Is President Obama Racist, or Just Blind-ist?

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I really had to laugh to myself when I saw this item at Hot Air, in which New York Governor David Paterson’s wife, Michelle, seems to indicate that race and/or disability may be behind the White House’s attempt to get him not to run.  Here’s what she said:

“You never heard of that before,” Michelle Paterson, in her first comments on the situation, said following a luncheon in Midtown.

“David’s the first African-American governor in the state of New York and he’s being asked to get out of the race. It’s very unusual and it seems very unfair.”…

In a passionate defense of her husband, New York’s first lady, Michelle Paterson, tells News 4 it’s wrong for the White House to get involved in a local race. She admits there have been some very disappointing times recently where it seemed her husband might not be able to survive politically. But she said he’s “a fighter” who is staying in the race. Mrs. Paterson says she believes David’s blindness is contributing to his low poll numbers.

Here’s why I laughed. On Monday, I was playing a game of “What’s the worst possible question I can ask Robert Gibbs at my next briefing?”  It’s an amusing pastime that I engage in on long car trips, or while waiting at the DMV.  It’s actually a helpful exercise, too, but I’ll get to that later.

So, Monday’s entry, as I drove back from Manhattan, was “Robert, did the President ask David Paterson not to run for re-election because he’s black, or because he’s blind?  Or was it the combination of those two factors?”

It’s a useful exercise because it can help to reveal a deeper point from a superficial starting place.  In this case, I’ve sat through many briefings and press conferences in which reporters tried, repeatedly, to get the White House to weigh in on one race or the other, in even the teensiest way, only to be rebuffed.  Eventually, someone would say “OK, how about this: Can you confirm that a Senate race exists in Illinois?”  Gibbs: “It would not be appropriate for the President to comment on another race.”

So, I was really surprised to learn that the White House had asked Paterson not to run for re-election, in a fairly public fashion.  It’s a bad move on several levels, actually, and inconsistent.

First of all, no-one was under any illusions that Paterson earned himself any goodwill with the White House with his handling of the Hillary Clinton Senate seat.  His poll numbers are also not terrific.  Issuing a decree like this isn’t all that necessary, and has no upside for the White House.  The best case scenario is that Paterson steps aside, something that could have been accomplished with more subtle pressure.  Worst case: Paterson defies the White House, and puts a dent in their leadership credibility.

I also found my mock question illustrative of another prickly point in recent political discourse.  The idea that Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” outburst was related to race has not really been framed all that well by the media.  The question isn’t whether Obama’s race made him do that, but whether it failed to prevent it.  Nobody had ever heckled a white President in such a setting, just as no white Democratic New York Governor has had this problem before.

You also have  to wonder if the President would have called an iconic white pop star a “jackass,” and what the reaction to that would have been.

If we’re all being honest, race does frequently have some impact on the way we deal with people.  As a writer, I know I’ve found myself debating the use of seemingly innocuous phrases that could be distracting when applied to a black President.  I recall changing the word “tarred” in reference to a negative campaign ad, for example.

One of the reasons that discussions of race are so poisonous is that the objective, frequently, is not to gain greater understanding, but rather to score points.  That’s really too bad, because this kind of on-the-job learning could be a valuable object lesson  for the rest of us.

I didn’t know the first thing about Joe Wilson before “You lie,” but since then, I’ve been informed that he supported the flying of the Confederate flag, and that he disparaged the illegitimate black daughter of Strom Thurmond.  Still, people can learn and grow, and if Wilson had held a press conference after his outburst to say something like, “Upon reflection, and despite my continued belief in the substance of my objection, I think it is possible that I might not have done that to a white President,” well, a statement like that would impress the hell out of me.  Unfortunately, it would also lead to headlines like “Wilson a Self-Avowed Racist!”

Conversely, the right has already shown no compunction about calling the President a racist, and all Democrats along with him.  So, instead of “teachable moments,” we get ugly little food fights.

