Interview: David Goodfriend – a good friend to many

By Rick Rose

I attended Beloit College with David Goodfriend who went on to serve President Clinton as Deputy Staff Secretary. He was also a lawyer at the FCC and served on congressional committee staffs in the U.S. House and Senate. Dave was Vice President of Law and Public Policy at DISH Network before starting his own public policy practice in Washington, D.C. He is co-host of “Left Jab” on XM Satellite Radio and is a frequent politics contributor on MSNBC and other news networks and programs. Of note, Dave is also on the board of the Sports Fans Coalition, a coalition of sports activists, fighting for more rights for sports fans. His favorite teams are the Green Bay Packers and the UW Badgers; rightly so, as he is a Wisconsinite like me!

I asked David to weigh in on some things I have been recently sharing here on lgbtSr, see how it all began for him and find out where he is headed all these years later. You will see, David is an inspiration and a good friend to many of us.


RR: Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL spoke with me recently about the importance of allies in the LGBTQ movement to equality. You are my first non-gay interview, David, and one of those allies. What personally makes you a good ally and professionally, what is the best thing you ever did to help in our march to equality?

DG: When I was a kid, my parents split up. I lived with my Dad and he hired a student, Esmeralda, to live with us and help take care of me. I loved Esme like an older sister, and I think she really helped me get through a very tough time with her strength, humor, and love. As an adult, I learned that she is a lesbian. We have stayed incredibly close. This very important relationship in my life shaped my views about LGBT rights. As a child, I was let down by the traditional, nuclear family. And I was given a sense of family connection from a member of the LGBT community. As a result, I am a true believer in equality for all, especially when it comes to starting a family. That’s important. We need people in the straight community, so to speak, to be just as adamant about LGBT rights as you yourself are.

Right now, my single biggest professional goal in support of the LGBT community, but really the whole country, is to see my dear friend, Tammy Baldwin, elected to the United States Senate. Tammy knew me when I was a kid. I attended the same middle school and high school that she did. She represents the finest in the Wisconsin Progressive tradition that shaped my own political beliefs from an early age. And she would be the first openly gay member of the US Senate. We need her to win.

RR: You have two wonderful sons, last I counted, do kids see color and orientation, the way we did when we were their age? I sense from my own nephews and nieces, that it no longer defines a person; it’s just part of a person, an afterthought almost.

DG: In general, you are right. I think kids these days are far more open-minded than prior generations. But on the ball field or in social gatherings, I still hear kids using some vocabulary words I don’t like. There’s more work to do.

RR: One of the 8 Dallas Principles underlying a call to full civil rights by many activists and leaders is, “Separate is never equal.” Comment?

DG: Separate is never equal. Separating one group of people from another is in itself an elitist, demeaning action.


RR: What was your shining moment in all your on-air appearances on your own XM Radio show, “Left Jab” or CNBC, MSNBC?

DG: One of the times I felt most impassioned, focused, and from-the-heart was when I delivered a rant on Dylan Ratigan’s MSNBC show about the protests in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. It all came together for me then. ( I also will never forget interviewing Howard Zinn on my radio show. He passed away shortly thereafter.

RR: On the contrary, were words ever put in your mouth that made you so mad or that you had to fight to set right? What were they?

DG: On the subject of the Wisconsin protests, I was on conservative host Larry Kudlow’s CNBC “Money and Politics” show and one of my conservative opponents (I was up against two of them) put the text of a death threat against Gov. Walker on the screen. I had no warning, and no chance to respond. It was a total drive-by, snake bite, booby trap move. I was pissed. But I decided to keep coming on the show as a guest because in general, they do treat me fairly.

RR: I met you at Beloit College ( where you were a great actor. Was your journey from where you were graduating HS to where you are now all planned out? Did you know in college days that you would be an attorney? Radio/TV personality? Was it a good natural flow?

DG: I had no idea where I was going. I had so many different interests. Most of all, I struggled with two very different sides of myself: the artist and the scientist. I wondered if i would ever find a way to fulfill both such disparate sides. Today, I have a very fulfilling career that in many ways includes both. Politics, media, law, business… All sides of my brain are at work.


RR: As we grow older, gracefully, do you spend more time in the morning physically preparing yourself for public appearances?

DG: We gotta rage against middle age. I just finished my second Olympic Triathlon (in Malibu) and plan to do more! Exercise is really important to me as I hit my mid 40s, even if I do have less hair than when you and I were in college.

RR: How did your appointment to be Clinton’s Deputy Staff Secretary come about? And you were young, weren’t you?

DG: I was very fortunate. When I was in law school at Georgetown, I made a point of taking a class from John Podesta, who had just finished working in the Clinton White House and, as it later turned out, would return to become Chief of Staff. I loved learning from John, and I think I earned his respect. After graduating, I practiced telecommunications law at Willkie Farr and Gallagher under a great lawyer named Phil Verveer, who was a long time friend of the President’s. When the Deputy position came open at the White House, the White House asked Phil and others for some recommendations. They gave my name. By this time, John was back in the White House and reviewed new hires. He remembered me from Georgetown and gave his blessing. So I got the job. What an honor.


RR: You were also a legal advisor to the FCC’s Susan Ness. I recently did an oped piece on gay representation on television programs. Is there enough and is it accurate?

DG: No there is not enough, but I would say it’s improving. I know from my time at the FCC that the Commission must tread lightly on content judgments due to the First Amendment. This does not stop Commissioners or Members of Congress, however, from speaking up when they see things they don’t like. FCC licensees want to have the benefit of the doubt from their regulators, so they tend to be responsive when a senior official expresses concern, such as when gays are misrepresented in the media. The action must be one of persuasion, not mandate, but that option always is available to a public official.

RR: Is there talk that you may someday join the Obama team? Do you think you would have greater effect now then you did back then?

DG: I would be honored but have not been asked to join the White House. To tell you the truth, I had my time and these days I prefer to be an advocate and agitator on the outside, saying what I want on TV and Radio and representing clients with causes I believe in. When you’re in the Administration, you must tow the party line, and I think I’d find that a little confining compared to the freedom I have today.

RR: Supreme Court nominations is the topic. Would you accept it if offered by Obama? Would you pass confirmation?

DG: You are the first to ask me that one! I’m honored you’d ask but I’m not Supreme Court Material. I do know Justice Elana Kagan from when we worked in the White House together, and I think a finer justice you cannot find. She will make important contributions for decades.

RR: If you were in Obama’s shoes, and had to nominate a new Justice today, who would it be and why? What is her/his stance on equality?

DG: Bill Clinton. Let’s put that power of persuasion on the Court, and we’ll get the fifth vote. He has made his mistakes on things like DADT but if put in a lifetime appointment without any electoral pressure, he’d do the right thing. I just wish he had more years in him.


RR: Another of the Dallas Principles is “The establishment and guardianship of full civil rights is a non-partisan issue.” Do you agree in principle? What steps can we take to make it practical?

DG: True in theory but, unfortunately, not in fact. This is because Republicans primarily, but many Democrats, too, believe that by playing on the fears and bigotry of a few, they can drive a wedge into what should be a national consensus on the issue of civil rights, such as LGBT equality, and rack up the votes of certain factions. Balanced against this, however, are some shining examples of bipartisanship emerging on the issue of gay rights. Most notable is Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York, who worked tirelessly to bring Republicans in the legislature along with him in support of gay marriage. He is a modern civil rights hero. We can make civil rights a non-partisan issue. Along with gay rights, I think our most pressing civil rights issue is immigration reform.