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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Temperature Control

Keeping the heat on President Obama is right, but let’s be realistic.

By Steve Charing

Towards the end of the Pride festival a young lady asked me, "When will Obama give us our rights?" as if he can wave a magic wand.

The next day in an uncharacteristically testy e-mail blast, Equality Maryland called on its supporters to "Give President Obama a Piece of Your Mind."

Recently a well-publicized partial boycott by LGBT donors of a Democratic National Committee fundraiser was in response to the Department of Justice’s over-the-top legal brief in defending the Defense of Marriage Act as well as inaction on securing other aspects of the LGBT agenda.

And the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network staged a demonstration in front of the White House to bemoan the lack of progress to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Other protest marches in D.C. are planned for the fall.

What is going on here is a series of sporadic outbursts of frustration by many lgbt activists who resent the DOJ brief’s language and the slow pace in which campaign promises are being addressed.

Beleaguered President
LGBT activists are not the only ones turning the heat up on President Obama. He is also being criticized by Hispanics over the lack of comprehensive immigration reform. Environmentalists are on his case for not acting swiftly on global warming. Mr. Obama is hearing it from Republicans who oppose everything he is trying to do to lift the economy out of oblivion after they largely put it there.

He’s feeling pressure from the left, the right, the center, the media—just about everyone. He’s too timid on Iran. He’s driving the deficit up. His healthcare plan will doom the nation. He’s too pro-Israel. He’s too pro-Palestine. And North Korea has its sights set on Waikiki Beach. It seems like it’s time for him to get another dog.

This barrage of criticism and demands resembles a national dunking machine where Obama sits on the platform and the whole country is hurling balls at the metal circular plate.

From our perspective, President Obama clearly could have imposed a moratorium on DADT discharges while Congress sorts it out. And while I doubt he personally approved the language in the DOJ brief, he is still responsible for it, and it counters his pledge to repeal it through legislation. Are these outbursts, however, the right strategy?

The political realities
Of course, we want our agenda pushed through. We have a Democratic president with a huge Democratic majority in Congress—a window of opportunity that will not remain open forever despite the GOP’s foibles. But let’s get real.

President Obama has been in office just over 5 months out of 48 months in his first term. He potentially could reach 96 months if re-elected. In the short time since inauguration he has dealt with problems that would make any other person find an escape clause in the contract. His issues are too numerous to delineate here, but I’m sure there is no question as to the challenges facing our country. Imagine McCain and Palin grappling with these crises.

Mr. Obama didn’t win the election based on a gay agenda. He won on "change" and to put Democratic policies in place and eradicate the previous administration’s mistakes. He won on ending the war in Iraq and implementing some form of universal healthcare. And he won by being the anti-Bush.

He amassed 365 electoral votes. Even if Mr. Obama did not receive a single lgbt vote (and 30% of lgbt folks did not vote for him anyway), he still would have won. That’s right, as a bloc, and I use that term loosely, we didn’t win the election for him.

But that doesn’t mean he will renege on his campaign promises to us. The key components of our legislative agenda must originate in Congress. It is that body that needs to act on an all-inclusive ENDA, to repeal of DADT and to pass the Matthew Sheppard Act while we still have this large majority.

Alas, the repeal of DOMA appears to be years away from passage. It’s not politically realistic that sitting Representatives will want to enter their next electoral campaign with their opponents harping on the fact that the incumbent is opposed to preserving the institution of marriage.

But we need to start educating them and it would be easier to succeed on this front if we can achieve victories in the other important issues first. Once we achieve equality in one area, it is harder justify discrimination in other areas.

As much as the bully pulpit is useful for a popular president to help frame the agenda and kick-start the process, Mr. Obama will not sacrifice any political capital on these matters—yet—until HIS priorities are realized. Congress, however, must act now.

What needs to be done
Barney Frank, one of only three openly gay Representatives, believes that too much blame is being placed on President Obama and not enough significance is being attached to lobbying members of Congress. "It’s not that Obama doesn’t want to do it, but you need the votes," Frank said. "You can’t complain about the president until you’ve called your senator."

It doesn’t matter if President Obama is on our side if Congress won’t play ball. A grassroots effort is needed to persuade members of Congress—district by district.

Maintain the pressure on the president to make sure he understands we’re not going away. Let’s try to persuade him to deliver a speech along the lines of his race speech in Philadelphia and the recent speech in Cairo whereby he reached out to Muslims. Here he could denounce discrimination against lgbt people and to reiterate his desire to be a "fierce advocate for equality."

If we become extreme, any reactive moves on his part would be seen as appeasing a segment of his base. And keep in mind there is a significant number within his base who opposes transgender rights and marriage equality.

At the partially-boycotted DNC fundraiser Vice-President Joe Biden told the lgbt crowd, "I want to thank you for being a critical – critical – voice for keeping the nation focused on the unfinished business of true equality for all of our people; and I know, and this administration knows, that we have so much more to do. I promise you, I promise you, with your help we’ll get there in this administration."

The window is 48 or even 96 months, not 5. Remember that.


libhom said...

Obama has not done anything about stopping the war in Iraq and has mostly followed the same Bush regime policies on both foreign and domestic policy. He represents continuity, not "change."

Obama has been overwhelmingly homophobic so far, including his efforts to scuttle the repeal of the military ban, his invitation of Rick Warren to participate in the inauguration, and his discrimination against queers in cabinet level appointments.

As for Barney Frank, he has no loyalty to the lgbt community whatsoever. He has betrayed us to so many bigoted Democrats including Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and now Barack Obama.

