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LeftOut: I’m Having Nunn of It

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What would choosing an antigay running mate say about Obama?

By Wayne Besen

NunnWhen former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) endorsed Barack Obama in April and announced he would serve as a national security advisor, pundits naturally began speculating on his vice presidential prospects. The argument in favor of Nunn is that he is a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, which would help negate one of the McCain campaign’s largest advantages.

Nunn’s position is strengthened because he appears to be on the same rhetorical page as Obama. Last year, for example, he helped lead a bipartisan conference at the University of Oklahoma with the goal of ending political squabbling in Washington. In April, the conservative southern Democrat articulated his reasons for backing Obama:

“Demonizing the opposition, oversimplifying the issues, and dumbing down the political debate prevent our country from coming together to make tough decisions and tackle our biggest challenges,” said Nunn.

This statement was curious, considering Nunn’s crass conduct during the fierce 1993 “gays in the military” battle. Instead of leading in a contemplative manner, Nunn exploited his position of power to cheapen the national dialogue and dumb down the debate—the opposite of what he now says he stands for. This “statesman” brazenly exploited every last negative antigay stereotype for political gain and temporarily derailed Bill Clinton’s nascent presidency in the process. Nunn’s grandstanding was an unforgivable act of bigotry and betrayal and helped set back the GLBT movement for years.

For those who don’t remember, candidate Bill Clinton promised to repeal the ban on openly gay service members. As president, he tried to follow through, and a national uproar ensued. The opposition from conservative Republicans was to be expected, but Nunn’s fingerprints were all over the bloody knife that protruded from Clinton’s back.

Nunn called for a public “field hearing” to ostensibly find out what men and women in uniform thought of lifting the ban. In an orchestrated publicity stunt, Nunn escorted the national media into attack submarines—the Montpelier and the Emory S. Land. A May 11, 1993 New York Times article vividly described the scene:

“Under the glare of television cameras in cramped sleeping quarters, mess halls and even shower rooms aboard several ships and submarines toured by the senators here at America’s largest Navy base…. On the Land, 90 women share four showers and four toilets. On the Montpelier, most of the all-male crew sleeps in triple bunks separated by a corridor two feet wide. There are 117 bunks for 147 men, so crewmembers take turns sharing the same beds.”

In a flash, Nunn lowered the tenor of the debate and created visions of promiscuous, unpatriotic gays and lesbians, transforming our Navy into a hapless fleet of Sodomy Subs. All people wanted to talk about after this monstrosity was bunk beds.

Gratuitously piling it on, Nunn held a meticulously planned hearing in a 1,100-seat military auditorium. In a typical Nunn effort to be “fair” and “elevate” the debate, 15 of the 17 uniformed speakers chosen were adamantly against lifting the ban.

The Nunn Show ensured America heard from people like Petty Officer 2nd Class Darlene Harris who said, “I’ve been in [submarine] berths where there were a lot of lesbians, and it was terrible.”

Nunn’s theatrics and fear that gays in uniform would engage in “hand holding” and “kissing” led directly to the disastrous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy that has robbed the U.S. military of more than 11,000 service members, including at least 58 Arabic linguists. A Government Accountability Office Report released in 2005 estimated that DADT has cost U.S. taxpayers $200 million and the loss of “valuable personnel over the last decade.” Yet, despite his direct role in weakening our military and making America more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, Nunn is considered a defense expert.

When it comes to the idea of Sam as Veep, I’m having Nunn of it. 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.

The idea of Obama picking Nunn to run as his vice president is preposterous. John Marble, communications director for the Stonewall Democrats, says that selecting Nunn “would depress the vote a bit.” (Yeah, we’d all need Prozac, to be sure.)

Marble stressed that it is not time to panic because “there is no indication that the Obama campaign is seriously considering it.” Indeed, he points out that pundits had considered Nunn as a possible running mate for both Gore and Kerry.

Still, it is crucial that Obama’s gay staff members make it clear to the candidate how unacceptable Nunn would be. The campaign shouldn’t even float his name unless it is attached to a runaway blimp drifting toward outer space.

Wayne Besen, author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth (Harrington Park Press), writes a weekly column published at www.waynebesen.com.

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