All decent, fair-minded people should be glad that later today, President Obama will sign a memo extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.  Along with the repeal of restrictions on stem cell research and the shuttering of Guantanamo, the signing is another symbolic, yet substantive illustration of the important differences between the Obama and Bush administrations.

Still, it’s troublesome that this signing comes on the heels of well-deserved criticism, from the Human Rights Campaign to the New York Times, over the Justice Department’s support of the Defense of Marriage Act.  It’s also a fairly obvious move, considering General Motors and Chrysler, companies the Obama Administration practically ridiculed as being 20th century dinosaurs, provided all employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners of its employees nearly a decade ago.  And, a half-baked one, considering the change doesn’t include health care benefits.

What would be more exciting, and more inspiring, is if President Obama started acting like Senator Obama.  Even those of us who were unimpressed by the overwrought, shallow euphoria his campaign stoked did indeed find hope in those first acts of the new president.  Even if those acts did only change policies seen as obviously detrimental to all but their failed architects, they were surely only harbingers of the dynamic, progressive politics to come.

Instead, not even six months after a man who compared homosexuality to bestiality and incest was invited to give the invocation at the most important inauguration since the end of the Cold War, the Obama Justice Department defended indefensible legislation in the most derogatory, inflammatory, hurtful and legally ridiculous terms possible.  It even took a page from Warren’s warped hymnal in comparing gay and incestuous unions.  While the president himself may personally oppose DOMA, his Justice Department’s response to the issue has mostly been to lie about its brief’s necessity.

Perhaps this controversy wouldn’t have escalated so quickly, or loudly, had the president in any way conducted himself as though he deserved the support of gay voters he received in November.  After remaining largely silent on California’s Proposition 8 during the campaign, the White House issued no significant statement on the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a ban on gay unions last month.  While Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger found time to send a supportive if not overly promising tweet, the president was apparently preparing to make light of the promises he made gay voters during the campaign.

Being a leader is not about eloquent speeches or “transparent” press conferences.  Change isn’t brought about by placating opponents whose opposition deserves no consideration.  Courage is not concerned with the politically expedient moment.

John F. Kennedy, whose legend President Obama invoked early and often in his presidential campaign, literally wrote the book on political courage.  In saying that “a man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all morality,” President Kennedy spoke to the heart of all civil rights issues.   This issue, as one of fundamental fairness and basic human decency, is the civil rights issue of our time.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he did so knowing he’d lost political favor in the south for his party.  He did so knowing that his own political career was on the line.  He did so knowing that those opposed were unlikely to recognize their bigotry and prejudice as the petulant, unabashed selfishness it was.  President Kennedy died four months after laying his chances for re-election on the line by introducing the Act.  President Lincoln died at the hands of a man bent on denying liberty to those whose only crime was being different than himself.

It’s ironic that a White House obsessed with messages and symbolism is run by a president apparently either unable or unwilling to rectify the unequal treatment of gay Americans.  It’s disturbing that his inaction inadvertently legitimizes the oppression of anyone or anything that goes against the status quo, or the dogma of private, religious institutions.

President Obama, if he is indeed the man he wanted us, and wants us, to believe he is, must summon the same political courage and moral certitude that did Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.  He must, like Martin Luther King and Susan B. Anthony – and every other American who was ever told they weren’t good enough, weren’t normal, weren’t worthy – defy those who will most assuredly be found on the wrong side of history and humanity.  He must fight for what he knows is right, when it’s time to fight.

The time to fight is now.

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It’s been a week since the news of Bea Arthur’s death broke, and I still can’t help but feel a little sad each time I catch a “Golden Girls” rerun.  I know Bea had a long stage career and first gained fame in “Maude,” but to me, and so many of my generation, she’ll always be Dorothy Zbornak.

“Golden Girls” premiered in September 1985, or just after my third birthday.  I literally can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on the air.  I remember watching the first-run episodes on Saturday nights in elementary school, WB reruns in middle school, Lifetime reruns in high school and college, Hallmark reruns in grad school…the show has been practically inescapable  for the almost 20 years its been off the air.

While Rose, Blanche and Sophia were all wonderfully written, wonderfully acted characters, for those of us who grew up feeling awkward, different or insecure, Dorothy was the role model.  Despite her flaws, real and imagined, she possessed intelligence, humor and heart.  She somehow survived a life of wrong turns, false starts and road blocks, blossoming into a capable adult of conviction and compassion.  To the unsteady or unsure, Dorothy was a very real testament to life after disillusionment, which is itself a testament to the real-life woman who brought her to life.

That woman, it should also be noted, supported civil rights for gays and lesbians long before it was fashionable, and until the end of her life.

So, as cliche as it may be to say, thank you, Bea, for being a friend – both on-screen and off.

OK, not to beat the Caroline Kennedy horse, but this is ridiculous.  During an interview, with perhaps the most esteemed newspaper in the entire world, a female political “candidate” is asked, repeatedly, how her husband feels about her career ambitions, is later subjected to a Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy analogy, is pounced on for calling sexist reporting out and the resulting mainstream media coverage centers on how some bitchy, no-name political bloggers didn’t like how many times she said “you know?”

It was easier for a lot of people to play the ostrich when it came to the clear and appalling sexism faced by Hillary Clinton during her run for the Democratic presidential nomination.  To be fair, some of those ostriches were mere harbingers of what Sarah Palin would face when named the GOP VP candidate.  Still, those of us who didn’t think we had to throw the woman or women’s issues under the bus to embrace “change” recognized sexism when we saw it, and will continue to support women in public life who are regularly faced with it.

Kudos to Politico‘s Michael Calderone for calling bullshit in this instance, and to Kennedy for keeping her cool and her sense of humor.  Hopefully more people got the point Kennedy was trying to make when she asked for the Times‘ questions to be printed along with her responses.  How bizarre, criticizing a woman for giving less than substantive responses to queries intermingled with those one might find in the pages of US Weekly. Especially when that woman is only trying to satisfy a critical audience’s demand for accessibility while respecting the job she’s after isn’t really one subject to an actual political campaign.

The 12-Month Plan

September 20, 2008

It’s been a super long time since I blogged.  I worked for a PR firm in Detroit this summer, so I wasn’t much in the mood to write when I wasn’t being paid to.  Especially after all the writing from last spring semester!  I was quite ready to be as lazy as possible May through August and do nothing much beyond going to baseball games and the library.

My Tigers didn’t have a great season, but I did discover a great biography on England’s Queen Mary.  Her life straddled the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th, so you really get a great perspective on what it was like living through all the major developments and advancements that changed in a matter of decades a European way of life that had been mostly the same for centuries.  Yes, I’m still a dork.

Anyway, back in DC, back in school.  Working for a division of one of Detroit’s big three auto manufacturers, which is completely different for me.  Almost everything I’ve done up to this point has been wholly political, and I suppose still is a bit, as I’m working in government and public affairs for the company, but I’ve had very little exposure to the corporate side of things.  So far, so good.

But, being home this summer, I came to realize that it (or somewhere like it) is where I want to be, long-term.  I’ve thus decided to make the most out of what is probably my last year in DC, barring Michigan’s destruction by asteroid or a completely amazing DC job offer.  I think I spent so much of last year trying to be the kind of person DC either attracts or creates that I neglected or forgot so much of who I really am and what made me originally want to be here.

So, enough with working 8-6 when my heart’s not in it, enough with the endless networking, enough with weekends spent in tired clubs stuck in awkward conversation with strangers incapable of discussing anything but their “amazing” job or “prestigious” alma mater or wanting to “hook up.”  Bring on the museums, the history, the road-trips, all the things that make this city and this region unique, and cheers to what I think will be an amazing end to 2008 and wonderful beginning for 2009.

Come now?

May 21, 2008

I suppose nothing about this election should phase any of us at this point, but I was really taken aback by David Gergen’s suggestion that Hillary Clinton should publicly renounce the votes of racists.  Has this woman really been dragged through so much mud that it can’t just go without saying that she isn’t reaching out to racists for support? 

As Gergen himself says, Hillary Clinton has been a strong supporter of civil rights her entire public life.  If we’re going to require Hillary to denounce the repugnant views of a small group of the millions who’ve cast votes for her, we’d also have to ask Obama to denounce those who voted for him because his opponent is a woman.    

How unnecessary either statement would be, and what undue relevance it would give the racist and/or sexist views unforutnately and inevitably held by a few in a sample of millions.  It’s clear that race and gender are still issues in this country, and it would have been nice if Hillary had been allowed to address sexism in a way Obama was allowed to address racism.  Yet, forcing statements near the end of a campaign that will only be seen as defensive is hardly the way to go about starting a national conversation on any social ill. 

Our candidate will either be an African American or a woman.  It’s possible our ticket will be comprised of an African American and a woman.  We’ve already illustrated that the Democratic Party really is the famed “big tent” of American politics and we need not have anyone making “duh” statements expressing views that are perfectly clear to anyone with a brain.    

I stumbled across the original video for Madonna’s “American Life” single, which came out around the time we invaded Iraq.  Even after all her other “shocking” moments, this could have killed her career in 2003.  It also says a lot about what blind, flag-waving puppets people were at the time that not even Madonna was willing to ruffle any feathers.

Last summer, a month or so after I started working on the Hill, a colleague and I took an extended lunch and went to the big Campus Progress shindy at the Hyatt.   After a speech by Keith Ellison, the congressman who caused all the “controversy” when he wanted to be sworn in using a Koran (confused by some conservatives with Mein Kampf, apparently), we took in a few breakout sessions.

One of the sessions was led by the completely adorable fellow Hoya (and fellow Michiganian) Rob Anderson, then a Washington Post blogger and now a blogger for Campus Progress.

I haven’t done much blog reading (aside from the pure heroin masquerading as Perez Hilton) unrelated to class since spring semester started.  Catching up during my end-of-semester, pre-summer jobbing stretch of laziness, I came across Rob’s link to an Atlantic article titled “Caring for your Introvert.”

The article is written in a humorous tone, but it also struck a chord personally.  I can’t count the number of times since moving to DC I’ve been called a party-pooper because I didn’t want to spend yet another weekend in a series of hot, crowded, overpriced clubs, struggling to banter with strangers over awful house music.  Or how many times I’ve been called a desperate housewife because I live in Virginia rather than Dupont.

Maybe it’s just the metropolitan environment that convinces everyone they need to be seen and heard by as many people as possible in as many venues that can be fit into one night.  But even in “Sex and the City” reruns (I can think of no better reference) the girls seem to have so much more fun lunching at that little cafe or gathered around a TV with some biscotti in one of their apartments than they do when they force their way into the latest hot-spot (or that time Carrie made them all go to Atlantic City).

I dunno.  Perhaps I’m just a buzz-killing house-frau, boring beyond my years.  But I’m OK watching a movie with some close friends and a bunch of Chinese carry-out.  I don’t mind living across the river if I can park my car for less than the car itself would cost per month.  “Calvin and Hobbes” and Camus share space on my bookshelf.  Britney comes just after Beethoven on my MP3 player.  I once won a bike guessing how much a giant pumpkin weighed and have a scar on my abdomen from where I subsequently impaled myself upon that bike’s handlebar attempting to jump a curb.  I hold my pen incorrectly.  That makes me mildly interesting, doesn’t it?

I just think my words have more meaning when they address something or someone I have an actual fondness for and when they don’t pour forth as dialgoue in some “production” of life.  I think my actions carry more weight when I take them out of genuine desire and not to live up to someone else’s definition of amusement or fulfillment.

Being so “old,” I long for the days when MTV actually had something to do with music.  I guess I just don’t aspire to carry on as though I’m a Hills cast member.  Which is good, because if I had to date Spencer or Heidi I would kill myself.

As excited as I get when school’s about to start up in the fall (although I got more excited when it actually started in the fall and not late summer) I also love when classes are out in the spring. It means I can start forming my summer reading list! I know what you’re thinking and yes, I proudly answer, I am indeed that big a dork.

I decided to start the season off with Mary, a historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman (a podcast of Newman reading a selection from the novel can be found here).  I actually got the hardcover as a birthday gift last July, but in the midst of moving to DC, then starting work on the Hill and then starting grad school, I didn’t get a chance to open it until almost a year later.

USA Today‘s review said Mary was the sort of book “you feel a compulsion to urge others to read…” I certainly had that reaction just a few pages in and its a compulsion that’s only grown halfway through the novel. I’ve never been much interested in the undoubted heroes of history. I’d much rather read a complex, contradictory, conflicted story than one in which a saint among men lives a noble life for a noble cause and leaves the world a nobler place than they themselves knew.

Who could possibly be more complex, contradictory and conflicted than Mary Todd Lincoln? She was an astutely political woman in a world where a wife who zealously supported her husband’s candidacy was considered to have “unsexed” herself with ambition.

She was an intensely passionate woman at a time when too much grief, joy or lust could well have one committed for lunacy (especially if one were of the fairer sex). She was the very definition of a Southern belle who happened to ardently support the Union and emancipation. She was the type of woman who could spend days on end comforting horrificly wounded soldiers, seeking no press attention for her actions and then sink her husband into great debt trying to impress Washington society with fancy fans and elaborate gowns.

For me, history has never been a series of facts, dates and obscure figures in black and white photographs. History, especially our history, is a dramatic, heroic, tragic, ironic and romantic epic of people and places thrown together by fate and the events that mixture produces.

Not to sound too much like a book reviewer, but Mary is the perfect book for someone wanting to be as excited as they are educated by even a fictional historical account. There is perhaps no event in American history as encapsulating of all the “ics” listed above than the Civil War. Mary Todd Lincoln’s story, her fierce, sensitive, sarcastic, intelligence juxtaposed against the War’s narrative, against the narrative of the American slave experience and with a healthy dose of fairly dirrty bedroom action (I love XTube as much as the next guy, but there were definitely times I blushed reading about Mary’s orgasmic fits watching Abe debate Stephen Dogulas) has so far made for an all-together pleasing waste of these oddly weathered late spring days.

Much Ado About Miley

May 1, 2008

I’m really confused as to why everyone is so upset about Miley Cyrus’s now infamous Vanity Fair photo.  I’m not surprised, seeing as Americans have become very good at overreacting to the meaningless and under-reacting to the important, at least until it’s too late to do anything about it. 

I suppose since Britney’s meltdown eventually became a cover story even for the Atlantic Monthly, we could stretch the definition of “important” and at least consider what the Spears saga says about celebrity culture in general.  But, remember Janet’s boob?  The one we’d already pretty much seen all of in 1993, on the cover of Rolling Stone, and again on different RS cover a few years later? 

Janet later blamed the Bush Administration for using her to distract from what it was doing re: Iraq, which a lot of people thought was ridiculous.  Even if there was no concerted Bush-lead effort to keep Tittygate in the news, Janet’s statement does inadvertently pose an interesting question: Why do we care when there’s nothing to care about?

I don’t see anything particularly wrong with the Miley Cyrus picture.  To me, it’s an almost-weathered looking photograph of a girl who actually looks her age.  She’s not wearing any garish makeup.  Her hair isn’t filled with highlighted extensions.  Her gaze is relaxed.  

She’s stripped, it’s true, but not in an Xtina way.  This isn’t a photo dripping with sexuality.  Miley isn’t stretched out on satin sheets with a Teletubby pressed to her breast, ala 17-year-old Britney.  Annie Leibovitz, who around this time last year was photographing the Queen of England , succeeds in showing an over-hyped, over-idolized, overpaid, overworked young woman in her natural state.  In doing so, she puts less of Miley’s body on display than would a modest two-piece bathing suit any other 15-year-old could wear to the public swimming pool without even raising an eyebrow from the local PTA, much less the international media.     

If someone thinks sin when they look at the photo, it would seem they are projecting their own moral sensitivies (or maybe their inhibitions and hangups) on a young girl who hasn’t done anything to deserve being the target of their activism.  If someone thinks sex when they look at the photo, it would seem they were projecting their own perversions onto the image rather than having their depraved interpreation fulfilled by it in any obvious, immediate way. 

Either reaction says much more about the reactors than it does about their stimulus.     

My very last classmate response blog goes to Shari, who is no doubt about to pass out from the excitement of this great honor.  Since she was the first person in class I talked to, I figured it only appropriate to end this portion of my blog talking about hers.  I only wish there was some virtual way for the two of us to share an international flavored coffee as we celebrate this milestone.  Maybe in Web 3.0? 

I will admit that I’ve been a little conflicted about some of the things we’ve talked about in class.  Well, not conflicted, exactly, but hesitant to embrace Web 2.0 as fully as some others (Garrett) have.  I definitely understand the hugely important role the Internet and other “wired” applications play in everyone’s daily lives.  I also agreed with Garrett’s comment that those who refuse to embrace Web 2.0 will end up looking a lot like those who rejected electricity. 

Yet , something Shari wrote in her latest blog posting reminded me of my conflicted feelings, especially as our discussion grew more political.  Responding to a story about Hillary Clinton not following anyone on Twitter, compared to the 23,000 Barack Obama “follows,” Shari said “he must have a lot of time on his hands.”  In just one line, she managed to sum up my thoughts on Web 2.0 and political campaigns. 

It’s no secret that I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter.  I was either annoyingly precocious or amazingly nerdy as a child.  I was the only first grader with a Mike Dukakis pin stuck to the front of my jacket and four yeras later, during the ’92 campaign, I begged my dad to take me to a Clinton rally.  I was 10-years-old and too big for piggy backs, but I somehow persuaded him to hoist me on his shoulders so I could better see Bill, Hillary, Al and Mario Cuomo, who reminded me a lot of my grandpa. 

Hillary, however, reminded me a lot of my mom.  When she later lashed out at Republicans who questioned the non-tradiational role she played in her husband’s campaign, I heard my mother talking.  Both were (and are) smart, fearless women with a feminist sensitivity so inate and so true to their character that it could never be confused with any sort of contrived activism.  

Looking back not at the 2004 campaign, but that 1992 campaign, and contrasting it with the one in which we are currently engaged, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve perhaps lost touch with certain sensabilities in our rush to embrace every new gadget, every new service, every better, faster stronger entity Web 2.0 can produce. 

Has the Internet made us so easily amused that we embrace or reject a political candidate based on the entertainment value of their YouTube video

Has the ability to share every last detail of our lives with a public we can only assume care made us so selfish we embrace or reject a political candidate becuase they don’t indulge that narcacisstic assumption?  

Has the almost infinite amount of information available to us at any moment we may want it made us so impatient that we simply want a Cliff Notes version of everything, packaged in the most exciting way possible? 

The power of the Dean campaign wasn’t just its online stylings, but the substance behind that online activity.  If we forget the two need to go together, we’re just squandering all the potential it provided. 

In another entry I said more people needed to view the world around them with a Technicolor lens.  That includes the onilne world.  I think Web 2.0 is far too immense an entity to say it’s either good or bad for us, or for politics.  I think it’s quite fine to just declare that it might be both and recognize that our task is an ongoing mission to adapt its use for the better and not for the worse.