|Romney and gay veteran Bob Garon|
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney got more than he bargained for when he saw two older gentlemen in a booth at the restaurant, and then invited himself to sit down for a quick campaign chat. The man Romney slid next to in the booth, Bob Garon, was dressed in a red flannel shirt and a Vietnam vet baseball cap. The fellow seated across from them was Bob Lemire, who we can only imagine to Mitt's surprise, was Bob Garon's legal husband.
Garon, who did in fact serve in Vietnam in the 1960s, wedded Lemire in New Hampshire where gay marriage is legal. When Mitt Romney sat down at his four-top booth, Garon took full advantage of finally having a "seat at the table," posing several questions to Romney about his stance on gay marriage and a gay spouse's eligibility for veteran's benefits.
You've probably read about this encounter already, but if you're interested, you can find the full text of their conversation here, or watch a video clip of their interaction here.
Romney deserves some credit for how he managed himself in this situation once he realized where the conversation was headed. He didn't quickly slink away to the next table as Michele Bachmann might have done (for fear of gay cooties, no doubt), he didn't cut Garon off in mid-sentence as Newt Gingrich might have done, and he didn't duck Bob Garon's very pointed questions about gay marriage. In fact, Romney gave concise and straightforward answers, even though they weren't the answers he knew Garon wanted to hear. Of course, knowing his response was completely in line with what his Republican base would want to hear probably made being "direct" a little easier for Romney. Still, I give him credit for not pacifying "the Bobs" on the spot.
The other element of Romney's chat with Bob Garon that stood out to me is the conversation and myriad of questions that didn't happen.
- Could Romney have asked a couple of open-ended questions to explore Bob Garon's situation? This would seem only fair since Garon opened the can of worms, and it would show that Romney is contemplating the "personal" element of his political stance.
- Could Romney have probed more into why this issue is so important to Garon as a citizen? Campaigns should be about listening to voter concerns, after all.
- Could Romney have addressed Bob Garon as a man concerned about the long-term financial well-being of his spouse instead of treating him as though he were the moderator of Meet the Press?
I suppose from Romney's point of view there was no reason to engage Bob Garon in an attempt to fully understand his important and underlying concerns, because frankly, there is nothing that Romney or the Republican party is interested in doing to address them. This campaign moment though, brief and ultimately uneventful as it was, is valuable nonetheless.
First, we learned that Romney is a candidate who can talk to gay people and not just talk about them. Second, America saw the very real faces of the very regular people, for whom marriage is not a legal option nationwide. Third, Romney, the Republican party, and all of us who saw the story in the news received some important reminders about the gay and lesbian community. The GLBT community contains vast and impressive diversity (even old soldiers can be gay); in some states, gay marriage is legal (resulting in horrific events like people of the same gender eating breakfast together in diners); and gay people have the same concerns about healthcare and benefits that everyone else has (which is to say that growing old is a bit scary).