January 27, 2011 | by Peter Rosenstein
State speech: did Obama say anything?

I must first own up that I fell asleep during the State of the Union speech. That was not entirely the President’s fault, but I did read it online earlier and knew in advance what he was going to say.

This was a speech telling Republicans that he is willing to work with them. It was a rehash of what he accomplished in the past two years but was short on where he wants to take the nation in the next two. He wants to continue to change the tone of politics but it seemed more like he was capitulating on a number of issues before the debate had even begun. It was like pablum when we know the state of the nation is hurting. We are at nearly 10 percent unemployment, our debt is out of control, we haven’t been able to deal with immigration or environmental issues, and the LGBT community still does not have equal rights.

The speech was nicely written and cleanly delivered. But if we were waiting for any real initiatives or leadership, we didn’t get them. Now to be fair it also wasn’t there in the Republican response. Congressman Ryan (R-WI) delivered a lot of platitudes and also said nothing. As to that Tea Party response by Michelle Bachman (R-MN) I can’t tell you anything about it because since I get nauseous every time I hear her I decided not to listen.

In reading the speech I had the feeling that the political office in the White House went through it to make sure every constituency in the party got a “shout-out.” The President mentioned immigration, climate and environmental issues, repeal of DADT (but in a way that everyone had to call the White House the next day to decipher what he really said). He mentioned our troops and talked about education in a very general way. He appeared to be trying out various campaign bumper stickers such as “Our sputnik moment” and “We are American”. He attacked lobbyists again disregarding the fact that he had invited every healthcare lobbyist in the nation to his initial White House summit on health care reform.

It was as if he didn’t want to say anything specific but rather was waiting for the Republicans to go first so that the Democrats could then have the advantage and criticize their initiatives before they criticized his. He left out any mention of gun control as if he has already given up that fight. He talked about earmarks as if he was a Republican though he clearly knows they make little difference in the budget and simply allow a Congressperson to tell an agency how to spend a small portion of their budget.

We in the LGBT community have a series of issues that we will be fighting on the Hill and they weren’t mentioned in the speech at all. Republican’s have threatened to force DC to backtrack on marriage-equality and along with fighting that we will be looking for support for ENDA, repeal of DOMA and providing partner benefits for federal employees. These fights were overlooked in the speech. I recognize that not everything can be mentioned but the LGBT community will have to fight for a statement from the President that he will at least try to make legislative progress in the next two years on these issues while his administration is fighting to protect the status quo in court.

The 2012 presidential campaign will begin in March when President Obama officially announces he is running for a second term. Meanwhile the Republicans have elected a new head of the RNC who sides with the National Organization for Marriage opposing marriage-equality and on the Hill they are trying to try to stop repeal of DADT and role back marriage-equality in DC. Clearly these actions will make it much easier for the LGBT community to whole-heartedly support a second term for the President. After all, he has moved the country forward on our issues.

But in the next few months many will be looking for the President to stand tall and take strong positions on a host of issues that he didn’t in this speech. The fights lay ahead for us and I urge the President to get into them and carve out his position and that of the Democratic Party. That is the way for him to win and for the people to win.

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