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Tilting at Windmills

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October 27, 2010

ANNOYING BOTH SIDES OF AN EQUALITY DEBATE SIMULTANEOUSLY.... We learned this week that President Obama, after less than two years in office, has already "appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in history." By one estimate, there are now more than 150 officials -- "from agency heads and commission members to policy officials and senior staffers" -- in the administration, easily surpassing the 140 officials spanning eight years of the Clinton administration.

Not surprisingly, the religious right isn't happy about this. The Christian Broadcasting Network ran an item yesterday:

Gay activist groups estimate Obama has made 150 of the appointments so far. About a dozen of them required Senate confirmation.

The White House is proud of the numbers and noted that President Obama has hired more gay officials than the Clinton and Bush administrations combined.

Many conservative groups have blasted some of the appointments, saying they will use their roles to push a homosexual agenda on the country.

The far-right Alliance Defense Fund isn't happy, either.

I feel like this keeps coming up, and it's fascinating to watch. To the far-right opponents of gay rights, President Obama is a disaster, advancing LGBT equality in ways conservatives have feared for years. At the exact same time, progressive supporters of gay rights are also convinced that President Obama is a disaster, failing to advance LGBT equality in ways they'd expected.

For the right, Obama is so supportive of the LGBT community, he's literally labeled "our first gay president." For the left, the very idea seems ridiculous.

As the debate continues, it's probably worth emphasizing some noteworthy accomplishments. The administration, in addition to hiring more openly gay officials than any administration in history, has made a variety of advances, including hospital visitation rights, a package of domestic partnership benefits for federal workers, lifting the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS, expanded hate-crime laws, addressing the diplomatic passport issue, ordering the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans, expanding the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship, endorsing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, and making the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act law.

There have also been more symbolic gestures, including the White House hosting an event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, announcing the first-ever transgender presidential appointee, honoring same-sex couples in his Mother's Day and Father's Day proclamations, recording a video for the "It Gets Better" Project, and hosting Gay and Lesbian Pride Month events at the White House.

Nevertheless, a sizable number of LGBT voters are prepared to stay home on Election Day or vote against Democrats, unsatisfied with the pace of change. The religious right, incensed by how pro-gay Dems have been, no doubt finds this inexplicable.

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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To those gay democrats that would vote for a republican or stay home, because Obama and the democrats have not done enough: I really don't think that voting for a republican majority is going to speed up the revocation of DADT.

I have heard it said this way, "You're cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Instead of cutting off your nose, hold your nose and vote democrat.

Posted by: James at home on October 27, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Of course Obama doesnt hate gays.

He is a true christian.

Posted by: Kill Bill on October 27, 2010 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Gay, lesbian, transexual, straight, ANYTHING/ANYBODY, for God's sake, if you're not a raving conservative nutbag how the f*ck do you stay home this election?
If people stay home as some sort of protest 'vote,' I hope you're willing to take responsibility when we have have a 'Dominionist Christian States of America.'
Don't worry about voting then. You'll be to busy trying to stay away from the 'Morals and Thought' Police.
If you don't vote, you're a douchebag/asshole.


Posted by: c u n d gulag on October 27, 2010 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

So the Administration has managed to motivate the Religious Authoritarians while simultaneously turning off gay voters. That's a very adeptly inept accomplishment. "Endorsing" repeal of DADT and DOMA while appealing court decisions that overturned those laws is quite an "accomplishment." Don't forget to add that the Fierce Advocate's maneuvers have seriously reduced the fundraising of major gay political organizations like HRC, not to mention their loss of credibility among gay people. Oh, yes, be sure to send out Valerie Jarrett to make another clueless remark and then watch her get to apologize for it. Let's be charitable and say that with respect to meaningful gay issues, the Administration is dysfunctional. If it's not dysfunctional, then it's very cynical. Are they taking lessons from Senator McConnell?

