July 7, 2011 at 1:50 pm EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Who has the access to speak truth to power?

Equality Matters’ Kerry Eleveld recently wrote an article titled, “Why Obama Keeps Winning Gay Battles But Losing The War,” that reminded me of so many politicians who don’t understand why not everyone is willing to show gratitude when they do what they consider to be a great job.

Politics is a great profession but the give and take between politician and voter is usually one of both asking the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

This relationship is heightened today by the need to raise so much money to run a campaign. Using the president as an example in 2008 he raised record amounts based mostly on promises. There was very little record for people to go on but they were entranced by someone who promised an end to the gridlock in Washington and a change in the way things were done. They appreciated his commitment to end access by lobbyists and promises of many things to many groups including environmentalists, unions and the LGBT community.

These types of promises are made by politicians at every level of government and we invest in them for a better future. Then once they are elected there are always successes and failures. But what appears to have happened to the president is what often happens to politicians and that is once elected the range of people who can argue and debate issues with them narrows. Those who were once free to speak their mind when they were needed to help elect them, now find that they are either given jobs or special access and to keep those perks need to be more circumspect. Very few elected officials are comfortable being told they don’t understand something or that they are wrong.

Eleveld’s article refers to the fact there is no one in the White House close enough to President Obama to explain that he has raised the bar with his support of the LGBT community and now many look at what he has done as payback for money and support in the last election. They are asking for more and a commitment for the next four years if they are to show that kind of support again. I would think he is hearing the same thing from environmentalists, unions, women’s groups and other minorities who have seen mixed success on movement of their issues in his first two years and they may also feel there is no one close enough to him to explain what it is they expect to hear for the next term.

All politicians have the need to come back to those who elected them first and ask for more money and continued support. They also find they have to convince them and speak not only of what has been accomplished in the past but of what can be accomplished after the next election. In fighting for LGBT civil and human rights, Obama’s success has turned this into an issue taken up by the mainstream and everyone expects more in return for their money and their vote.

Now, if that sounds cynical it might well be, but after a lifetime working in and following politics and movements, cynical or not, it is reality. While the candidate always wants more money and another vote of confidence the voter wants more to be accomplished.

Eleveld wrote that senior presidential adviser Melody Barnes told a crowd at the Aspen Ideas Festival that, “The president acts on information and wants everyone to bring their perspective to the table. And so if he feels as though that hasn’t happened he will kind of march around the table to make sure that he’s got input from everyone.”

Unfortunately the reality is that “everyone” around that table works for him and wants to keep their job, which can make honesty and openness difficult.

The question I would ask any politician is this: How much time do you take to listen to good friends, trusted advisers and outside sources who don’t work for you? This is hard to do for any politician and I am sure even harder for a president.


  • Why does Peter get a seat at the table of comments/opinions almost every week? His tired writing and predictable analyses (if that’s what you want to call them) are stale. I encourage The Blade to seek out fresh and vibrant opinions and writing styles. If need be, why not auction off a dinner for 2 at a nice restaurant each week to new writers who submit thoughtful and creative articles worthy of publication?

  • Clearly Laurelboy2 regularly has an issue with my column, Inside LGBT Washington, and doesn’t agree with my opinions and positions and feels he has something to say. It is possible he does. But when someone stays anonymous it makes it difficult to have a conversation or give credence to their comments. If his thoughts are worthwhile Laurelboy2 may want to “come out” to be heard. I know the Blade always welcomes viewpoints from all sources and under his real name Laurelboy2 may want to submit his.

  • It’s not that I have an issue with your perspective (althought at times I do) that drives my point of view. It’s the repetitiveness at which you’re on the opinion page. It would be nice to hear from other people – not just the same person all the time. What if I tuned into Leno and he had Julia Roberts as his one and only guest? I’d switch channels and watch Letterman for someone different, less predictable, less repetitive, with new and fresh ideas to make me think. Or, what if you go to a toilet to cruise. If you see the same pair of shoes under the next stall, I’ll move to a different venue.

  • Peter: very well said, and you’re right – this is a reality of the democratic system, but especially so when the chief executive in question mildly gets the issue, and seems willing to play ball to some extent on the politics. There is a big difference when you have a chief executive who really gets the issue, who has a zeal to his conviction (be it moral or political, no matter) and puts his strategic talents to good use (i.e. Andrew Cuomo). What is curious here is the Insider poll that was taken where even GOP insiders said opposing gay marriage is a demographic time bomb and most Dem insiders now think their party needs to actively support gay marriage. Aren’t there even people around Obama who can tell him flat out to realize pretty soon this issue could move faster than he is and he could get into a serious public bind, looking out of touch rather than on the leading edge (which was supposed to be his brand!)??? I worry about that. The Bush administration was a cesspool of yes men and loyalty trumping competence, and look as the results.

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