Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama Agenda: Gays

One of the interesting findings from last week’s Commentarama Poll was that few people understand Obama’s agenda. So let’s see if we can’t flesh that out (assuming there is an agenda). Fortuitously, Saturday night, Obama reaffirmed his agenda vis-à-vis gays.

Prior to the election, Obama backed gay rights in speeches and legislation 18 times, though as a candidate he refused to back gay marriage. This weekend he became only the second President to speak at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign (a gay group). In his speech, Obama repeated the following promises:
• To work with the Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which keeps states from recognizing gay marriages in other states. Right now 29 states have changed their constitutions to ban gay marriage. Six states recognize gay marriage and six more provide some level of spousal rights to gay couples. Though Obama has refused to outright support gay marriage, repealing the DOMA would be the same thing.

• To expand hate-crime laws to include sexual orientation through passage of the Matthew Sheppard Act, which has now been attached to the Department of Defense budget.

• To “reinvigorate enforcement” of hate crimes by the Department of Justice’s Criminal Section.

• To overturn the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that allows the military to expel openly gay soldiers.

• To prohibit work place discrimination based on sexual orientation or “gender identity or expression” (e.g. transgender and cross-dressing), by passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• To appoint openly gay individuals, like David Heubner, who was appointed as the first openly gay ambassador to New Zealand.
In June of this year, Obama also extended some benefits to gay partners of federal employees, though he did not extend full benefits. The benefits extended will:
• Open up long-term care insurance.

• Allow federal employees to use their sick leave to care for a gay partner or the partner’s children.

• Allow gay partners of foreign-service employees to use medical facilities at overseas posts and get evacuations if necessary.

• Include same-sex partners and their children when calculating family size for overseas housing allocations.

• Extend current anti-discrimination rules in the federal workforce to cover transgender employees.
However, Obama did not extend the most sought after benefits -- health insurance and retirement benefits.

Despite these promises and actions, gay groups remain upset at Obama because he continues to refuse to endorse gay marriage. They are also upset that he did not extend full benefits to gay partners of federal workers. And they are upset that he refuses to set specific timelines for the promises above.

None of this should be surprising. As noted in my article outlining the make up of the Democratic Party, gays are one of the up and coming power tribes within the party, though they don’t control the leadership. Thus, it is in Obama's interest to promise them what they want, but to deliver sparingly, lest they get what they want and stop supporting the other identity tribes. And that is exactly what Obama has done here -- he's handed out a taste only. If he had wanted to, he could have done much more and could have set a time table for the rest. . . but that's not how tribal reciprocity works.


LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: This certainly seems to fit right in with all of Obama's other non-policy policies. Grand rhetoric. Immense empathy. Nebulous promises. And not a single piece of solid legislation with his imprimatur on it. When the left holds that Obama has great promise, what they should say is that he makes great promises.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I think it's all part of the identity politics game. If he gave them what they wanted, there would be no reason for them to continue to hold up the bargain.

LawHawkSF said...

If history means anything, Obama is walking a very dangerous line. He won't win a single friend on the right, but he's working on making some seriously angry former constituents in the middle and on the left. People will only accept promises in lieu of action for just so long before they realize they've been lied to and manipulated. "Give me your money and support, and trust me."

Clinton could pull it off because he had a Congress which was moderate Democrat for two years, then very Republican for six. Keeping his promises to the gay community would have been difficult if not impossible. Obama has both houses of Congress, and a strong left contingent at that. His Speaker is San Fran Nan, for God's sake. He has no excuse, and they will soon figure that out.

"Heaven knows no anger like love to hate turned;
Nor hell the fury of a homosexual lobby spurned."

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Very astute. Obama is playing the wrong game (though I for one am not complaining). He has no excuse for not giving each of his groups what they want. The more he tries to claim that he needs more time, the angrier they will grow.

In fact, this might make for an interesting post? Hmmm.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew & Hawk - Good arguments, gentlemen. I can't read Obama's mind, but suspect he is ambivalent about gay rights per se, and his interest is limited only to how his actions towards them would impact him politically. As you both point out, it remains to be seen how well he chooses

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, If he was really interest in gay issues, he could have (1) extended full benefits with the stroke of a pen (and no one would have really raised a stink), and (2) set deadlines for his other promises.

