The White House response is to plead for maneuvering room by arguing that Obama has played an important role in nudging history in the right direction on the issue. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen. It’s hard to imagine gays deserting him in significant numbers, though enthusiasm and fundraising could suffer. But it seems clear that the White House has settled on its approach to this problem.
I don’t think the President has nudged history at all. Like most Democrats, he’s far behind both history and the American public on our issues (Joe calls this “political homophobia“). The public was consistently at 70% to 80% in the polls with regards to repealing DADT, they have the same views on ENDA, and recent polls are finally showing a majority in favor of marriage equality.
Why is it then that we had to beat the bejeesus out of the President to get him to finally move on DADT, and to get him to simply stop defending DOMA (something he did far too late, giving the Republicans the chance to now defend it instead)? He didn’t bend the arc of history, we did. The President, and the party, are far behind the arc of history when it comes to our civil rights. And rather than attempting to bend it in the right direction, they seem to be doing all they can to run from it as fast as they can, while offering us a tantalizing platter of b-rate advances that should have all been done on the first day of the new administration.
Yes, the President has done some good things. (Though much of it is standard stuff that doesn’t really count as fierce advocacy (such as appointing a gay ambassador after Clinton and Bush already both did the same), or issuing a Pride proclamation and holding a cocktail party that routinely black lists any gay Democratic leader who has stood up to the President.) But the good the President’s done on our top three issues – DADT and DOMA repeal, and the passage of ENDA – has so far been marginal at best.
Once DADT is fully repealed – and sadly the administration is dragging its feet on that now too, while many of us fear a delay will only embolden the GOP to try to some legislative funny business in the fall – that will be a true feather in the President’s cap. But let’s not forget that Barack Obama had the opportunity to do so much more, on gay rights, on health care reform, on the stimulus, on eliminating tax cuts, on the budget, on immigration, on civil liberties, and he didn’t. And the only reason he did as much as he did on gay rights, even though it wasn’t enough, is because a great many of us in the Netroots took the arc of history and threw it in his face.