I read with interest John Aravosis’ recent column dissecting President Obama’s 30 biggest gay accomplishments during the first 18 months of his presidency.
I agree with Aravosis that the time has come to get real about what it is that we as a community are being asked to say thank you for. It appears that all of the accomplishments that the Obama administration is claiming credit for are those that were politically safe to do. I thank the president for doing them and appreciate his efforts on the many small issues that benefit our community. But it appears that the issues that require heavy lifting and courage — and the use of his political capital —haven’t been tackled yet.
It’s fair to ask what this means for us as a community and in turn for the Democratic Party if, after two years with huge majorities in the Congress and a president who claims he is our friend, we don’t get ENDA passed or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed. After mini-super Tuesday, I think the Democratic Party needs to take stock of what it needs to do if we are to keep the House of Representatives and not lose more than five or six seats in the Senate.
We have to motivate the people that elected Barack Obama to come back out in large numbers for the midterm elections when his name isn’t on the ballot. I question how we do that if the Democratic base is unhappy with the administration.
As Aravosis says in his piece, we voted for capital letter “CHANGE” and we seem to have gotten small letter “change.” I would add that we voted for “HOPE” but many constituencies in the Democratic Party are quickly losing it.
The president came into office facing the worst economy since the Great Depression, skyrocketing unemployment and two wars. Not easy tasks to deal with. But the problem he now faces is that he got elected promising many things to many people, not the least of which was to change the way we operate in Washington.
People really believed that. They translated that into believing that he would have the courage to fight for social change and stand up for the various constituencies that elected him, among them the LGBT community.
One way for the president to motivate the LGBT community is to actually enter the fray on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He needs to make the phone calls, call the meetings and use his bully pulpit. True courage would have been to call for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his speech at the West Point graduation. It didn’t take courage to call for it at the HRC dinner.
When it comes to the military’s gay ban, the majority of the county is on the side of repeal. Polls show more than 70 percent of the electorate and 60 percent of Republicans support repeal. Sen. Barbara Boxer asked recently, “How can this president justify having his Secretary of Defense send a letter to the Congress telling them he needs to first poll the troops before anything is done? Can you imagine if we polled the troops before opening the military to African Americans and women? It is possible that if that occurred the military would still be segregated and women prohibited from serving.”
As I write this late on Monday evening, Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin and Rep. Patrick Murphy have asked the White House to act to get Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mike Mullen to support repeal efforts now. Budget director Peter Orzag is acting as an intermediary between Congress and the White House. I am hopeful that by the time anyone reads this column that these last minute efforts will have proven successful. The signing of the Matthew Shepard Hate crimes Act, giving Medals of Freedom to Billie Jean King and Harvey Milk, lifting the ban on entry for those with HIV, and signing the U.N. Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity while all great, aren’t enough.
Those actions alone won’t bring out the troops and money in November. The Democratic Party will need both to hold on to meaningful majorities in Congress.
Mr. President, I trust that you will stand up and display the courage I know you have. Be counted now and use all the power of your office to keep your commitments. The LGBT community put their trust in you and in the Democratic Party. We are asking that you don’t betray that trust for our future and for the future of the Democratic Party.
Peter Rosenstein is a D.C.-based LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.