There has been a significant amount of discussion on the Obama--McClurkin story on the blogosphere. I have been following it mainly at Americablog, which has linked to a wide range of other bloggers discussing the topic. The basic defense from the Obama campaign can be read here. Personally, rather than reading anything too deep into this incident, it strikes me as a standard campaign mistake stemming from inadequate vetting. Obama himself admits as much in an interview with the advocate:
The Advocate: How did this happen? Was Mr. McClurkin vetted?
Senator Obama: Obviously, not vetted to the extent that people were aware of his attitudes with respect to gay and lesbians, LGBT issues -- at least not vetted as well as I would have liked to see.
So, by Obama's own admission, the campaign made a vetting mistake with McClurkin, and then got caught between two groups who wanted different outcomes. Claiming after the fact that this means the Obama campaign is some great big tent where people of all stripes come together and forge new alliances ignores that this only became an issue because of a mistake. The Obama campaign might indeed be such a big tent, but the Obama campaign did not intentionally invite McClurkin to sing in order to have a coalition building conversation between the GLBT community and more stridently homophobic members the African-American clergy. In fact, I think it is pretty obvious that the Obama campaign wishes this discussion never took place and that the issue would just go away.
There was also probably a way out of this mess for the Obama campaign, but instead it made another mistake by inviting a white GLBT member of the clergy to share the stage with McClurkin. Americablog once again has a round-up of why this was a mistake, linking entirely to GLBT bloggers of color. Again, this was a mistake from the Obama campaign that seemed to give the story life for at least another couple of days. Had the campaign made the right move, and invited someone from the African-American GLBT community to share the stage with McClurkin, I bet the issue would have died down sooner.
My question from all of this is whether or not campaign mistakes have a larger meaning about the candidates at the head of those campaigns. The story was caused by a mistake, and perpetuated by a second mistake. The end result of those two mistakes left the Obama campaign with virtually no good solutions to the problem. There was no way to disinvite McClurkin without looking bad to some people, and no way to keep him without looking bad to other people. Does this say 1) something more about the Obama campaign, 2) about Obama's commitment to GLBT issues, 3) Obama's attempts to reach out to people of faith, or 4) the campaign's attempt to build broad progressive coalitions across wide demographic barriers? I am far more prone to think mainly it just says something about the first one: the Obama campaign made a couple of mistakes that resulted in getting caught in a discussion it would rather not have and which no presidential campaign is equipped to handle gracefully. I don't think that this mean's Obama is any less dedicated to reaching out to any of these groups, and I certainly don't think it means Obama's campaign is bridging any major divides within the progressive ecosystem. I think it means that the Obama campaign screwed up with inadequate vetting, and it has justifiably pissed off a lot of members of the GLBT community. Sometimes, a rose is just a rose, and a mistake is just a mistake.