Postlet #2: Eliot Spitzer Gets a Freebie From NY Post plus Morning Joew

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I got hosed out of 2 Mediaite stories this morning by quicker colleagues, but cannot stand to suffer from writeus interruptus, so I’ll splooge my 2 cents worth here.

First, Joe Scarborough compared conservatives to the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto on Morning Joe today, and my Chief-a-roony Rachel Sklar had a post up before I could say “What the fuck?”  Let me just say that this is a ridiculous extension of the right’s losing “victim” strategy.  You know, the one where any response to their batshit crazy “dissent” is akin to “1984,” or “Waterworld,” or whatever futuristic cautionary tale strikes the fancy?  “It’s made from TEA BAGS!  Soylent Green is TEA BAGS!!!”

Then, there’s the NY Post’s joke of a story about Eliot Spritzer mulling a run for Comptroller, or Senator, or Mongering Czar, or whatever.  The piece was completely fact-free, and had all the attribution of a man-on-the-street gaggle at a Starbucks.  So, what’s the deal?

Well, Spitzer gets a free trial balloon out of the deal, and Ashley Dupre gets to cry alone in the shower.

Full Text of President Obama’s Remarks and Memorandum on Federal Benefits

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

___________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                         June 17, 2009

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

AT THE SIGNING OF A

PRESIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM

REGARDING FEDERAL BENEFITS AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

Oval Office

Continue reading

President Obama’s ‘Friends with Benefits’ Memo Contains Baby Steps

Update: Just got off of the conference call with Director of the Office of Personnel Management John Berry.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a question in, but I can say that the press, as a whole, are very unimpressed with this move.  I expect there will be a lot of negative press on this.  The tone of the questioning was uniformly skeptical.

On the other hand, Berry did stress, repeatedly, that this memo’s reach is restricted by DOMA.  It almost seemed as though Berry was saying that this very weak tea is designed to whet the public appetite for a DOMA repeal.  If so, the administration’s defense of DOMA is that much more mystifying.

Berry also tried to pretend that a Presidential memo is the same as an executive order, but was called on it.  The memo expires with the President’s term.  He again stressed the need for a more permanent, legislative solution in response.

Another reporter pointed out that most, if not all, of the benefits in this memo are already available to at least some federal employees.  Berry responded that this action removes such decisions from the individual supervisor’s discretion.

The White House has just released a fact sheet regarding the Presidential Memorandum to be signed later today.  While any progress against discrimination is welcome, this seems like a poorly-timed half-measure.

The benefits outlined in the fact sheet aren’t going to impress anyone, and coming, as they do, when President Obama is under fire from the LGBTQ community and its allies, I predict very loud shrugging in response.  If you can’t afford a dozen roses, maybe you ought to skip the dandelions.

A press conference call is scheduled for 3 pm.  I should have more to say about this then.  Here is the full text of the fact sheet:
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What if LGBTQ Issues Are No Longer the Wedge, President Obama Is?

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:

GayRainArmy Is Obama so out of touch that he thinks “private assurances” to LGBT “leaders” is going to help anything? RT @heathr http://tr.im/oKGbabout 2 hours ago from Seesmic Desktop

The link is to an announcement about the President’s new “Friends…with benefits” memorandum, to be signed later today.  From NYT: Continue reading

Prop 8: California Gays are Now 2nd and 3rd Class Citizens

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Just a quick observation to add to the volumes I’ve written lately on Prop 8 (see:

California Upholds Proposition 8, Preserves Existing Gay Marriages

Did Proposition 8 Court Read Right-Wing Blogs?

Proposition 8 Ruling is a Catch 88)(I especially recommend the 1st and 3rd).

The California Supreme Court’s ruling has created a new, lower class for its gay citizens to occupy.  1st class is for teh straightz!  Lotsa legroom and right to get married, plus a velvety sleep mask.  2nd class are the 18,000 gay couples who lucked out and got married before the passage of Prop 8.  They get a bag of peanuts and a TV to share with the whole row.