Posted by: Temple Houston on October 27, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

My theory? It's always nice to support someone who claims that they will look after your interests in the abstract. They are "fighting" for you etc. etc. But when the real accomplishments start being achieved, like the list you've set out, that support for someone "fighting" for you becomes "yes, you did this, but what about that?". Basically, Obama is a victim of his efforts to do the right thing because inevitably those efforts are not always executed perfectly and don't always achieve their full intended effect. It allows people who want to complain to focus on what's left to be done rather than on what has already been achieved.

Posted by: homerhk on October 27, 2010 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Many conservative groups have blasted some of the appointments, saying they will use their roles to push a homosexual agenda on the country.

They're on to us! We're all meeting in secret this weekend in Key West under the guise of Fantasy Fest to plot our take-over of the country! Agenda Item 1: Invade the home (or double-wide) of every Teabagger and redecorate.

To quote the immortal Melissa McEwan: LOLSOB.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on October 27, 2010 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Gays and the left generally mistake electoral success for a political mandate. Unfortunately, we're not really there even though culturally we're getting closer. Even the polls that show strong support for repeal of DADT can be misinterpreted. What we really see - over and over - is how the institutional right is much stronger than the ragtag left. Because we lefties tend to be cynical about power and political maneuvering, we disempower ourselves by too readily making self-fulfilling prophecies out of setbacks. Barring some overall collapse of the government and society, we're going to win. But we're only making it harder by pretending to be too good for the process.

Posted by: walt on October 27, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

The far-right opponents of gay rights, President Obama is a disaster, advancing LGBT equality in ways conservatives have feared for years.

I think that should be "To far-right opponents..."

What exactly does a "homosexual agenda" entail? For all we know, it might be mahhhhvelous. Let's give it a try.

Posted by: josef on October 27, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Why does Obama think "pragmatic" means being neither here nor there. If he's doing all these great things for gays, why the hell is his Justice Dept appealing every ruling in favor of gays? I'm sure he thinks displeasing everyone must mean he's in the middle, but really he just promotes everyone's distrust of him.

Posted by: Sagacity on October 27, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

"The religious right, incensed by how pro-gay Dems have been, no doubt finds this inexplicable."

But they're very grateful for the gift.

In "World Cultures" class in the '70's, the teacher called this the revolution of rising expectations. Once oppression begins to lift, the oppressed groups satisfaction with their circumstances actually decreases because the oppresive forces are not seen as being lifted fast enough..

Posted by: drkrick on October 27, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Normally I wouldn't comment here, but this is pretty unfair to gay critics of Obama. 1. lifting the travel/immigration ban was legislatively accomplished under George W. Bush (with Bush's strong support). Getting the new regs in place which is what all the excitement was about and it took 6 months longer than it should have. 2. Hospital visitation rights is an absolutely minimal accomplishment and very weak tea compared to progress being made in the states on civil unions/same sex marriage (Obama has never supported same-sex marriage). 3. How many people do diplomatic passports affect? maybe 100? 4. Census does not count LGBT people. Just same sex couples. So anyone who is single is invisible. 5. Fair Housing is nice and less of a half measure than those others. Actually all of these things are nice, but half measures. 6. A cocktail party in honor of Stonewall is nice but (basically only about 300 people - most of them elites of some sort) and the cocktails would have been better if there had been more actual accomplishments.

There are a lot more accomplishments on the HIV/AIDS front, but HIV/AIDS is easy because there is a history of bipartisan work on the issue. Even Tom Coburn supports some aspects of the HIV/AIDS legislative agenda.

The legislative agenda of LGBT people was ENDA, DADT, hate crimes, immigration equality, anti-bullying. You could list same-sex marriage but no one thought it would get done. Of these, only hate crimes passed. People warned Obama that he had two years to get some things done. Basically he chose not to waste any real political capital on gays and people know it. LGBT people should get out and vote for Democrats (I really hope they do) but please do not insult us by telling us just how much Obama/Dems have done - the list that you provide is pretty minimal. Maybe DADT will get accomplished after the election.

Posted by: caphilldcne on October 27, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't be so sure that the President has given jobs to more Homosexuals than Mr. Bush did, but he certainly has appointed more that admit it.