I think he's just doing what he thinks he needs to do to keep gays in line -- offer a litte, but keep them yet wanting more.

But as Lawhawk points out, that may not be enough given the overwhelming majorities that he has. They may (rightfully) wonder why he won't give them everything they want.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: Andrew is right. Truman ended racial segregation in the military with the stroke of a pen on an executive order. Obama could do the same thing for gays if he really wanted to, but he would have to take the risk that "gay" and "race" are two different things, and Congress might not be so willing. A President who truly believed in gay equality (right or wrong) would do it and let the chips fall where they may, but we all know how gutsy this empty suit is.

Writer X said...

The President continues to vote "present." The gays are angry because he's not offering specifics? Cry me a river and get in line.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I'm not exactly broken up about it either. That's what happens when you cut that kind of deal. It's like a group of paranoids, each holding parts of a treasure map -- unable to work together.

At this point, I can't think of a single group that has gotten much out of him. The closest might be the unions, but even they have only gotten token offerings.

Writer X said...

Andrew, so true. Seems the only people thrilled with his performance are people who live overseas and the thousands waiting in line (still?) in Detroit for their "Obama Money." No wonder he loves to travel outside the country. Too bad he can't run for office in Norway.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, What's interesting is that the left, in its petulance, has opened the door for everyone to start poking fun at the "do nothing President".

Not only SNL, but the jokes about the Norgie, it's all starting to make it acceptable for people to criticize the emperor.

I'm sure they want to keep this genie limited to only criticizing his failure to enact leftist policies, but life doesn't work that way. Everything is now fair game. I think we may one day look back on that SNL skit as the straw that finally broke the camel's back on this guy's "charm."

CrisD said...

Run for office in Norway? lol, Writer X!
I agree with you, Andrew, he only partially placates gays to string them along (tribal placate style.)

Anecdotally , I know many homosexuals-lesbian and gay-who are quite conservative (and have been all their lives) but who vote democrat b/c of the illusive promises and pie-in-the-sky view points of that party. What a shame and a loss for us.

StanH said...

“Divide and Conquer!” This brilliant strategy attributed to Julius Caesar is pertinent to modern politics as well. The strengths of the Democrats are also their Achilles Heel, as Andrew has stated in his earlier article, “The Democratic Party Alliance.” Barry can only play both ends against the middle for just so long before the opposing sides begin to fight amongst themselves. Promises unkempt will lead to intense party disunity and the eventual delusion of Barry’s flimsy coalition. 2010, I believe is going to be cataclysmic for Washington in general, and Democrats more specifically. If the Republicans were smart, and that’s a big if, “Divide and Conquer,” it worked for Caesar in Gaul, perhaps it’ll work for Conservatives in the saving of America?

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, I think you're absolutely right. He is playing a very cynical game and I think that many conservative gays have fallen for it because they think it's going to get them benefits and the such.

But the Democrats aren't going to deliver because that would mean there would be nothing to hold them together as an identity group anymore. Which means they could start drifting off to the Republican Party again.

So rather than give them what they want, the Democrats will continue to tar Republicans as gay-haters while simultaneously finding excuses to make sure that the gays never quite get what they want.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, You're right, the Republicans need to grasp that Obama is doing the divide and conquer game and then go peel off individual groups. That will cause Obama's entire coalition to collapse.

That said, however, the Republicans need to toss out their own special interests and just get back to representing that big 60% of Americans that believe in solid conservative values.

MegaTroll said...

Commentarama always amazes me. I'm glad you're going to outline his policy because I honestly don't know exactly what he wants. He never mentioned gays during that campaign that I remember, so this was really interesting. Thanks.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome Mega. I'm going to do my best to figure out all of his major promises. Then maybe we can give him a report card at some point?

FYI, I'm getting this information largely from his own campaign website, from the White House site, and from his recent speeches.

Hope you enjoy the series.

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