Monday, October 12, 2009

Dancing with the President

Our new President has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – much to the surprise of, well, pretty much everybody. And Fidel Castro, bless his heart, told us how happy he is about it.

(Note to Castro: Thanks, big fella, really! But, um, please stop helping us. Seriously. We’re having enough trouble convincing people that Obama isn’t a communist.)

Anyway, I’m glad the President won. It’s a good indication of how quickly the world’s perception of the United States has changed since he took office. Pretty amazing, considering that our last administration pretty much trashed the global economy and turned us into barbaric conquistadores (among many, many other dastardly deeds).

But, I digress.

What I really want to talk about is President Obama’s speech Friday night at the Human Rights Campaign dinner. I watched it after the fact, with mixed feelings.

Obama gave a great speech, as usual. In fact, it was his usual speech.

Many in the LGBT community are frustrated that he’s not doing more, faster. I have to admit, I’m frustrated myself. How hard can it be for the Commander in Chief to order the military to stop prosecuting DADT cases?

Still, I am not ready to oppose an administration that is doing more for the LGBT community – and doing it publicly – than any previous administration.

So how, then, should we react to Obama’s support? Should we be pissed off and protest that he’s not doing more? Or should we lay off for a while so the man can do his job?

The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” We should let the man do his job. And we should continue to protest, because we’re unsatisfied with the progress we’re making.

And wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what Obama is telling us to do:

[I]t's so important that you continue to speak out, that you continue to set an example, that you continue to pressure leaders -- including me -- and to make the case all across America.

See, here’s the thing. Some people think Obama wants us to tap dance for him, showering him with continued support and praise even as he does nothing.

But I think Obama is asking us to dance with him, not for him: He is not asking us to be satisfied. He’s pretending to ask that we be satisfied, with the understanding (wink, wink, nod, nod) that we will refuse to wait. That allows our struggle to stay in the spotlight while Obama tries to save the world. (thanks a lot, Dubbya)

Let me say that again: Obama is pretending to ask that we be satisfied. He is asking us to dance with him, not for him. And he is asking us to lead.

Obama’s speech demonstrated that he gets our issues. He is with us. I absolutely believe that. But he’s one guy trying to reconstruct a badly damaged nation in the face of unprecedented political, economic, and physical challenges. Make no mistake about it: there really is a “vast rightwing conspiracy,” and the other side is perfectly content using every tool at his disposal -- including racism and homophobia. The vitriol against this administration is unlike any I have ever seen before.

So under the circumstances, what would we have Obama do? Well, what would you do, if you believed in LGBT equality but also believed – with good reason – that taking action now would trigger a powerful backlash and actually delay equality while undermining work on other important issues?

I’d do exactly what Obama is doing. I would pledge my support publicly; I would do my best to lay the groundwork, building public support while working behind the scenes. And I would trust the community to keep the issue alive and up front.

That’s not nothing. Consider his language:

…it's not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago…You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman.

Now, even if you believe that this is just so much empty rhetoric, one thing is undeniably true: no U.S. president has ever before expressed such clear support for LGBT rights.

Don’t ever doubt the power of the spoken word, especially when it’s repeated over and over again. Few things are more powerful. Just look at Anita Bryant’s success in the 1970s. There, words worked against us. But words can work for us, too.

I mean, come on: every time Obama talks about gay rights, I can hear angry, fragile little wingnut brains exploding all around me. Pop! Pop-pop! Pop! Squeeeeeeeeee! What fun!

Remember, too, the important lessons of Brown v. Board of Education. In that case, the Supreme Court struck down Plessy v. Ferguson, finding that the concept of “separate but equal” is unconstitutional, thus outlawing segregation. Brown came about because the NAACP Legal Defense Fund developed and implemented a methodical, long-term strategy. They brought carefully selected cases before the courts, adding one small handful of precedential sand at a time. By the time Thurgood Marshall argued Brown before the Supreme Court, the NAACP had made it next to impossible for the Court to rule any other way – hence, its unanimous decision.

So, we will continue fighting for equal rights. We will protest. We will be loud and we won’t take no for an answer. Public opinion will continue to turn in our favor, unless we do something stupid.

In other words, we will continue to dance with the President. We will lead, and he will follow and support us. It is, after all, our fight.

That said...

Mr. President, I’ve looked at the statute and I believe you can reverse DADT without authorization from Congress. Right now, today. I can show you how, but then I’m sure you already know.

Please issue an executive order immediately. And I’m not winking.


  1. Anonymous8:22 PM

    I've had a lot of second thoughts about Obama--not that I regret supporting him or can think of anyone else I would prefer. Just wish he wasn't so wedded to all those financial wizards from the past. And was a little stronger on healthcare: like single payer. But I like what you wrote. I'll keep dancing--and let him know what I think.

    Great writing. Really enjoy the blog.

    Robin's mom

  2. OMG! What a delightful surprise!