Posted by: jhm on October 27, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

We LGBT people wouldn't be so upset if the President himself hadn't told us at an HRC event that he was our fierce advocate and promised to repeal DADT, and then promised it again at the State of the Union Address, and THEN done literally nothing about it for months, and THEN given DOD instructions to do a months-long study which wouldn't be finished until the lame-duck period of Congress. WTF didn't the study start at the start of 2010, or even better, sometime in 2009? The administration has no-one but themselves to blame.

Posted by: Laura on October 27, 2010 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

I would ad to caphildcne's comments:

With the exception of the hate crimes bill, all of these measures come from the Executive Branch and are therefore reversible when an unfriendly administration is voted in. Even the hate crimes bill requires that DOJ's Office of Civil Rights is engaged in enforcing hate crimes law, which, as seen in the George W. Bush administration, is not always the case. Additionally, a hate crimes bill is about retribution not about mandating equality.

The only real protections are legislative ones, at least until the composition of the Supreme Court changes. ENDA, possibly the most important of the laws, is dead. DADT, which is at least as symbolically important as any other law, is probably likewise so in large part because of the way the administration has dragged its feet and deferred to the Pentagon. DOMA repeal is not even a legislative option for at least a generation unless the courts dismantle it first. There is no movement on immigration equality or student non-bullying. LGBT protections were stripped from the Health Care Bill, And while it's nice that Obama has endorsed the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, that is no closer to becoming a reality than ENDA.

Steve, you should know there is a vast difference between endorsing a legislative act and using political capital to make it come true. It's nice that Obama endorsed laws, but this is ultimately a meaningless gesture. Perhaps 15 years ago it might have meant something, but the administration that was in power 15 years ago gave us DOMA and DADT.

Moreover, when gay plaintiffs have sued the government over DADT and DOMA, DOJ has fought tooth and nail to win rather than state the Administration's alleged position, which is that these laws are unconstitutional.

Even George Bush made meaningless gestures too. Obama's are less frequent and perhaps less meaningless, but that is a far cry from being beneficial for the LGBT community.

And your comparison to right-wing critics is blatantly unfair. In addition to hating Obama for anything he would do, these are people who want to turn back the clock and eliminate gay visibility completely (of not gay people). The right-wing critics and the left-wing critics are not the same and should not be compared as such.

Posted by: LS on October 27, 2010 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Their rage will be explicable once a republican majority is realized and they get zilch regarding gay rights. They will really have something to harp about when we get a republican president who will publicly and loudly tell them that he could give twos shits about what they think.

Posted by: Alli on October 27, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

There were probably plenty of gays appointed by Republicans; they were just closeted so as not to enrage their base.

Rs were led by formerly in-the-closet (though it wasn't a surprise when he came out) Ken Mehlman for years.

Just another non-issue trumped up by the bigoted far right.

Posted by: Hannah on October 27, 2010 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

I would make this point to my friends on the left in the GLBT community: What's important here is the mission of institutional change. Until you get enough power and presence institutionalized there in Washington, turning on those who don't get enough to be done for your tastes will be counterproductive. Why? Because it will always be tough in the beginning to reverse the politics, so things will never go perfectly. Better to reward those who try and fail, rather than those who do their best to make failure the only option, so they can get you to toss out your advocates.

Don't simply look to the short term, look to how the government develops over the long term if the Republicans remain a defeated party.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty on October 27, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

caphilldcne: ["People warned Obama that he had two years to get some things done."]

And that, right there, is the problem. Two years was not enough, and anyone who could think clearly would have realized that. There is no way Obama was going to dismantle decades of law and centuries of bigotry in just two years.

Put in the proper perspective, those "minimal" achievements were monumental, considering how quickly they happened. Of course we shouldn't be satisfied with them, but we also shouldn't be misdirecting our anger at Obama.

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 27, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

[i]President Obama has hired more gay officials than the Clinton and Bush administrations combined.[/i]

Does that count Ken Melman?

