Sunday, May 15, 2011

Carolyn Goodman's Contextual Problems

There is a very troubling pattern emerging with Las Vegas mayoral front runner Carolyn Goodman that came up last Wednesday when I moderated the forum for the Lambda business group with both candidates and again tonight: Mrs. Goodman is not capable of admitting when she's wrong or unclear. She touts her own fallibility, but then when she actually must answer for her own prior remarks, she blames the media or the audience, not herself.

It's a time-worn politician's trick, but as Sharron Angle and Mitt Romney have more recently learned, it's losing its efficacy because, more often than not, there's VIDEO or AUDIO recordings.

At the Lambda event, I revisited the issue of the DREAM Act and Mrs. Goodman complained that what was gleaned from that discussion about her ignorance about it and her understanding of its history was untrue and "taken out of context." And yet I had transcribed the conversation verbatim and posted the entire audio for everyone to hear specifically to avoid such a claim.

Now, tonight, Carolyn Goodman did it again during a live televised debate moderated by Steve Sebelius and Jonathan Humbert on KLAS Channel 8. Here's an exchange between Sebelius and Goodman:

Sebelius: Speaking at the Lambda business lunch last week, you said if you were gay and you wanted to marry your partner, you would move to state where gay marriage is already legal. My question is, why should somebody have to do that? Why shouldn’t somebody have be able to marry the person they love and stay in the city that they love?

Goodman: Okay, were you there?

Sebelius: I was not.

Goodman: It was taken a little out of context whoever wrote it down. I was answering some questions. My words were, if there was some urgency, I totally support of the domestic partnerships. In fact it was the city and the council in 2008, or, oh, wrong, eight years ago, passed the ordinance so, um, that those of the same [sic] who would have it legalized and have the opportunity to share in those things. From a legal standpoint I'm 1,000% in support of that. The question that was asked of me was about lobbying going forward -- [muddled chatter I'm not even sure how to transcribe] -- my sense was, if there’s an urgency. I’m all about individual rights. There’s nobody stronger about individual rights than myself. Anybody should have the right to their own lives. And if there’s an urgency for some reason to get married, it is not legal in the state of Nevada. So what I said was were I in that situation, I would go to another state where it was legal but I would still come back here because in my heart and soul, I would feel as though I was legally married. Taken out of context, it’s a little different.

Now, compare that to what actually happened. This was the exchange from Wednesday. You can hear it on this audio recording or watch it on this YouTube video:

If you don't want to watch or listen, here was the very first exchange between us:

Friess: Do you support legalized same-sex marriage?

Goodman: I support domestic partnerships for sure. I support the collective voice, and I support the laws of our state. But were I in your situation and it were important to me, until the state's legislative body hears your voice, were I in your situation, I would be going to a state right now that legalizes a marriage of same sex individuals.

So here's the thing. I didn't believe then nor now that Mrs. Goodman was saying she wants gay couples to move away. Even in the moment, I knew what she was saying, which is what she clarified in her response to Sebelius, because the alternative reading was simply ridiculous and mean-spirited. Her explanation of her remarks makes a certain sense -- and a certain nonsense as I'll get to in a moment -- and her position of being pro-DPs but against gay marriage is still the same as what President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid profess.

But there are two other things here:

(a) Nothing was taken out of context. It was badly articulated. This is clearly the fault of the speaker. Mrs. Goodman should have said, "I'm sorry, I wasn't clear, that didn't come out right," etc. Instead, this woman who claims to be a non-politician, behaved as politicians love to, imagining they can bend time and history simply by saying the blue sky is purple.

(b) She wasn't being truthful on other details, either. She wasn't answering "some" questions; she was answering the very first question. Also, I didn't ask her a thing about "lobbying."

Look, Carolyn Goodman is probably not a homophobe. There is a way that she talks about all of this -- her lack of modern vocabulary makes it a wonder she doesn't use the word "homosexual" -- that makes it clear she just doesn't know very much about the topic. Yes, that's troubling given that she's likely to be the next mayor, but being ignorant is not the same as being a hater.

I suspect that were a set of gay activists to sit down with her in a non-pressurized circumstance and explain to her what exactly the issues were, she may have a different view. It is clear that she simply doesn't get it, doesn't know that going to another state to marry does nothing for couples who live here, that a Nevada domestic partnership does not give a gay couple Social Security benefits or enable a man to keep his non-citizen spouse in the U.S. or any number of other details that make federal marriage equality important to those who want it.

I also suspect that there are plenty of Jews, including her own rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom, who could explain to her that religious teachings -- which she has cited as her opposition to same-sex marriage -- have evolved since she was young. In 2006, the overlords of Conservative Judaism endorsed same-sex unions and the ordination of openly gay clergy. So she is actually not in step with her own faith. When she was young, very few girls had Bat Mitzvahs. Her daughter had one and, from what she told me, the FBI spied on it because of the mobsters who attended. So times change.

Carolyn Goodman may be teachable on this stuff and, in fact, has come a long way from my first interview with her in March when she didn't even understand why gays needed domestic partnerships.

So I'm not troubled by her statements because I know lots of Jewish grandmas like her. I had two, in fact, until I came out and fell in love and they figured out how to square their desire for my happiness with whatever they had been told decades before.

But her knee-jerk willingness to be dishonest about her own prior comments should alarm even her. She must have watched politicians her whole life do that, as we all have, and hated it. She'd be more human, more reasonable, more sympathetic if she could resist that instinct and offered up more humility.

Odds are good she's going to have to make many, many more public statements in the future. It would be nice if we didn't have to take them with grains of salt.