Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn's career is tarnished by a career of hostility toward gays, including the derailment of President Clinton's plan to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. Since the first rule of selecting vice presidents, like the Hippocratic Oath, is "do no harm," LGBT leaders were dismayed when the Obama campaign confirmed Nunn was "on the list" of potential running mates. Yet despite the protests, Nunn has steadily risen on the short lists of contenders. Meanwhile, voices dismissing both the concerns of the LGBT community - and its political relevance - have grown in tandem.
The simple fact that he is being considered for the ticket should serve as a reminder that the struggle for equality is far from over. The vetting of Sam Nunn will have profound implications for the future of the LGBT community; we understimate him at our own peril.
Nunn's affable, bi-partisan and moderate image belies his record of actions against LGBT people. A few memorable moments:
> In 1982 Nunn summarily removed two openly gay attorneys in his staff because, as Nunn asserted, they posed a "security risk." However, Nunn also told them that a gay staff member "wouldn't go over in Georgia."
> In 1984 Nunn backed Senator John Glenn's bid for the White House, citing the candidate's "courage" in expressing the "strongly held moral belief that homosexuals should not be role models for our children."
> In 1993 - Don't Ask Don't Tell: Nunn became the leader of the few Congressional Democrats to challenge President Clinton's initiative to allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military. With television cameras in tow, Nunn led the famous visit to the showers and bunks of a submarine. The damage of Nunn's position extended beyond the LGBT community, undermining the first Democratic presidency since 1980.
> In 1993 Nunn said he believed the heterosexual lifestyle was "morally superior to the homosexual lifestyle," followed by "American family deterioration is one of the biggest problems we face in our culture."
> In 1996 Nunn voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), despite that he had already announced that he was not running for reelection. ENDA did not pass by one vote. ENDA has not been voted again in the senate ever since.
Other significant votes by Senator Nunn:
> Nunn voted with Jesse Helms to reduce funding for AIDS research and to ban HIV positive immigrants.
> Nunn voted to prohibit federal money FOR educational materials that portrayed homosexuality as "normal."
> Nunn supported amendments to give Washington, D.C. organizations the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Coming from a community as diverse as ours, the depth and breadth of outrage is remarkably consistent: “If Obama picks former Sam Nunn as his vice-presidential running-mate:”
>BARNEY FRANK - "[I] would have a hard time voting for the [Democratic] ticket…I would be virtually useless in trying to convince other gays and lesbians to support the ticket.”....Frank cited Nunn's "real record of hostility" toward gays. He emphasized that in September 1996, after Nunn announced his retirement from the Senate, he voted against ENDA. The bill failed in the Senate by a single vote.
>DAVID MIXNER - “Nunn’s positions on equal rights for the LGBT community should be reason enough to keep him off the ticket.”
>WAYNE BESEN, author, activist, columnist and public speaker: “The idea of Obama picking Nunn to run as his vice president is preposterous.”
>PAUL SCHINDLER of the Gay City News: “Barack Obama… must absolutely rule out Sam Nunn.”
>JONATHAN CAPEHART, editorial board member of the Washington Post: “As Sen. Barack Obama considers potential running mates, he should contemplate with caution….” Capehart goes on to say: “If Obama taps Nunn, he could end up adding gay men and lesbians to the list of disgruntled Democrats. They might not vote for McCain, but they might very well stay home.”
>JEFF SOREF, former chairman of the DNC's LGBT caucus: "’Revisiting' is not admitting a mistake or apologizing for the pain he inflicted or the tens of thousands of lives affected by the policy. Surely there are more compelling choices out there [for vice president]."
>JOHN MARBLE, spokesperson for National Stonewall Democrats: “We don’t think he would be a good choice. I don’t think there is any serious talk of him being selected for vice president. I don’t think it’s something our community should be alarmed about but it’s something our community should be aware of.”
>ANDREW TOBIAS, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee: "For all Nunn's qualifications . . . there would be very little enthusiasm for him within the LGBT community."
