you court a demographic that foments homophobia (and with it the spread of HIV/AIDS) because of its willful ignorance and fear. The bottom line is the third rail of race is making this all possible

The most disappointing aspect of this whole Obama/McClurkin affair is that Barack Obama, because of his race, actually was best positioned to address it (politically speaking, since we know white pols loathe to take it on, lest they get zapped on that third rail). Ironically, because of the ludicrous questions about his racial “authenticity” from the black community, it appears that his camp cravenly decided that Obama could cleave to the community by enabling its homophobia, rather than challenging it.

That's audacity, all right.

* McClurkin hangs tough at Obama concert
* The Advocate's exclusive interview with Barack Obama
* Mike Signorile interview with Rev. Andy Sidden; Team Obama rejected two gay black pastors
* Team Obama: recruiting a white pastor=bad idea
* 'Ex-gay' McClurkin's alleged lover: I was with him after he prayed away the gay
* HRC to Obama: no place for a homophobe on the stage in SC
* Black media ignores the Obama / anti-gay recloseted McClurkin controversy
* McClurkin bobs and weaves, Team Obama scrambles as HRC lowers the boom
* Why is Obama touring with 'ex-gay' homophobe Donnie McClurkin?
* Obama won't back down from SC concert with homobigot ex-gay Donnie McClurkin
* Donnie McClurkin isn't the only homophobe on the bill with Obama
* Audio from my appearance on the Michelangelo Signorile show on Sirius Out Q discussing the dustup.

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Pam Spaulding

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