As the Nashville Scene reported just a few weeks ago, Congressman Jim Cooper’s record on gay rights has been spotty, at best. His recent failure to sign congressional Democrats’ anti-DOMA amicus brief in support of marriage equality was extremely disappointing to many of us here in Nashville, but that obviously paled in comparison to the fact that Congressman Cooper had previously voted for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage— twice. Of particular note, those two votes took place as recently as 2006 and 2004. Incredibly, however – immediately after announcing his new position for “civil” marriage equality a couple of weeks ago – Cooper also had the audacity to pretend that he “couldn’t immediately recall” his prior votes to weave discrimination against gay couples into our constitutional fabric.
Jim Cooper has done a great many things over the past few years to draw the ire of his overwhelmingly Democratic constituency, but I don't ever recall him being so flatly dishonest. Hypocritically voting against Sandy aid because of a misguided obsession with deficit reduction, supporting Colin Powell for Speaker over Nancy Pelosi (?), and being uniquely unhelpful to President Obama (and President Clinton, years before that) during the health care reform effort— those things can at least theoretically be explained by his “blue dog” philosophy, which quite thankfully is a dying breed. For someone who purports to be so principled, though, Cooper’s recent attempt to hide from his record on gay rights – rather than owning up to that record and apologizing for it – borders on the inexcusable. Sadly, however, based on the complete lack of outrage from our local media in response to his comments, it also appears as though he’s going to come away from this effort to avoid accountability unscathed.
Let me be clear in saying that I firmly believe that Democrats need to be a “big tent” party in order to thrive, especially down here in Tennessee. If we were to shun everyone who failed to take a principled stand on issues like gun control, for example, Nashville would suddenly find itself without a Democratic Mayor, and Karl Dean is easily among the most popular Democrats in the entire state. I do wonder, though, what it takes for someone to lose the privilege of being able to run with a ‘D’ next to his or her name on the ballot. Professing conservatism on fiscal issues is one thing; but our commitment to promoting social justice and social equality is fundamentally what makes Democrats Democrats, and I am far from certain that Jim Cooper is on board. Moreover, beyond the fact that he’s now attempting to hide from his record on gay rights, why exactly did it take Cooper so long to come around to the right side of history? We may never know the answer to that question, but as one reader recently suggested in the Scene’s comment section: “[Perhaps] Cooper just had to wait until the other Republicans did it first.”