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The Post-Game Show » barack obama

Posts Tagged ‘barack obama’

A President, Like Any Other

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Barack Obama has never impressed on the subject of gay rights. He made a few encouraging promises, and it was refreshing to hear him mention gays and lesbians in his speeches, but despite claiming that he is a “fierce advocate” for gay rights, he has no record of substance, and on the campaign trail he made it clear that he supported civil unions rather than same-sex marriage - a separate-but-equal position that was shared by the opposition ticket. I think the widely held hope was that this was just politics; Obama was being cautious on the campaign trail, but he would show more social liberalism in office.

Then came the inauguration, and Obamas’ choice of Reverend Rick Warren - who had then only recently compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality - to lead the inaugural prayer. For many of us that choice rang alarm bells - how could the hope-and-change candidate be so tone deaf as to choose a bigot to represent him as the nation’s pastor? - but it was Obama’s first day on the job, and to ring that alarm bell too loudly was to be off-message. The gays would not be allowed to ruin this historic moment for everyone else.

The alarm bell should have sounded louder.

In January, press secretary Robert Gibbs gave a one-word answer to the question of whether Obama would repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT); “Yes”. A couple of months later that seemed to become ‘maybe’ when the language on the White House website went from ‘repeal’ to ‘change’. In fact, Obama could have issued an executive order suspending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as soon as he entered office, putting all investigations on hold until the law could be repealed. He did not do so, even at a time when polls show two-thirds of conservatives, and a majority of churchgoers, now support gays serving in the military. That was the second alarm bell.

Here’s the third. On Friday, the US Department of Justice filed a brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in response to a case challenging the act’s constitutionality. DOMA states that, “No state … needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state”, and, “The federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states”.

There is some debate about whether or not the Department of Justice was obliged to defend DOMA at all, let alone insist that it was constitutional. Certainly, the last four presidents have all filed briefs in opposition to existing laws, in line with their policy platforms. Perhaps Obama doesn’t want to govern that way, and is determined to uphold existing laws until they can be overturned through the proper channels. Certainly that’s his official position on why he hasn’t ended DADT. In contrast to his predecessor, he’s apparently working to limit the executive power of the president.

But even if Obama felt that the DoJ had to defend DOMA, the language of the brief is erroneous, disingenuous, and gratuitously offensive. It echoes Michael Steele’s disgraceful notion that withholding rights is good because it saves the government money, even though gay Americans pay the same taxes as everyone else. It implies that limiting marriage rights to heterosexual couples is necessary to protect ‘traditional’ marriage.

It dredges up the old bigot’s saw that says gays already have the same rights as everyone else - to marry someone of the opposite sex. It argues that homosexuals should not be deemed a minority class deserving of special protection from the courts. It goes so far as to undermine the arguments that helped end restrictions on interracial marriage. Perhaps most damaging of all, it enshrines the view that same-sex marriage cannot be considered a fundamental right. Then, for good measure, it equates same-sex marriage to incest and statutory rape.

This is the Obama position. This is the position of the ‘change’ administration. These are all familiar arguments that we expect to hear from bigots opposed to gay equality, but coming from Barack Obama, this is devastating.

As with DADT, Obama initially pledged that he would repeal DOMA, which he called “abhorrent”, but as with DADT, that pledge disappeared from his website in May. With this brief, Obama has now made the legal landscape of the United States more hostile to gay rights. He is working backwards. Far from being a fierce advocate, Obama now appears to be a threat to gay rights.

There is still time for this to change. There is still time for Obama to keep all of his promises to the gay community. What there is not, any longer, is hope that he will. Now the presumption for anyone who supports gay equality is that Obama is the opposition, and he will have to be fought against rather than worked with. Obama has no empathy for gay rights. It turns out that what he said on the campaign trail was just politics, but he wasn’t hiding his social liberalism; he was masking his social conservatism. On the civil rights issue of our age, Barack Obama is our villain.

Barack Obama Doesn’t Care About Gay People

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Dan Choi is one of my new favourite people. A first lieutenant and infantry platoon leader with the New York National Guard, Choi recently came out as gay on The Rachel Maddow Show. Choi is a founder and spokesman for Knights Out, an organisation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender US military academy alumni dedicated to fighting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and he knew that by coming out on TV - by ‘telling’ - he would risk getting kicked out of the military.

