Why Obama Moves at a Snail’s Pace on Gay Rights: It’s Hard to Negotiate When Everyone Knows You Have No Where Else To Go

Obama’s speech on Saturday annoyed me, but it was a subdued, anticipated annoyance. Everyone knows Obama’s done jack all for gay rights and he has no plans on immediately addressing the issue. The only semi-firm commitment he made was to not let his nominees or appointees lose their jobs on the basis of opposition to their sexual orientation — and if he actually keeps that pledge, well, it’s a start.

But this whole hoopla over the “internet left fringe,” no matter how significant the misstatement truly was or whether it was just an extremely clumsy paraphrase by NBC’s Harwood, set me off like dry tender. And apparently it had the same effect on all those pajama-clad bloggers.

Obama’s generically supportive speech leaves a lot of room for criticism:

“I greatly appreciate the support I’ve received from many in this room. I also appreciate that many of you don’t believe that progress has come fast enough. I want to be honest about that. Because it’s important to be honest amongst friends.”

Man, Obama is good at this whole “let’s be candid” thing. See, he’s admitting, indirectly, that he’s been a little slow; he’s softening the blow for when his detractors introduce that irrefutable criticism. And, “It’s not for me to tell you to be patient,” Obama acknowledges. He’s not counseling patience — in a round-about, politician-speak way, he’s telling supporters of GLBT rights that they need to keep doing their thing and not sit around waiting for Obama to get on board. Because it is more efficient for him if he waits for a more opportune time to set his sights on the issue.

The problem is, the problem has always been, gays have no where else to go. They can’t redirect their monetary donations, they can’t start voting against the Democrats — because their only other option is a party that has made clear its choice to court the vote of those motivated by fear and prejudice rather than of those motivated by a desire for equality and human rights. So no matter how much Obama fails to come through for the GLBT wing, he knows — they ain’t going anywhere. Most people aren’t going to vote for someone who denies their equal dignity as a human being, just to make a political point.

Sure, they can reduce funding and grassroots support, but that’s a cost he is clearly willing to accept.

And you know what, I get it. I really do. Obama’s got a giant agenda, and a limited amount of time to do it. There are certain temporal orderings of the issues to be addressed that will allow more overall to be accomplished.

And I don’t necessarily disbelieve that Obama fully intends to come through on his promises — some day. But he has deftly avoided providing any sort of a time table he can be held accountable to, and if I had to guess, plans on making this a cause to take up when/if he’s a lame duck in his second term. By then, not only will there be less political risk for him, but the voter support for such a move will almost certainly have increased as well.

But that’s seven goddamned years away. I liked the fierce urgency of now better.


2 thoughts on “Why Obama Moves at a Snail’s Pace on Gay Rights: It’s Hard to Negotiate When Everyone Knows You Have No Where Else To Go

    • Which is funny, given that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is pretty much the one area where Obama could take action by himself to reduce its impact without having to kick Congress into doing something. So he’s still Don’t Act, Do Talk on the issue.

      I don’t think he’s lying about subjectively wanting and intending for it to come down some day. But he stands more to gain by waiting than by acting now, so he’ll take his sweet time at getting around to it.

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