It’s official. There’s a new administration talking point to defend the President’s mishandling of DADT, and his inaction on ENDA and DOMA.
Messina, who prior to his current post, served as Sen. Max Baucus’s Chief of Staff, urged the audience to understand that it was “hard work” passing health care reform and climate change legislation. As for gay rights (a hearty cause for the attendees), he stressed that the president has made “more significant progress on these issues than any administration in the history of the country.”
Huh. More progress than any president in history. So we’re now counting Calvin Coolidge, Millard Filmore, and Chester Arthur. Well, yes, President Obama has done more for gays than any of those presidents, and probably every other president of the 1700s and 1800s. I think we’d all concede that point.
Of course, if we’re going to play this game – and it is a game – then we’d have to admit that, at the time, George Bush did more to to advance gay rights than almost any administration in the history of the country. George Bush appointed a gay ambassador, had openly gay staff in the White House, funded AIDS research, even said he was fine with civil unions. Did John Adams say and do all that?
The thing is, you don’t judge presidents by how much they did as compared to the guy who came 200 years before them. You judge by the times they live and serve in. It’s a lot easier for Barack Obama to include gays in his administrative decisions today than it was for Bill Clinton nearly twenty years ago in 1993. And it’s absurdly easier for Obama as compared to Jimmy Carter in 1977, or Harry Truman six decades ago. So all things being equal, if Obama and Clinton both appointed a gay ambassador, it was a hell of a lot harder for Clinton. So Obama actually has to do more, to be just as good – and a lot more to be better.
Barack Obama did not promise to be more pro-gay than William Henry Harrison. He promised to be our fierce advocate. And that means doing more than any other Democratic president would have done in his stead. And he hasn’t. It’s difficult to point to anything President Obama has done for gay people that any other viable Democratic presidential candidate wouldn’t have also done. Has he really been better than Hillary or Edwards would have been? Really? Because that’s what he promised to be. And that is why so many of his supporters, us included, have become so disappointed.
We live in pro-gay times (though politicians in Washington don’t seem to realize it.) In order to be a fierce advocate, you have to strive to be more than simply better on gay issues than Rutherford B. Hayes. You have to be better than the times you live in. And Barack Obama, sadly, is not.