Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Candidate As President (Or The President As Candidate)

A segment of the left feels jilted by President Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama, who once declared himself a “fierce advocate for gay and lesbian Americans" and added “It’s something I’ve been consistent on,” has been treating the gay community like, oh, perhaps, abortion-rights supporters or advocates of genuine health care reform.

Spearheading a boycott, AMERICAblog explains

There has been little, if any, pressure from the White House for votes on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The administration continues to send mixed signals on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). And we've been told not to expect the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to even be considered until President Obama's second term. In the last two weeks alone, we were angered that the Obama administration continued to defend DOMA in the courts -- last June, the administration's lawyers even compared loving gay relationships to incest and pedophilia -- and we were saddened that the White House and the Democratic party refused to help us defeat anti-gay ballot initiatives in Maine and Washington state. LGBT Americans, our families, and our friends kept our promise at the ballot box, we now expect President Obama to keep his in the White House.

Until the Democratic Congress passes, and President Obama signs, legislation enacting ENDA, repealing DADT, and repealing DOMA, we ask you to join us in pledging to postpone contributions to the Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, and the Obama campaign. This temporary (we hope) boycott is sponsored by AMERICAblog, and cosponsored by Daily Kos, Michelangelo Signorile, and Paul Sousa, among others.

Given that the most important (other than the the economy, generally the most pressing issue in the country) and contentious issue in the U.S.A. currently is health care- and the Democratic establishment has been pandering alternatively to Olympia Snowe and to conservative Democrats- a boycott over gay rights issues seems inappropriately timed. Or, rather, is obviously inappropriately timed.

Still, there is one Democrat who- somewhere- must be sympathizing with progressives who find that the promise of Barack Obama is, well, promise.

If you think like me, you probably thought that the following controversy was particularly trivial and irrelevant, cheapening the political discourse while we were considering election of the leader of The Free World. And that it must have come from Karl Rove or some other Repub hit machine. Not so. As Alex Koppelman writes in Salon

It's easy to get caught up in the distractions and the silliness and the tit-for-tat that consumes our politics; the bickering that none of us are immune to, and that trivializes the profound issues -- two wars, an economy in recession, a planet in peril," then-Sen. Barack Obama said last April, on the night he lost Pennsylvania's Democratic presidential primary to Hillary Clinton.

That sort of thing has been a consistent theme from Obama, both on the trail and while he's been in the White House, the message being that people should stop focusing on the small, silly things that characterize so much of politics, preventing actual substance from being part of the discussion.

In some ways, Obama and his team have tried to live up to that. In others, well, they're just as guilty as everyone else.

One of the sillier, more trivial stories from the presidential campaign, and perhaps the one that got people on the left most consistently riled, was what started out as a pretty short blog post by Politico's Ben Smith, who reported that John Edwards had been getting $400 haircuts. Though other scandals have since overshadowed memories of Edwards' 2008 campaign, it was a big deal at the time, and it stuck around for quite a while.

Well, now we know who was responsible for the distraction and the silliness that emanated from that story: Obama's campaign. Campaign Manager David Plouffe revealed the truth in his new book, writing, "We did much less of this [opposition research] than other campaigns did, but there were times we indulged -- it was our researchers who found John Edwards's infamous $400 hair cut expenditures.

The Willie Horton story- admittedly much more incendiary, cutting to the core of American attitudes toward race and crime- during the 1988 presidential election campaign at least came from the GOP side, notwithstanding Repub claims otherwise. The haircut matter, however, was a cowardly attack by one Democrat (uh, his operative) upon another.

Perhaps if President Obama and his current hit man, Rahm Emanuel, undermine the opponents of health care reform- Republicans and conservative Democrats- as he did an ideological ally within his own party 2-3 years ago, meaningful health care reform will be passed in this congressional session. If only.

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