I plan to go into much greater detail on the State of the LGBTQ Union later in the week, but a thought crystallized in me last night when I saw a tweet from one of my favorite tweeps:
The link is to an announcement about the President’s new “Friends…with benefits” memorandum, to be signed later today. From NYT:
Mr. Obama, in an Oval Office announcement, is expected to offer details about which benefits will be provided. It is the most significant statement he has made on gay issues, and it comes as he faces intense criticism from several gay rights leaders over what they suggest has been a failure to live up to campaign promises in the first months of his presidency.
The President has taken heat for a variety of stances on issues regarding the LGBTQ community, particularly his silence on the Prop 8 decision, and on the military’s Don’t ask/Don’t tell policy. Most recently, the Obama DOJ has taken fire for the manner of its opposition to a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.
The LGBTQ community’s, and its allies’, feelings of slight are certainly justified, especially when weighed against the promise of the new administration. To the oppressed, equality is not idealism, it is necessity.
On the other hand, one of the reasons I endorsed Barack Obama was his ability to balance idealism with pragmatism. Yes, it’s an ugly word, one made more vice than virtue by our last Democratic President, Bill Clinton. There’s a key difference, though, in President Obama’s brand of pragmatism. While Clinton appeased conservatives in order to advance his agenda, President Obama takes a different approach.
On many issues, his approach has been to allow consensus to build against the opposition, resulting in a much stronger bargaining position. The stimulus package was a great example of this.
However, on the subject of gay rights, Obama has, indeed, been lagging behind events on the ground. Recently, I concluded that, at least on DADT, the President is taking an FDR-esque “Make me” stance. Now, I think it’s more like “Don’t make me an obstacle.”
As I intend to show in more detail, public support on a wide variety of LGBTQ issues is growing on both sides of the aisle. Increasingly, conservatives have shown that they are coming around on key gay issues. Dick Cheney’s recent show of support for marriage equality is a great indication of this. Decency and fairness are overcoming fear and loathing.
Conversely, the Republican Party’s entire raison d’etre, these days, is to oppose Barack Obama and everything he even glances at. It is entirely possible that the President is trying to prevent himself from becoming a wedge issue in the fight for LGBTQ rights.
While the President’s political instincts are usually excellent, I think my Twitter friend hit the nail on the head. I think that the climate in this country has shifted so quickly in favor of equality that the President ought to check his barometer again.