Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Desperately Seeking Campaign Follow-Through

So, 100+ days into his presidency President Obama's follow-through on some of his campaign rhetoric has been less than stellar. I have applauded some of his early moves such as issuing an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay, ending the Global Gag Rule, signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, and expressing his commitment to LGBT civil rights on the White House website. Those are important, changey actions that I doubt would have come to fruition under Team McCain/Palin.

That being said, however, those were the easy decisions for a Democratic President to make. The true test of President Obama's mettle will be to see how he handles those more difficult, more politically-charged decisions. Near and dear to my heart, of course, is Obama's scaling back of the pro-LGBT goals he touted during his campaign and the early days of his presidency. His administration thus far has not taken concrete action on LGBT equality efforts. In addition, perhaps because their own rights as heterosexuals are not directly at stake, there is a general liberal sentiment that Obama should focus on More Important Things Right Now while issues like Don't Ask Don't Tell, immigration equality, hate crimes legislation, and marriage equality sit on the backburner until the Time Is Right (tm).

Obama's support for LGBT equality is pretty broad. In recent months, however, he's scaled back his support somewhat and has taken little or no action on earlier campaign promises. For instance, his White House webpage on Civil Rights used to express his support for hate crimes laws, a transgender-inclusive employment non-discrimination act, full civil unions and federal benefits for same-sex couples, expansion of adoptions rights, HIV/AIDS funding, opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and opposition to Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). Now, however, he has completely removed mention of repealing DOMA from the site. That is a startling omission since same-sex couples will not be able to receive any of the "federal benefits" that legally married couples receive with DOMA in place.

The page also now states that Obama supports removing DADT "in a sensible way." It's not clear what "in a sensible way" means, however Obama and his officials have said multiple times that ending the policy would have to wait. I can appreciate consensus building. Respect for opposing views comes in contrast to the previous administration's strong-minded habits. However, when qualified gay men and lesbians continue to be discharged during wartime, my patience on this issue is running thin. With 81% of the US population believing openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military, I suspect that many people feel this way.

By now, it is mostly only self-embarassing homophobes who oppose allowing gay men and lesbians to openly serve their country. By catering to that unfortunate anti-gay crowd, Obama and Congress are allowing arguments like "lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower" to be presented as though they're a legitimate Other Side to this debate. For a man who based his campaign on beautiful political rhetoric, it's incredibly disappointing for the level of discourse to be lowered like that. It is arguable as to whether Obama can or should unilaterally end DADT, but what a strong leader who promised big things to the LGBT community should be doing is at least calling for Congress to unequivocally repeal the law.

Furthermore, while it is refreshing and appreciated that the President supports so many pro-LGBT policies, it will all be meaningless and utterly disappointing if none of them actually come to fruition. Obama has, relatively speaking, talked a big game. But, as The Gaytheist Agenda reminds us, his support has thus far been of little tangible consequence. More than 100 days into his Administration, no change has taken place on any of the pro-LGBT policies that Obama supports. Let's hope that the man who chastised his opponent for being a Bush clone turns out not to be one himself when it comes to doing something tangible and real as far as LGBT equality goes.

Then, there's Obama's replication of Bush era counterterrorism policies. Writing for The New Republic, Jack Goldsmith explains:

"Former Vice President Cheney says that President Obama's reversal of Bush-era terrorism policies endangers American security. The Obama administration, he charges, has 'moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11.' Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence. But there is a different problem with Cheney's criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric."

Some of the specifics mentioned in Goldsmith's piece include Obama's continuation of detaining terrorism suspects without trial indefinitely, his narrow view of the right of habeas corpus, and his ramped up use of "targeted killing" in Afghanistan and Pakistan that also cause "collateral damage" the murder of innocent civilians.

I consider this replication of Bush policy to be early mistakes that may haunt Obama when he's up for re-election. He based his campaign on messages of "Hope" and "Change," but thus far he's not proving to effectuate all that much change. I write that knowing full well that the Obama-disappointment of liberals, LGBT people, and progressives makes many conservatives cream their panties. Am I disappointed? Sure. Obama knew that in the midst of economic downturn, multiple wars, and a divisive previous 8 years that he had to give the people hope if he was going to win. His energy was a marked contrast to his opponent's and he played Youthful Washington Outsider very well.

However, did I really think the Obama years were going to be a utopian era of peace, equal rights, prosperity, and unicorns? Of course not. I consider my political leanings to be "Other" partly because both major parties in the US are so predictably disappointing. Because of this, I still yearn for a political leader with the moral courage to not let ridiculous arguments continue to be legitimate reasons to deny people equal rights, civil rights, and human rights. I suspect I'm not alone. I wanted that person to be President Obama. I suppose time will tell.

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