The hate for Harold Ford, Jr. was everywhere in the news, on the blogs, and on Twitter today. I noted that he was called a liar, a snake, and a snake oil salesman.
I would argue that the reaction is fundamentally misguided. Such an outpouring of scorn from the GLBT community is an important lesson to candidates and elected officials--If you have a past on our issues, it's over. You don't get another chance.
That is not the message we want to send when we are failing at the ballot and in legislatures (including New York!) on the marriage issue and when we're not advancing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress. If we show more passion for screaming insults at candidates who say they've changed their position than we show for doing the work of lobbying and persuading candidates and elected officials, we're in for a long fight.
People don't change their positions magically. They may do so in light of new opportunities (like a New York Senate seat) or because they see that the views of their constituents are changing. Or maybe friends or family members come out to them and change their minds. The important thing is that they change and follow through by supporting policies that advance equality.
Examples in Tennessee are rampant. Most of the legislators who were around in 2005 voted for the marriage discrimination amendment. Some of those same people have helped us on other bills since that time. Metro Council Members who were opposed to marriage equality and have legislative voting records to prove it were instrumental in passing the non-discrimination ordinance.
And, yes, Harold Ford, Jr.'s record on equality issues is bad. But if we offer him a claw when he reaches out to us, we're making a mistake. We ought to welcome the news and help hold him accountable for his new position. Isn't that the kind of change we need to see in order to win?
The closest statement I have found to this sort of constructive position came from the Human Rights Campaign:
“Congressman Harold Ford’s announcement this morning on the Today Show that he has reversed his position and is now in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples is certainly welcome news. However, it is also going to take more than an overnight conversion for our community to forget and forgive the two votes, one as recently as 2006, the Congressman made in support of George Bush’s Federal Marriage Amendment – an amendment that would have enshrined discrimination into the US Constitution. Not to mention, his outspoken support and personal declaration to vote for the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in his home state of Tennessee, and the ads he ran promoting his anti-marriage position during his 2006 senate race. These are actions that need to be remedied with a tangible commitment to move equality forward rather than hampering it."
Fair enough. It makes sense to greet a change of position with a degree of skepticism and remind everyone of the harm that has been done by past votes and statements. But the HRC statement leaves the door open for Ford to prove the truth of his words with deeds. No name-calling needed!
If he runs and gets substantial financial backing, we'd all better hope that he grows in his support of marriage equality and other issues. There's nothing wrong with making him fight for the support of New York voters who value equality, but if he does follow through, he deserves a hearing.