Last week he got the letter telling him this was exactly what was happening. By saying he was gay, he had engaged in ‘homosexual behaviour’ and would be dismissed from service. Dan Choi went back on the Maddow show to say how outraged and offended he was. But of course, he expected it. And I suspect he wanted it. I think Dan Choi is attempting a very deliberate and courageous gambit; he is making himself the public face of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debacle.

Choi is a West Point graduate, an infantry officer, an Iraq veteran and an Arabic linguist. He is proud and keen to serve. He was already out to the men and women he served alongside, to no detriment to ‘unit cohesion’ (the bogus bogeyman that provides the sole justification for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). He’s being drummed out of the military for the weakest, silliest of reasons; because of something he said. Because of something he said about himself.

danchoi

There’s no scandal here. He did not behave in a disgraceful way. He did not do anything inappropriate or sexual while serving. Dan Choi is a dedicated serviceman. He is intelligent, eloquent and informed, and he has skills that are of tremendous value to the US military. He is being forced out of the military because he said, “I am gay”. That places the issue front and centre, with the perfect spokesman at its fore. No-one could look at a man like Dan Choi and seriously believe that the US military is better off without him than it is with him.

I hope that Dan Choi’s case will force the Obama administration to take action. It’s a shame that the Obama administration needs to be forced, but it’s increasingly evident that it does. Barack Obama is not living up to his claim that he is a “fierce advocate” for gay rights. He has done nothing about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, nothing about the Defense of Marriage Act, nothing about the Matthew Shepard act; he hasn’t made any attempt to repeal bans on gay adoption or to expand health-care benefits to same-sex couples, and he’s been conspicuously quiet on the advances in marriage equality in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. Obama’s single greatest contribution to the most pressing civil rights issue of his day has been to invite homophobic pastor Rick Warren to lead the nation in prayer at his inauguration.

Barack Obama doesn’t care about gay people. The impression that I get is that his position on gay rights is entirely political, not personal; he talks the talk to stay on-side with his core constituency, but he does not have any empathy for, or interest in, gay rights.

I don’t think he’s homophobic - not at all - but I do think that he’s ignorant, blinkered and tin-eared when it comes to this topic. I suspect that, like a lot of otherwise liberal people, he does not really grasp the extent to which gays still feel maligned and marginalised, and he does not see gay equality as belonging in the same league as racial equality or gender equality - despite that inconvenient word, ‘equality’.

It does not escape my notice that Barack Obama has had a lot on his plate during his first four months in office, and the standard defence offered of Obama’s inaction is that he has two wars and a financial crisis to deal with; gay rights are not - and should not be - a priority.

Nonsense. The Obama administration can do more than one thing at once, and civil rights ought always to be a priority. Civil rights are not something you wait to address when it’s convenient. The world does not wait, and minorities should not be asked to wait. On the contrary; at a time when people are worried about real issues, like keeping their job or keeping their house, they don’t have the luxury to indulge themselves in reactionary fights against things that have no actual bearing on their lives. We are at the flashpoint now. The time to act is now.

It would take a stroke of the pen. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can only be overturned by Congress, but the President can suspend all investigations and prosecutions by executive order while Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is reviewed, and that would effectively put an end to it. At a time of war, the president can stop the American military from haemorrhaging people like Dan Choi who want to serve, with a stroke of his pen.

Obama has not made this minimal effort. He has not found the time for it.

Before he left office, George W Bush took steps to lift the ban on people with HIV entering the United States. It was one of the only good things he ever did. In his rush to undo all of Bush’s farewell gestures, Obama undid this one as well. He kept the travel ban in place, and he did it with a stroke of his pen. He found the time for that.

When elected, Barack Obama made a pledge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Now the language from the Obama administration is about ‘changing’ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, not repealing it. The word from his national security adviser, General James Jones, is, “I don’t know” if the administation will overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Not only is Obama doing nothing; he’s backpedalling.

Barack Obama doesn’t care about gay people.

Hopefully people like Lieutenant Dan Choi can make him care.

Too Late on 8

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Does the gay rights movement in America lack leadership? Did the opponents of Proposition 8 fumble their campaign? The answer to both questions seems to be ‘yes’.  Prior to the election, then-candidate Barack Obama wrote a letter to a gay rights group stating, “I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states”.

The No on 8 campaign had this letter. They chose not to make any use of it, even as the Yes on 8 campaign claimed that Obama was on their side. The letter showed in no uncertain terms that Barack Obama was opposed to Proposition 8, amd yet nothing was done to draw attention to this. That’s mind-boggling. 