And sagacity, it's not Obama's Justice Department, it's our Justice Department

Posted by: will on October 27, 2010 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

I think I failed to communicate my thought properly there. Some, not all of this was doable. Some of this merely required an attempt. This Congress should have been able to pass ENDA within two years. That's what the warning was - if you don't get one or two of the tough things done in two years, the administration is going to have serious problems getting anything else done before 2012. (and yes, you will disappoint LGBT voters who worked their butts off in 2008).

So what happened? They got completely wrapped around the axle with health care reform and let their agenda get bogged down. The White House did not use its considerable power to move ENDA and then after losing political ground on ENDA because they waited so long ended up switching to DADT but did so in a way that has potentially endangered the final outcome of a vote on the armed services bill (plus created a strange survey process at the Pentagon that undermined trust from the gay community - although I personally think that it might be helpful with the military community).

So basically I think Obama messed up on the LGBT agenda due to overconfidence and a loss of focus. I am telling everyone I know to get out and vote for Democrats, but LGBT people are justifiably angry at this inability to accomplish this legislation.

I suppose that may depress the LGBT vote. Personally I think that article cherry picked their quote - who knows if they were really actual likely voters. I frankly doubt that gay people are going to be any more depressed than any other Dem voting block.

Posted by: caphilldcne on October 27, 2010 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

If he's pissing off the far left and the far right, then Obama's doing things correctly.

Posted by: JEA on October 27, 2010 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

["...LGBT people are justifiably angry at this inability to accomplish this legislation."]

Yes, I share that anger. However, anyone blaming Obama is aiming their anger at the wrong target. Just for one thing, we would have gotten a real DADT repeal if not for the obstinate GOP obstructionists. Anyone who says that Obama didn't push on this wasn't paying attention. So why blame him and not the people who actually blocked it?

In fact, if it hadn't been for the GOP blocking everything they could block and purposefully slowing down everything else, there would have been plenty of time to do everything. Not just LGBT equality, but *everything*. Why blame Obama for that? Why not blame the GOP?

But, OK. We legislate with the Congress we have, not the one we want or wish to have. So, yes, the Democrats might have been able to do better on LGBT issues if they had focused on it. So what should the Obama administration have given up on to do that? HCR? Or, perhaps, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act? Maybe Al Franken's "Defense Contractors Can't Rape Their Employees" amendment? Or something else? Which of the actual victories that we got should have been sacrificed so that they could ram DADT-repeal or ENDA through those GOP obstructionists?

I have a deeply personal stake in LGBT equality. I'm also a woman, and have some severe pre-existing conditions. For me, each step toward LGBT equality is the kind of victory that can't be put into words. But I also have nightmares about losing insurance coverage (not likely, my husband is a public school teacher, but the possibility still haunts me). And equality for women is also terribly important to me, for obvious reasons. And even with all these conflicting needs and hopes, I'm still quite amazed that Obama has managed to do as much as he has for LGBT equality in just two short years.

And, as I wrote in my last post, yes we shouldn't be satisfied with just what has been accomplished. We *should* be angry that more hasn't been done. But we should put the blame for that where it belongs: on the GOP who fought tooth and nail to stop this from happening, not on the people who are on our side and pushed it as best they could.

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 27, 2010 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

@Shade Tail

Regarding DADT, you say "Anyone who says that Obama didn't push on this wasn't paying attention."

Yet Obama's own press secretary has admitted that Obama didn't even pick up the phone to call congress in support of DADT repeal.

I'm not sure what you consider "pushing" for repeal, but from my perspective he didn't even do the bare minimum. Just saying you support repeal when you are doing absolutely nothing so move in that direction isn't "pushing."

And yes, we all know that the terrible Republicans wouldn't vote for a single thing the Dems wanted. Boo-effing-hoo. I seem to remember during the Bush residency that the Repubs managed to pass almost every one of their legislative priorities with just a very slim majority.

This administration has completely failed when it comes to leadership. Obama and Reid are both to blame. And they both deserve to be swept into the dustbin of history as completely failed politicians.

Posted by: Bucky on October 27, 2010 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK



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