Op-ed: GOP Strategy Could Haunt Them



 Is it possible that a sinister strategy that worked so well for Republicans in election cycle after election cycle — throwing out antigay red meat to its ravenous, energetic, evangelical base — could actually, finally be the party’s undoing? Pointing to the GOP’s nasty, homophobic actions could actually work in the Democrats’ favor.

Let’s take a case in point: the 15th annual Human Rights Campaign dinner, held in October. There’s no question we were all stoked when President Obama, speaking to the group for the second time in his first term, came out swinging against Republicans by standing up for a gay soldier who was booed by audience members at a GOP presidential debate.

Stephen Hill, who is serving in Iraq, was among those asked to present questions to the candidates during the Fox News–Google debate in Orlando, Fla., in September. He identified himself as gay and asked former U.S. senator Rick Santorum if he would bring back “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Before Santorum could give his answer (which was a resounding, ugly “yes!”) audience members booed at Hill’s mere mention of the fact that he is gay. Neither Santorum nor any of the other candidates stood up to the bigotry at the event.

“We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s OK for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the president of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed,” Obama stated passionately, as the crowd at the Washington Convention Center in D.C. roared and leapt to its feet. “We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since. You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient. We don’t believe in a small America. We believe in a big America — a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America — that values the service of every patriot.”

The comments were noteworthy not just because Obama forcefully blasted the GOP after almost three years of “reaching out” but also because the rest of the president’s speech was cautious and lackluster. He touted his achievements for LGBT Americans — many of which came only after hard pushing by activists — and laid out no concrete plans for equality in the future. Nor did Barack Obama “evolve” (his word) on marriage equality, as some had hoped he would.

The fact that a president who is timid about both taking on the GOP and loudly advocating for LGBT rights hit so hard against the Republicans over their hostility toward a gay soldier was quite telling: Even Obama’s cautious campaign handlers saw it as an easy win.