I found the story on Towleroad, but they linked back to Dan Savage, who raised an interesting point that I’ve also wondered about, though more with regard to culture than to politics. The point is this; if you’re gay and brilliant at something, why would you choose to be brilliant for a gay audience, or would you choose to be brilliant for a much bigger straight audience? 

Most brilliant people choose the latter course; to leave the ghetto and try their luck in the world. So, gay cinema is terrible because most gay directors don’t make gay films. Gay fiction is crap because gay writers want to reach a wider audience. And gay politics is leaderless because good gay political strategists avoid the niche of gay issues. No-one wants to be the gay Jesse Jackson, even if it takes a few Jesse Jacksons to get to one Barack Obama.

It’s only a theory, but I worry that there’s some truth to it.

At Last

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Huffington Post gives us the first dance at the wednauguration of Barack and Michelle. What was she thinking, wearing that dress? Too bridal, and yes, her bum does look big in that.

I find this dance interesting. Is this really a tradition? Demonstrations of intimacy in front of thousands, for the public’s approval? I don’t remember the great Bush hoe-down of 2001, and it seems undignified that one of the first duties of a new president is to dance for the people’s entertainment. We should be grateful that no-one started chiming on a wine glass with a knife and chanting ‘kiss, kiss, kiss’.

The soundtrack to the dance was Etta James’ ‘At Last’, as sung by Beyoncé, who recently played Etta James in the movie Cadillac Records. A brazen coup for the movie’s publicity department, there. At the next inauguration I’ll expect to see Coca-Cola glasses on the podium.

Beyoncé sung the song better than I’d thought she might - hey, I might even go rent the DVD - and the choice of song did fit the occasion, despite drawing still further parallels with the first dance at a wedding. It was not just ‘At Last’; it was also ‘Free At Last’. Beyoncé got that message across. It was a wonderful moment, despite all my cynical reservations.

44

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Selected thoughts on the inauguration of President Barack Obama:

Aretha still has a beautiful tone to her voice, but that was a shaky rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’. Barack Obama is the son of a British citizen and therefore America’s first British president (apart from all those Founding Fathers, who were basically British as well), so it’s apt that he had God Save the Queen at his inauguration, though I think Aretha messed up just about all of the lyrics.

Dick Cheney was wearing an exquisite Zac Posen wheelchair. The official story is that he strained himself while moving the coffin filled with the earth of his homeland, but I think that’s a cover. Now he’s no longer veep, he’s been unplugged from the giant black battery of boiling baby blood that pumps yellow bile through his canker heart. I’m told the Bidens intend to use that room as a parlour.

barry-and-rick

Pastor Rick Warren’s prayer was an extraordinary piece of hypocritical garbage marring an otherwise wonderful event. It was rather bare-faced of the fat ginger God-weasel to choose the fulfilment of the promise of the struggle for civil rights as his theme. “When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us”, he said. You have to repent your sins before seeking forgiveness, Pastor Rick. Revered Joseph Lowery’s benediction showed Warren how these things should be done.

(Oh, if you’re wondering how Obama intends to make up for the dreadful error in judgement that was Rick Warren, Towleroad reports that the White House website posted a series of pledges to the LGBT community today, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, support for hate crime legislation, and opposition to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Well, that’s a start, Mr President.)

Joseph Robinette Biden? Really?

I was a little worried that the John Williams quartet was going to sound like Williams’ usual shallow metronomic movie bombast - he is truly the Michael Bay of composers - but thankfully it was an arrangement of Simple Gifts, an apt and elegant Shaker melody better known in some quarters as Lord of the Dance. If Williams had ruined that, he’d have been thrown out of the secretive Composers’ Circle.

Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts both fluffed their lines at the inauguration proper, so I suspect Obama still isn’t actually president. In fact, when we look back over the tape in slow motion, I think we’ll discover that Aretha Franklin is the 44th president of the United States.

aretha

As for the big speech; is, “These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics” the new, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”? Is Barack Obama the first president to include qualifying footnotes in his inaugural address? I’m surprised he didn’t end on the bibliography.

Not quite the great speech I was hoping for, but he found his rhythm at the halfway mark, and  I did like his preliminary sketch for the Obama Doctrine; “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”. Does this mean the end of the terrorist fist jab?

Finally, Elizabeth Alexander read from her LiveJournal entry for the day. “Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes, or not, … Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum…”. I’m told she also writes poetry. I’d love to hear some of that.