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Lady Gaga not nearly as powerful as politics

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
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'Don't ask, don't tell' on the line
  • LZ Granderson: Lady Gaga led rally to urge senators to stop filibuster of "don't ask, don't tell"
  • Her voice powerful, he says, but it's Sens. McCain, Snowe, Collins who counted
  • Moderate GOP refused to support repeal, afraid of losing re-election, Granderson says

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and, and has contributed to ESPN's Sports Center, Outside the Lines and First Take. He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) award for online journalism, and a 2010 and 2008 honoree of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) for column writing.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- Not even Lady Gaga, who poked her face into the "don't ask, don't tell" debate with a rally appearance in Maine and tweets addressing Sens. Harry Reid and Sen. John McCain, could stop the ongoing theme in the Senate -- partisanship.

The Democrats needed 60 votes Tuesday to bring a bill that would have repealed the policy, but could only muster 56. No Republicans crossed the aisle. Two Democrats from Arkansas voted against it as well, which is consistent with the attitudes of a state that can use a parent's sexual orientation in determining parenting time. Senate Majority Leader Reid sided with the Republicans because doing so enables him to bring the issue back up at a later time. All of this serves as a reminder that no matter how powerful a voice like a Gaga's may be, fear has a way of muting it.

I was fortunate enough to be in the audience when President Obama, speaking at last fall's Human Rights Campaign National Dinner, said "I will end 'don't ask. don't tell,' that's my commitment to you" and that "I have called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)."

Although Obama has certainly had his share of political and P.R. missteps in terms of addressing issues of diversity -- be it race, religion or sexual orientation -- the truth is I have never doubted the good that was in his heart. So when he promised the attendees at the fundraiser that he would put an end to the policies, I believed him. As did most everyone else there, judging by the eruption of applause and cheers that soon followed.

But not long after Obama reiterated the promises he made on the campaign trail, we were quickly reminded why keeping those promises would be difficult.

That's because the following morning, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, a guest on a Sunday morning news program, was asked whether she would support a bill to repeal DOMA if it were in front of her that day.

In an earlier post I was mistaken in saying Stabenow was shy about her support in repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and for that I am truly sorry. She is a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal the policy.

But I must say it bothered me that Stabenow didn't answer the DOMA repeal question with a simple "yes" less than 24 hours after Obama's speech. It doesn't matter how much good a president has in his or her heart, or which celebrity appeared at a rally, in an election year, GLBT rights is still a four-letter word. And it's F. E. A. R.

Coincidentally, Gaga was also on stage at the Human Rights Campaign fundraiser the night Obama spoke. She wasn't performing any of her hits, but she still managed to generate as much, if not more, buzz than the president. She was also at the National Equality March the next day and was basically the only speaker who was able to get the masses to quiet down and listen to her every word.

What can I say? Her little monsters love her.

But chances are none of her monsters voted Tuesday.

I appreciate the good will of Gaga, comedian Kathy Griffin and other celebrities who have spoken out in support of a repeal of the policy, but the truth is, they're preaching to the choir. We all know not one person who is afraid of losing political power is going to be moved by clips from a rally speech.

No, ultimately the only voice that matters is the one inside the 100 hearts in the Senate, particularly those who have been quick to point fingers but hesitant to stick out necks. No one needs Gallup polls, Pentagon surveys or a phone call from Lady Gaga to know pandering to bigots only serves to hold the country back.

You just need the guts to say so.

With 59 seats in the chamber, Senate Democrats needed at least one Republican vote to reach the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. However, none of the moderate Republicans who in the past have voted with Democrats crossed the aisle this time.

On Monday, Lady Gaga held a rally to call on both Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to join Democrats in overcoming the GOP filibuster attempt. Both Snowe and Collins oppose the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But both voted with the rest of their party.

If Democrats are indeed going down this November, I hope they do so in the manner in which Obama spoke in his first State of the Union address -- engaged in a battle that leaves them battered, bruised and covered in blood, fighting for what they know is best for the country as opposed to the best strategy to get re-elected.

And if there are politicians on either side of the aisle willing to swap the constitutional rights of some in exchange for four more years for themselves, may they be the first ones out of a job. For as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Not the voices of the Gagas or the Obamas, but of the Snowes and Collinses. And now that we've heard what they've had to say, we're painfully reminded that we've heard this song before.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.