While Joe and I certainly appreciate that today’s Washington Post editorial on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell cites our online chat with Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA), the editorial fails to understand how effective leadership in Washington works.
The Post, at its core, misjudges the power and purpose of the presidency. While it is true that the president cannot introduce legislation – only members of Congress can do that – and it is also true that the president’s constitutional role is to sign, or veto, legislation already passed by Congress. But that does not mean, as the Post editorial suggests, that the president has no role whatsoever in passing legislation or, more generally, influencing the legislative process.
As Team Obama is finding out this week, the president has one hell of a bully pulpit. In addition to his powers to run the various executive branch agencies under his command, the president is much more than the leader of a branch of government. He is the leader of our country. He has the ability, the duty, to influence the direction of our nation, including the ability to influence what Congress does and does not do. That is why, for example, there was such a heated discussion about health care reform during the Democratic primaries. Yes, health care reform is under Congress’s purview, as they are the ones who have actually introduce, debate, and pass legislation. But implicit in the battle between Hillary and Obama over health care was the recognition that the president could powerfully influence the congressional health care reform process, should he or she choose to do so. Otherwise, it would be irrelevant what our candidates, or presidents, think about any piece of legislation, since they do not have a vote in Congress. (And it would be nonsensical for the White House to ever weigh in, pro or con, on any proposed legislation, when in fact, it does on a regular basis.)
This is what the gay community wants from President Obama. Leadership on our issues, leadership on his campaign promises. Not a simple reiteration that he will support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the repeal of DOMA, and the passage of ENDA should Congress decide to ever get to it, but rather, as the president has now recognized with the health care reform debate, America wants him to lead the debate over these issues. America wants him to recognize that he has the ability, and the imperative, to lead.
We’ve begun to see that recognition this week in the health care debate, as Joe wrote earlier this morning. The president is now pulling out all the stops to get a good bill passed. He needs to do the same on his gay rights promises, and his other campaign commitments as well. The Washington Post is flat out wrong when it implies that the best president is an impotent president who sits back and waits for Congress to act on his promises. The best president, the most admired president, the most successful president is the one who leads.