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May 30, 2008

Sam Nunn, no friend to gays, may top Obama's VP list

All presidential candidates play coy when it comes to choosing a running mate, but it is apparent that Democrat Barack Obama is interviewing possibilities, and homophobe Sam Nunn is in the running.

Nunn, a Democrat, was a Georgia senator from 1972 to 1997. He chaired the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987 to 1995, directing the 1993 hearings that led to “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Speculation has floated for months that Nunn is in the running. It became plainer in mid-April when he endorsed Obama and joined the campaign as a national security policy adviser.

Subsequent events have convinced observers and insiders that Nunn is a serious possibility for the ticket, despite the campaign’s official statements designed to obfuscate the issue.

“I have seen chatter about it,” said Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt, who served as Obama’s Ohio communications director, when asked if Nunn was being considered for the post.

“Any discussion is premature,” LaBolt said. “The conversation of a search is only in the world of pundits. Our campaign is only concerned now with winning the nomination.”

LaBolt further denied that the Obama campaign is looking for anyone to fill the vice presidential slot at this time.

News reports and insider accounts, however, contradict LaBolt.

Obama and Republican presumptive nominee John McCain “have begun taking quiet but purposeful steps toward choosing their running mates,” reported the Associated Press on May 22.

CNN and National Public Radio joined AP and major newspapers a day later. All reported varying lists of names Obama may be considering.

Those lists included former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius among others, along with former rivals Sen. Chris Dodd and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Sam Nunn was on almost every list, along with Obama’s rival Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post and AP reported that Obama has asked former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson to head his VP search.

Johnson, a top fundraiser and vice chair of the Obama campaign, headed the vice presidential vetting process for John Kerry in 2004 and Walter Mondale in 1984.

Obama is not revealing his intentions and has insisted that the process remain quiet.

“I haven’t hired [Johnson]. He’s not on retainer. I’m not paying him any money. He is a friend of mine. I know him,” Obama said. “I am not commenting on vice presidential matters because I have not won this nomination.”

Obama’s chief stratgeist David Axelrod was a little more forthcoming on MSNBC’s Hardball the next day.

“Well, look, Jim’s been a vice chair of our campaign from almost the very beginning.” Axelrod told Chris Matthews. “He’s got a lot of experience and a lot of skills and, you know, when the time comes to begin that process, I’m sure we’ll seek his counsel, but, it’s--we are now still trying to finish this process out.”

Insiders with knowledge say that Johnson will be hired and that he favors Nunn to be the vice presidential pick.

Johnson also promoted Nunn in 2004, but Kerry, a decorated veteran, did not need Nunn to bolster his military credentials.

Pundits and strategists throughout the blogosphere are arguing that Obama does.

In February, Nunn had talks with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg about sharing an independent ticket before joining the Obama team.

Nunn currently directs the non-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative, which works to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. He is still considered to be one of America’s leading experts in military policy. Moreover, Nunn and Obama agree on many military and national security issues.

On May 24, the influential left-leaning blog Daily Kos opined that “Sam Nunn effectively nullifies both the ‘most liberal Senator’ tag and the ‘naïve of Foreign Affairs’ issue.”

“[Nunn] would also greatly strengthen [Obama’s] position with conservative Democrats, independents and undecided Republicans.”

Nunn often voted with Jesse Helms

Nunn is generally regarded as a moderate to conservative. But he has a poor record on LGBT matters. He is most noted for using his position as Senate Armed Services Chair to undermine newly-elected President Bill Clinton’s promise to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military in 1993.

Unlike many involved in the negotiations that led to “don’t ask don’t tell,” including Clinton, Nunn has never reconsidered the law nor expressed regret for his role in creating it.

Nunn’s other LGBT Senate votes typically resembled those of moderate Republicans. When anti-LGBT votes or attacks on people with AIDS were cast, Nunn tended to vote with anti-gay Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

He consistently voted to prohibit federal money from purchasing educational materials that “promoted” homosexuality or portrayed homosexuality as “normal.”

Nunn supported Helms’ amendments to give District of Columbia organizations that work with children the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and he opposed domestic partner benefits in the nation’s capitol.

The Georgian also voted for reductions in HIV and AIDS research and prevention funding, and to confirm the anti-gay Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. He voted for the ban on HIV positive immigrants that will be an issue in the current presidential race.

Nunn vehemently opposed gays and lesbians serving in the military. He challenged Clinton on his campaign promise to end the ban almost as soon as he was sworn in, by taking away Clinton’s ability to end the ban by executive order as planned and putting it in the hands of Congress.

The senator rallied other opponents and held many called sham hearings designed to raise fears and cause alarm that heterosexual servicemembers were in danger if they served beside gay ones.

TV tours of submarines and toilets

Gay and lesbian activists complained that Nunn, who promised “fair, thorough and objective” hearings, had hand-picked the witnesses and had rejected six or seven scholarly experts who favored lifting the ban. One hearing was so lopsided that 15 of the 17 witnesses Nunn called were anti-gay.

Over four months, Nunn lined up anti-gay witnesses, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who testified “Open homosexuality is the problem. Don’t tolerate any homosexual activity or behavior in the organization.”

Nunn worried about “unit cohesion” and saw problems of equal treatment for hand-holding and kissing between gays and non-gays.

He organized field hearings at military bases and organized press and TV tours of submarines,  barracks and toilets.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Darlene Harris was typical of Nunn’s witnesses. She testified, “I’ve been in [submarine] berths where there were a lot of lesbians, and it was terrible.”

Critics called the hearings “piling on.”

Nunn proposed the compromise with Clinton that came to be known as “don’t ask don’t tell,” then violated the agreement by passing legislation that made it law instead of a simple regulation.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer fought Nunn unsuccessfully to keep Congress from making the policy into law.

Because Nunn won, it now requires another act of Congress to lift it.

Gay activist Wayne Besen goes a step further in his criticism of Nunn and of Obama for even considering him for the ticket.

“Beyond his DADT disaster, the senator’s weakening of Clinton helped enable and propel the Gingrich revolution in 1994--a huge setback for gay and lesbian equality,” Besen wrote. “The idea of Obama picking Nunn to run as his vice president is preposterous.”


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