David M. Smith - Fire the Bastard!
(From the left: David Smith, Elizabeth Birch, Cathy Nelson, and Joe Solmonese, celebrating the signing of the Hate Crimes Act on October 28, 2009. Photo credit: National Conference on Civil and Human Rights.)
This week's failed Don't Ask, Don't Tell train wreck is the fault of many political leaders, gay and straight, but there is one key architect of the gay side's strategy who is escaping attention and criticism. His name is David M. Smith, a longtime vice president at the Human Rights Campaign.
Back in the spring of 1993 when I still resided in Washington, I met David at the opening of the P Street office for the Campaign for Military Service. He was a lieutenant in CMS, which was a Gay Inc collaboration, with the late Tom Stoddard and David Mixner at the helm. David is a creation of many useless or ineffective professional advocacy orgs.
I found David to be an arrogant bastard, with an irritating argument about how CMS and its allies were going to lift the military's ban on gays, and he offer little proof of actual grassroots support among the street activist orgs. Of course, CMS failed and President Clinton steamrolled over the org to create the DADT we have today.
Here it is 16-17 years later, the policy is still in place, as is David in his role as setter of the HRC agenda, and to some degree the gay agenda in DC. HRC executive directors come and go, but David stays. From the tail-end of the Tim McFeeley tenure, to Elizabeth Birch and Cheryl Jacques, on through the Joe Solmonese years, David remains firmly entrenched, making key decisions on our legislative agenda.
With more than a decade-and-a-half to organize for the day when we have a Democratic White House, the party controlling both the Senate and House, what was part of the major public engagement plan pieced together by David? A minor red-headed reality star comic headlining a rally, that was zapped by GetEQUAL leaders, and in key House or Senate districts and states, the planting of America flag at statehouse grounds, symbolizing the missing activist troops from HRC's efforts at the local level.
As I've said in the past about my occasional adversary, the former publisher of the Washington Blade Chris Crain, moderate voices such as his have long warned us about the crappy strategy of David and the executive directors at HRC. Crain, from June 2009:
I've been writing for years and years about the tragic willingness of those in "leadership" roles of the gay rights movement to cut deals that betray their supposed constituents. Joe Solmonese and David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign are archetypes of this pathetic trend -- grossly overpaid lobbyists who spend far more political capital lowering the expectations of gays on behalf of the Democratic Party than they do pressuring for equality in Washington.
On his blog yesterday, Andrew Sullivan called for Solmonese to be fired, after a path to DADT repeal went down in flames in the Senate. While I surely wouldn't mind if that happened and Solmonese went to work for his real bosses at the Democratic National Committee, or began a new career in the fashion world, Andrew shouldn't have been so narrow in his call for who to let go at HRC.
David M. Smith should be made to walk the plank, yes, for the DADT repeal disaster, but also for actively putting Democratic Party needs first, and selling the gay community down the Potomac River, for almost two horribly long decades of minuscule federal progress for ordinary gays.
To improve our lot in Washington, we'd be most wise to pay very close attention to the man behind the HRC curtain.