By RICHARD GRENELL
Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart is so easy. If only President Obama had known sooner that a simple dinner invitation for Jonathan meant that he wouldn’t have to deliver changes for gays and lesbians throughout the country. We’re all good now that the president invited Jonathan and his friends over for dinner. After all, the sins of bad public positions can be erased with private niceties, right? If you’re a Democrat they can.
Republicans don’t get that pass. Remember when Jonathan and the other self-appointed gay leaders complimented President Bush for inviting his private gays to his State Dinner? Or remember when Washington’s professional gay leadership celebrated Vice President Dick Cheney for being the first nationally elected sitting leader to support gay marriage? You don’t because Capehart and company only squeal with excitement when Democrats have private pronouncements. Within hours of leaving the White House, Capehart announced in a column, “President Obama is pretty evolved already.”
But has he? Last summer, President Obama reiterated his opposition to gay marriage in New York City one day before New York politicians passed marriage equality for their state. He did it again a few days later at the White House. The president and his political advisers surely must have calculated the consequences for taking such a timely stand. And they must have decided there was more benefit to opposing gay marriage than supporting it. The president’s calculus isn’t new and shouldn’t be surprising. After all, he was only following Nancy Pelosi’s lead of the last several years by playing politics with gay issues and gay Americans. Obama, Pelosi and Harry Reid had two years of total control in Washington, D.C., and decided they didn’t need to deliver. They’d rather play politics.
There are Republicans and other Democrats more supportive of gay equality issues than Obama – and some just as tepid – so why are gay leaders putting all their trust into a man that isn’t performing? The answer is, of course, more politics.
The overwhelming majority of people running gay organizations are Democratic activists that don’t want or believe in bipartisan politics. They just want Democrats to win elections. Capehart and the folks at HRC know that if they can’t deliver the gay votes and money for their Democratic Party candidates then they won’t get bigger jobs, consulting gigs or dinner invites. They are loyal to their party at the expense of the movement. It’s politically smart – if you want to further your career within the Democratic Party, that is.
Gay leaders in Washington deserve this duplicitous president. After all, they have protected Obama since 2008 when they ignored his public position against gay marriage but attacked John McCain for having the exact same stance. These and other hypocritical actions by gays and lesbians encouraged Obama to take them for granted. Why would Democratic politicians need to deliver on equal rights if there were no consequences for playing both sides of an issue? Gays were going to support Obama no matter what, so the president, like all politicians, pocketed their support and moved on. There was no threat of losing their support, so why pay attention to their issues? Especially when there is a plethora of other needy constituencies clamoring for favors.
It’s actually been a smart political strategy to keep the leaders close and feeling important. They must think they are political masters inside that White House. Not delivering on gay equality risks nothing – Obama can keep the gay base of money and support but reach out to moderate evangelicals and religious activists that still need to be wooed. And the gay liberal media are happy to help keep everyone hyped up and happy – as long as they get their invites. I can hear Capehart now, “turn up the music and open the bar; they’ll be happy.”
White House reporter Julie Mason of Politico nailed Obama’s political calculation when she said, “[Obama] doesn’t want to alienate some moderates who are not really comfortable with the president taking that strong a stand on gay marriage. So it’s a bit of a political calculation. Also, I’m just not sure he personally believes it.” Maureen Dowd of the New York Times speculates, “Obama fears the disapproval of the homophobic elements within his own party.”
And Jacob Bernstein, from Newsweek admitted, “I mean, there is on one hand this argument, well, the gays have nowhere to go, and that’s probably true.”
If gays are going to win support for their political issues, they better start playing smarter politics. It would be news to most gays that John Bolton, Laura Bush, Cindy McCain and Dick Cheney all disagree with President Obama and support marriage equality. New York State passed gay marriage after Republicans and Democrats worked together to push an issue, not a candidate or a political party. Gay Democratic leaders like Andrew Tobias can argue for more and new taxes, more protections for big labor unions and universal healthcare but they shouldn’t be allowed to turn the gay movement into a wing of the Democratic Party.
However likely or unlikely you think it is for Obama to evolve, giving Obama unequivocal support so early is politically stupid. As my grandpa used to say, “Why buy the cow if you are getting the milk for free?” But a wavering Obama hasn’t stopped gay leaders, gay media and the mainstream media from protecting him and growing their careers. Could the first African-American president not be for total equality for everyone? Shut up and RSVP, yes. I’m bringing my boyfriend to the White House.
(Richard Grenell served eight years as a political appointee of President George W. Bush. He and his partner were guests of the president and first lady at numerous White House events, including the September 2008 White House State Dinner for President John Kufour of the Republic of Ghana. Reach him via twitter.com/richardgrenell.)