Then, there are the 3rd class, teh regular gays, who get stuffed in the luggage compartment.

In all seriousness, I do wonder if a mini-martyr-movement will spring up, with married LGBTQ people burning their marriage certificates in solidarity with their unmarried brethren and sethren.  Maybe, or maybe just burning a symbolic copy.

This is the problem with “splitting the baby.”  You just make a bloody mess.

P.S. This guy is dead wrong.  Prop 8 may indeed be good for gay marriage in the long run,  but not for the reason he says.  Kicking the ball back to voters is the opposite of progress, and the essence of the flaw in the court’s ruling.

If Prop 8 is good for gay marriage in the long run, it will be because it brings on a successful equal protection challenge in the US Supreme Court.

California Upholds Proposition 8, Preserves Existing Gay Marriages


Posted:
05/26/09
Filed Under:Gay Rights, Supreme Court <!– Filed Under: –> <!– Filed Under:Gay Rights, Supreme Court –>

The California Supreme Court has rendered its decision on Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage that passed on November’s ballot. The court upheld the ban on same-sex marriages, while also ruling to continue to recognize the 18,000 existing California same-sex marriages that occurred before the ban.

While the ruling is disappointing to proponents of marriage equality, the issue is far from settled. A new measure to overturn Prop 8 could find its way onto California ballots as early as 2010. According to a recent poll, 48% of Californians would vote to repeal Prop 8, versus 47% who would uphold it. 5% remain undecided.

A new ballot initiative during a mid-term election would be difficult to predict. The outcome would rest heavily on either side’s ability to mobilize and get out the vote.
The state of marriage equality in the US is very encouraging, despite the Prop 8 ruling. Five states currently allow same-sex marriages, and three other states are currently considering laws to legalize same-sex marriage. What’s exciting is that 3 of the 5 states to legalize gay marriage have done so in the past two months, and a 4th within 7 months.

The momentum is unmistakable. In October, Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage. On Election Day, the passage of Prop 8 and Arkansas’ adoption ban seemed like a huge setback, but then this spring, in rapid succession, Iowa, Vermont, and Maine legalized gay marriage as well.

New York Governor David Paterson introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in April, and the measure passed the state assembly overwhelmingly. While polling indicates that voters are evenly split on the question, the bill’s chance to pass the NY Senate are excellent.

New Jersey, which currently recognizes civil unions, is currently considering a law that would legalize gay marriage. A competing measure to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, meanwhile, has met with little support.

Last week, New Hampshire’s House surprisingly voted down a same-sex marriage law, but mainly because gay rights proponents felt the bill went too far in “protecting” religious and quasi-religious organizations’ rights to discriminate against gays. The Governor, Democrat John Lynch, had threatened to veto an earlier bill that did not include those “protections.”

Currently, while 10% of states have legalized same-sex marriage, several more have laws recognizing marriage-like rights. While the map below might not look that encouraging, the speed with which same-sex marriage has progressed is astonishing, and heartening.

While anti-gay marriage group NOM’s “Gay Thunderstorm” ad has been rightly derided, they certainly nailed the metaphor: Advances for same-sex marriage have occurred at a lightning pace. During the 2008 presidential campaign, opposition to gay marriage in favor of civil unions was the safe position for Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

As Bill Richardson said of gay marriage, “I will level with you, I would do what is achievable. What is achievable is full civil unions with full marriage rights.”

Scant months later, that position seems as quaint as an ice cream social, and gay marriage opponents like Rudy Giuliani are now taking cover behind that fall-back position. President Obama’s normally impeccable political instincts seem to have been outflanked this time, as his thread-the-needle position has quickly become obsolete.

On the bright side, the fact that these gains have been made with the President essentially on the sidelines is that much more encouraging.

Maine Governor John Baldacci’s remarks upon passage of his state’s same-sex marriage law offer Democrats, like President Obama, a road map from their old position to the new one:

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Baldacci said. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.”

Wow, that almost fits on a bumper sticker.// //

Tommy on: Daily Dose: