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.

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.    

Democrats look forward to making history by nominating the first female or first African American to head a major party presidential ticket.  Yet, whoever is nominated must win the general election to make good on oft-repeated promises of change.  Barack Obama has proved himself capable of success in November and is prepared to make good on those promises. 

 

It is easy to poke fun at the euphoric optimism of Senator Obama’s campaign.  With Oprah firing up crowds and Will.i.am leading celebrities in song, his huge rallies could be the bastard love child of a Tony Robbins motivational session and a U2 concert.  His supporters in the grassroots and on Capitol Hill are frequently flummoxed when questioned about his stands on specific policy issues. 

In a primary election such as this one, though, why can’t they be? 

Voters can sometimes make clear distinctions between primary candidates.  In the 1980 Republican contest, George H.W. Bush was pro-choice while Ronald Reagan was adamantly opposed to abortion.  Bush thought Reagan’s fiscal policy wasn’t centered as much around supply-side economics as it was “voodoo economics.”  Such policy differences were readily apparent, but by choosing either Reagan or Bush, Republican voters also had the opportunity to change their party’s course entirely.

No such opportunity is currently available to Democrats.  Neither Senator Clinton nor Obama will lead their party on a path wildly divergent from the others’.  Policy squabbles between the two have been over minor details that few voters have even taken the time to examine.  Will a health care plan cover everyone, or almost everyone?  Will troops be pulled from Iraq in the first six months, or within the first year of taking office?

When voters who might prefer to have more substantive issues upon which to cast their ballot simply don’t, other factors obviously and rightly come under consideration.  When the substantive differences that do exist are nuanced enough to satisfy Democrats of all shades of blue, how else might those voters make a choice?  Barack Obama gives Democratic voters reasons to cast their ballots in his favor that, if not substantive, are significant and more serious than his detractors will admit.

There was a time in American politics where hope and optimism were welcomed, not derided.  A country suffering through the Great Depression was comforted by Franklin Roosevelt.  A nation unsure of where to go after the relative bore of the 1950s became members of Kennedy’s New Frontier.  The button-downed schoolmarm tone of the Carter Administration ended with a Hollywood cowboy’s promise that it was morning in America. 

The voters who’ve come to support Barack Obama because he evokes similar feelings of comfort, exciting change and pride should feel no shame.  The Bush presidency was conceived in part through telling racist voters that his white primary opponent had a black daughter.  His Administration abused trust generated by legitimate fear in 2001 to support a disastrous foreign policy.  When it fell apart, he stayed in power by pretending he’d alter the Constitution to, for the first time, deny rather than bestow a right on the American people.    

The college students and other first time voters supporting Senator Obama should feel proud that after eight such years, their generation is the first to embrace rather than shun a candidate because his ancestry challenges rather than supports business as usual.  They should feel proud that their candidate saw the potential for disaster in Iraq from the start and distances himself from rather than relies on the biases and prejudices of fellow Christians for support.     

African American voters who delivered primaries in states where the Confederate flag is only a slightly less common sight today than it was during the Civil War should likewise feel proud that they added an uplifting new chapter to the complex narrative their people have written with the South. 

The “latte liberals” who round out Obama’s big three and who were battered for their support of the earth-toned Crimsonite in 2000 and the windsurfing Yalie of 2004 are joined in 2008 by a chorus of support from voters in the decidedly un-yuppie bastions of Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa and Idaho.

The original assumption of Democrats, that they would be well served whether Senator Clinton or Obama was their candidate in 2008, is not untrue.  They should be pleased that one doesn’t have to belittle either senator to show support for the other. 

 

 

I’m not a big fan of Ralph Nader.  While I respect many of his ideas and the work he has done to protect consumers, I didn’t, and don’t, think his work is quite enough to qualify him to be POTUS.  Still, it was his right to run in 2000, bitter as I might be about his campaign’s role in Gore’s “loss,” and I respected that right.  This week, I respected his defense of Hillary Clinton against the arrogant, silly calls of Obama backers Patrick Leahy and Chris Dodd for her to leave the Democratic primary race.

   

What I find interesting about any elected official telling another elected official to pull out of a race is that they would never in a million years do so themselves.  They certainly wouldn’t if they ever found themselves in a situation like Hillary’s.  The first woman to be within reach of a major party nomination for president of the United States is 139 pledged delegates behind the first African American man to be within reach of a major party nomination for president of the United States.  She also leads Obama by 32 superdelegates, a profoundly retarded addition to the primary process which nonetheless exists.

  

Obama has won almost twice as many states as Hillary and his now legendary 11-state sweep was impressive, if only superficially.  One-half of the former superstar duo of the Democratic Party, Hillary has undoubtedly had a rough time of things.  Yet, despite his success, Obama has failed to close the deal each time he had a chance to clinch the nomination.  In “American Idol” parlance, each time he could have “made the song his own,” he “was a little pitchy, dawg.”  Coasting on the media euphoria from his big sweep, having almost erased HIllary’s sizable lead in the week before the contest, Obama lost Ohio by 10 points.  Having started that primary night winning Vermont, he closed it by losing the Texas primary.  Winning Ohio and/or Texas would have effectively sealed his nomination.

What should be more alarming to those Democrats looking ahead to November are Obama’s other losses.  Clinton beat him in California, New Mexico, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Michigan (sorta) and Florida (oh please, if Obama can claim he suffered in name recognition, I can claim to be the King of England).  She currently enjoys a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania, with Obama’s only significant endorsement there coming from Bob Casey, with his Bushesque grudge against the Clintons for slighting his daddy about a million years ago.

 

With the exception of Arizona (McCain territory) and Arkansas (although a Clinton could paint it blue once again) all of those states are important to a Democratic victory in November.  Much more important than all Obama’s Heartland caucus states highly unlikely to be any help to the Democrats in the general election.  No, Hillary Clinton cannot win the nomination by taking Pennsylvania.  She needs landslide victories in the remaining contests to overtake Obama in pledged delegates (provided Michigan and Florida remain unseated).  Yet, for all the victories, all the hype, all the “high profile” endorsements, Obama can’t win the nomination, either, without his still formindable competition giving up.  That should be of concern to voters who want a Democrat in the White House in 2009.

  

Why, then, the calls for Hillary to leave the race?  Such calls are entirely contrary to the democratic process.  Complaints that Democratic squabbling is helping the Republicans?  Hogwash.  Not knowing who he’ll face in November, McCain can’t do anything but flog the same tired war hero story he’s been peddling since 1999.  Arguments that it would be wrong for superdelegates to vote for Hillary if Obama has more pledged delegates?  Rubbish.  Those arguments weren’t advanced when superdelages jumped from Hillary’s ship in the wake of Obama’s 11-state sweep and they make no sense now.

 

Superdelegates are UNpledged.  If Hillary adds Pennsylvania to her collection of much needed, very-important-come-November blue states, she is not so far behind in any other regard for it to be deemed unfair for superdelegates to give her the nomination.  This is especially true when one considers the alternative.  Obama’s collection of African American voters, limousine liberals and college kids stuck in the red state hells of Idaho, Georgia, Utah, Wyoming, etc., is the general election equivalent of Bush’s Coalition of the Willing.  Obama has also failed to connect with Hispanic voters, “si se puede” aside, who went overwhelmingly for Clinton in Texas.  In California and Florida, Hispanic (as well as seemingly Obama-phobic Asian) voters could put their states solidly in the Democratic column in the fall.

Also alarming is that Obama’s loss in Ohio came after his campaign proved itself completely incapable of handling criticism from another candidate or the national media.  Forget Hillary’s commercials!  Republicans will be taking cues from LBJ or Bush I’s playbooks.  Eloquent speeches on important but general topics won’t be enough to satisfy a press hungry for details on comparatively more nuanced foreign policy issues or economic concerns.

 

It’s time for everyone involved, from the candidates and their campaigns to party leaders, uninvolved politicians, the media and the voters to take Bill Clinton’s advice and “chill out.”  No one, not Ralph Nader, Mike Huckabee and especially not someone who has achieved what Hillary Clinton has both superficially and substantively, should be forced from a political race in a democratic country.

 

It might be prudent for Democrats to remember what happened the last time a major party threw its support behind one candidate and prematurely thrust another out of competition.  Bush triumphed over McCain and went on to serve two of the most disastrous terms in American presidential history.  How ironic it would be if a Democratic rush to judgment gave McCain the White House eight years later.