Jonathan Capehart's piece in today's Washington Post is a pretty strong case for why former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn would be a disastrous choice for Barack Obama's running mate in the eyes of the gay and lesbian community. Nunn was one of the principles behind the effort to keep gays out of the military, rebuffing the newly elected President Bill Clinton on one of his big campaign promises, effectively skewering the administration (perhaps in part over pique at being passed over for Secretary of Defense).
But Michael Crowley over at The New Republic's Stump thinks that gays are overreacting to Nunn's past anti-gay activity, and should chill at the thought of putting the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Georgian on the Dem ticket:
For starters, the gays in the military fight happened fifteen years ago. Social attitudes, including within the military itself, were pretty different. ... From what I can tell Nunn seemed less personally offended by the idea than duty-bound as chairman of the Armed Services Committee to represent the strong feelings of the military brass.
I clearly remember those interminable and unfair hearings that Nunn held on gays in the military, with sordid speculation on showers running rampant. I remember front page newspaper stories on Nunn bringing fellow senators and congressman on tours of submarines to inspect the close proximity of the sailors bunks. These were not the actions of the a man who was "less personally offended by the idea" -- they were the actions of a man determined to slander gay servicemembers as sexual predators who could not be trusted to serve their country honorably. Add in the fact that Nunn had previously fired his own staff members because they were gay and it's pretty clear what his opinions of homosexuality were.
Oh, and if things are so different from 15 years ago, why is the policy still in place even as a majority of Americans support its repeal and Democrats control both houses of Congress? No one's even offered up a bill for Bush to veto. Blithely dismissing this issue as a problem of the past ignores the long-lasting damage Nunn inflicted on both gay and lesbian servicemembers and the military itself (how about those gay Arabic linguists?).
Personally, I don't think Nunn has a chance of ending up in the veep slot, his weak protestations that he may -- may -- be reconsidering DADT notwithstanding. But if he does, I will be just as furious as most other gay people will be, and rightfully so. Nunn bears primary responsibility for creating a federally legislated policy that declares us second-class citizens. That Crowley would dismiss that as an "overblown concern" means that some people still haven't learned the lesson.
Postscript: Crowley seems to be basing his case on Nunn's work on nuclear terrorism and anti-proliferation. Fine, he's done some good work there. But he's not alone in that. There are plenty better options available.