>NATHANIEL FRANK, Senior Research Fellow at the Palm Center at UC-Santa Barbara: "As can be seen by revisiting Nunn's past words and deeds, the true source behind opposition to gay service was never concerns about unit cohesion, as was often stated, but moral animus to gay rights."
>AUBREY SARVIS, Executive Director of the SLDN: "Senator Nunn has got to go all the way on opening the military to qualified gays and lesbians who want to serve -- not half way, as he's been doing lately."
Steve Herbits has been one of the foremost experts on military personnel issues in America since well before DADT. In1969 President Nixon appointed Steve, at age 25, to the Presidents Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, along with Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan and other illuminaries. Steve was the only member of his generation appointed to the commission.
Steve expressed his policy views on the issue of "gays in the military" in a 1993 New York Times article. His comments are interesting because first and foremost, they are the professional perspective of a Pentagon insider and hawkish proponent of America's military rather than a single-minded LGBT advocate. Therefore they serve as a useful benchmark to compare Nunn's judgment at the time. Steve's opening comment: "No single issue more poignantly snaps our Armed Forces into the 21st century than the question of whether homosexuals should be permitted to serve openly in their ranks." In essence, fifteen years ago Steve argued that including openly gay personnel would be crucial to the armed forces in the future. History proved him correct; Nunn's DADT policy has reduced both enrollment and retention while our troops are over-stretched and battered by the "stop loss" back-door draft policy. Steve one, Nunn zero.
Steve's next comment: "Our military cannot afford to stray long from the society it defends; the pressures for it to catch up are mounting within and without." A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll said 75% of Americans believe gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993. Nunn was so blind to social progress he insisted DADT be written into law. Steve two, Nunn zero.
Steve concluded the article with the prediction that history will not be kind to the barriers that were being erected against gays and lesbians. Obama's VP selection committee should dutifully take into account the military consequences of Nunn's judgment with respect to DADT. They would be also wise to consider Steve's 1993 conclusion (along with his noted prescience).
ARGUMENTS THAT FAVOR NUNN
The former GA senator has been mentioned as a top contender for VP in just about every major publication from the NY Times and Washington Post to Politico and Time Magazine.
> Obama has moved sharply toward the center, and Nunn would bring him closer.
> Nunn's experience as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee could be used to counter McCain's greatest perceived strength, national security.
> Nunn has the confidence and strong backing of corporate America. He serves on the board of directors of four powerful companies: Coca-Cola, Dell, Chevron, and General Electric. His connections could bring the money and confidence of business executives to the ticket.
> Nunn serves on Obama's National Security Working Group with Eric Holder, one of two members of the vice presidential selection committee.
> Nunn's work to reduce the risk of use and prevent the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons has resulted in at least three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, 2002 and 2005. Nuclear proliferation is a critical issue and one that Obama could tout on the campaign trail and take on the world stage.
> Nunn would add electoral heft in the South, a weaker area for Obama. He remains popular in Georgia, and could turn the red state toward Obama. He is well-liked in neighboring states and could make the difference in close races.
· May 21: Politico: THE CASE FOR NUNN
· June 3: Nunn announces: "It might be time to take another look at Don't Ask Don't Tell."
· June 4: JIMMY CARTER ENDORSES NUNN.
· June 6: Wall Street Journal: PEGGY NOONAN ENDORSES NUNN
· June 18: Kiplinger.com: THE CASE FOR NUNN
· June 19: The Rothenberg Report: LGBT BACKLASH AGAINST NUNN DISMISSED
· June 20: Press Release: NUNN CONFIRMED ON LIST OF VP CANDIDATES
· July 2: MSNBC: STATEWIDE POLL INDICATES NUNN COULD MOVE GEORGIA TO OBAMA
- More likely: 51%
- Less likely: 11%
- No difference/Undecided: 38%
· July 4: Newsweek: "SAM NUNN WOULD BE A SMART CHOICE:"
· July 7: New York Observer: NUNN'S LGBT RECORD COULD BE AN ASSET TO OBAMA
· July 8: Atlanta Constitution: EDITOR DISMISSS THE GAY COMMUNITY
· July 9: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: - NUNN: “OPEN SERVICE FOR GAYS TO COME ‘EVENTUALLY’”
· July 13: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - HAS SAM NUNN'S TIME FOR VP SPOT ARRIVED?
