Where’s Our ‘Fierce Advocate’?

Former Clinton adviser Richard Socarides argues in the Washington Post that Obama needs to get more aggressive on gay issues:

In December, while trying to quiet the furor over his invitation of Rick Warren to take part in his inauguration, Barack Obama reminded us that he had been a “consistent” and “fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans.” But at the end of its first 100 days, his administration has been neither….

I understand that the president has his hands full saving the economy. But across a broad spectrum of issues — including women’s rights, stem cell research and relations with Cuba — the Obama administration has shown a willingness to exploit this change moment to bring about dramatic reform.

So why not on gay rights? Where is our New Deal?

Richard goes on to suggest a few things Obama could, should, do.

I’m divided. I think both Joe and I, because of our years (decades) in politics, have a sometimes nuanced, but also sometimes too tame, approach to politics (which might surprise those who we’ve targeted in the past). When pushing for change, sometimes you need to be aggressive, other times you need to bide your time and wait until the right moment to strike. But that nuance can sometimes force you to be too cautious, making you miss an opportunity for success.

Thus the Obama conundrum. Joe and I both have felt in the past that it’s wise for Obama to wait a bit before doing anything huge on gay issues. The first 100 days, we thought, was better spent on the economy, lest the public wonder why Obama is dilly-dallying on gay issues instead of dealing with the impending depression.

But Richard raises a good point. It’s not like Obama hasn’t “dilly-dallied” on other issues that have nothing to do with the economy. Pushing through Sebelius appointment in spite of pro-lifers’ objections. Opening to Cuba and Iran. Stems cells. Torture. Gitmo. In fact, gay rights is one of the only hot-button issues Obama has not addressed in the first hundred days, as Richard rightly notes.

While I still think Obama needs to tread very carefully on any gay rights advances, lest he repeat the mistakes of Bill Clinton’s gays in the military debacle, he also needs to remember that Clinton’s mistake wasn’t trying to help the gays. It was doing it without a well thought out plan for success.

Times have changed. We are a much different country today than we were in 1993. As evidenced by the AP story I posted yesterday, that noted that gay marriage was now a potential winner for Dems and loser for Republicans. Democrats cannot let past failures on gay rights, or health care reform, convince them that those issues aren’t winnable, or worse, worth winning. Politics is the art of the possible, and our control of the House, Senate and White House, after years of being in the minority, shows that no matter how great the defeat in the past, the future always holds hope.

Obama has a lot of issues on his plate. And our civil rights should be one of them. Openly-gay appointees are laudable, but they’re also expected. You don’t get kudos for hiring a black man, a woman, or a Jew. You hire them because they’re qualified, and because you’re not a racist, a sexist, or an anti-Semite. At some point, Obama needs to show more support for the gay community than simply not discriminating against us. Especially when Bill Clinton didn’t discriminate against us either, 18 years ago. In two decades, we have earned the right to demand more.

We need more. We expect more. We deserve more.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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