Your argument boils down to the same "give him a chance" that partisan Democrats fed us during the viciously homophobic Clinton administration. He repaid our support by making things worse on our issues overall.

Obama has made it abundantly clear that he is just as much of an enemy of lgbt people as Bill Clinton was. Our only reasonable alternative at this point is to start fighting back.

Scott S said...

Hey Steve, I just read your article about President Obama. I haven't given up on him yet and I have also tried to tell people to give him time. This stuff didn't happen over night nor will it be resolved that way. Anyway, I know you're in Baltimore but we have our own "Devils" in PA. I am including a message I got recently where a PA State Senator actually said that our society allows gay people to exist. Sounds a lot like something you may have heard some time ago in Germany! I guess maybe we should all be rounded up and executed. That's what it sounds like to me. Here is the email I received...


I listened to it live, but I couldn't believe my ears. So I waited for the podcast and listened again. And he really said it.

Last Friday, a Republican Pennsylvania State Senator told a Philadelphia radio audience that our society is "allowing" gay people to exist.

Click here to read the transcript and to tell Eichelberg to apologize on air. http://www.keystoneprogress.org/page/s/paeichelberger

Senator John Eichelberger (R-30) made his remarks on June 19 in a live radio debate with Senator Daylin Leach (D-17) on the Radio Times show on WHYY-FM. The debate was over the senators' competing bills on marriage equality.

Eichelberger's bill would enshrine discrimination and bigotry by amending the Pennsylvania Constitution to ban same-sex unions.

Sen. Leach's bill (SB 935) would expand the definition of marriage and allow same-sex couples to wed.

No matter what you think of same-sex marriage, the thought that someone believes he is being tolerant because he is "allowing them to exist" is outrageous.

The implication of "allowing them to exist" is that he, his party or the government can end their existence if they so choose. This is the view of leaders in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, but it's hard to believe that someone in the United States believes this. Especially an elected official.

If you're as angry as I am, please take a moment to send an email to Sen. Eichelberg by clicking here.

Tell him no one "allows" LGBT people to exist.

It's time to stand up and say we won't allow bigots to say things like this with impunity.

Take action now! Write to Eichelberger by clicking here http://www.keystoneprogress.org/page/s/paeichelberger.

Michael Morrill
Keystone Progress

Thanks for allowing me to vent. The notion that there are people in power in today's society that think like this scares me!

Jeff Coleman said...

I really fail to see how helping us will help him politically. And excuse my pessimism/realism but I fail to believe any politician will act on anything that will not either help them politically, or be in line with their own personal projects and/or ideals. Helping us will just provide more ammo for conservatives in the reelection campaign in ... Read Moreanother attempt to "rally the base." Also, as you pointed out, it could detract from his base if any big changes were made. I don't expect anything from him in this term unless an incentive can be made. For example: if there were a large scale hate crime mass murder in a large gay district that attracted national attention, then he'd have the incentive and political protection to act. Anything short of that would be too risky to depend on stifling the backlash. We may see things in his second term, as he'd have much less to lose politically. Personally though, I don't think he cares.

Practice Democracy said...

Hi Steve, I believe I felt the same way on Festival day as did the young lady asking you the “When” question. Since then Obama has made an effort to address some of our anxiety. But when he does things like ask Rick Warren to his inauguration many LGBT folks feel pushed aside. I did. I understand the frustration. I had a similar feeling when Bill Clinton suggested Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a solution to gays serving in the military. At first it seemed like a slick maneuver. But it backfired and has continued to cause LGBT service members and national security to suffer for sixteen years now. The invitation of Warren, however, has seemed to work in our favor. Warren has since been quiet. Obama plays to the political middle and that’s where most successful politicians go. It worked well for Reagan in the early 80’s. The Department of Justice Memo on the judicial defense of DOMA was hurtful. It was hurtful because he knew about it and meant what it said or he wasn’t paying attention. Which is worse?

The political realities of our time ARE very obvious. Change must happen in many areas: in policy areas, in regulatory areas, and most importantly to prevent the partisan swing of the Supreme Court any further to the right. And to go on, LGBT issues are also important to us and to the siblings and parents of LGBT children. You rightly state that he has only been in office for 5 months and many issues are important to us first as liberal leaning Americans and then as LGBT Americans.

And let this answer be a resounding “NO!” I cannot imagine McCain and/or Palin grappling with the issues at hand. The suggestions those two made as this Administration took office would have apparently made things much worse than they now are. This fiasco is going to push off my retirement for a very long time.

It is our job, out here in Activist Land, to keep the pressure on. But I agree with you, “If we become extreme, any reactive moves on his part would be seen as appeasing a segment of his base.” Most of his base would consider us a minor part of his base. We cannot allow this to happen. We must talk about ways to keep LGBT voters involved and how they can help move this country toward the change we wish to see. The Assimilationists should buy into this idea easily, but we need to show the others why it will be beneficial to tone down the rhetoric. I would again say I agree with you that we need to educate our elected officials and the movable middle, but we also need to educate those in our own community.

The struggle as I see it is the tug of war within the LGBT community between those who are now comfortable and wish The Activists would just calm down, and those who are the activists who have been working toward full civil equality for 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years now and are excited because the goal is now within sight.

I believe the President when he said in June, “I think you folks will be happy with this Administration when it leaves office.” If we lobby our elected officials and educate our neighbors and allies the equality we seek will come to be.

Mark Patro
PFLAG Baltimore County