· July 13: Las Vegas Review-Journal – GEORGIA COULD TURN BLUE – WITH NUNN
· July 16: CNN — OBAMA APPEARS WITH BAYH AND NUNN
· July 16: - OBAMA'S INDIANA VISIT PUTS BAYH, NUNN IN VEEP SPOTLIGHT
· July 20: New York Times - CLOSED MOUTHS, BUT OPEN TRYOUTS TO MAKE THE TEAM
“For all the lengths Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have gone to in keeping their hunt for a vice president under wraps, their deliberations are in some ways being conducted in plain sight…In Indiana last week, Mr. Obama appeared with two of the more speculated-about names on Democratic lists, Senator Evan Bayh and former Senator Sam Nunn….As the process unfolds, strategic imperatives for the two candidates have become clearer. Members of both parties said Mr. Obama, 46, should not be looking to make any dramatic or risky moves…Steve Elmendorf, who played a significant role in the vice-presidential search as a deputy campaign manager for Senator John Kerry, said: “Barack is in a different situation, and he needs somebody who can be safe and steady.”
The Obama campaign announced it will not comment on the vice presidential selection process until the selection. His deliberations, however, will certainly include a projection of how Nunn might affect the outcome of the election, including the voting clout of the LGBT community as well as the depth and breadth of its concerns about Nunn. Damage by Nunn does not even assume that most LGBT voters who stay home because their motivation to turn out is overcome by disappointment.
While the damage Nunn has wrought to LGBT's is incalculable, we can project our response to a ticket that includes Nunn:
Notes for the chart:
(1) LGBT VOTERS: The projected number of LGBT voters is based on an exit poll sponsored by The National Election Pool that indicates four percent of voters in the 2004 general election identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
(2) LGBT DEMOCRATIC VOTERS: The same poll indicated that among people identifying themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 77% voted for the Democratic presidential candidate.
One percent appears trivial - until compared to recent presidential election races:
Our vote makes a difference.
As Nunn enters the twilight of his career, he is firmly rooted on the wrong side of history. His stark history of intolerance overshadows his career accomplishments.
Nunn does not reflect the audacity of hope and the change that are at the core of the Obama campaign.
For the first time in history, however, the political strength of the LGBT community tops such a list on a national level.
When Nunn's rejection is announced, it will signal the hard-fought change of an era and a turning point for the LGBT community.
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the idea of voting for Sam Nunn is not something that I can live with - and the ticket would be Obama/Nunn 08.
Obama has made this miscalculation before with McClurkin, and this would be much much bigger that a simple fund raiser.
Although he takes supportive positions, he has seemed to be tone deaf to the opinions of the gay community and somewhat patronizing - all we can do is hope that he has learned something because if his choice is Nunn, his promise of "change" will be shown to be a sham
Whomever Obama chooses as his running mate, we queers would be crazy to 'sit this one out.' And Obama has to choose someone who will appeal to the middle and bring foreign policy/national security credentials to the ticket. Four years of a McCain administration and the probable 4 decades of a Supreme Court dominated by the likes of Scalia/Thomas/Roberts/Alito (plus the FRC-vetted nominees McCain is promising) would reverse years of legal and social progress for the queer population. If 33% of us stay home out of petulance, we deserve to spend the next decade fighting state-by-state, not to secure the right to marry, but to prevent the enforcement of anti-sodomy laws after Lawrence v. Texas is reversed.
Last Modified 2011-10-12