As I sat in Wednesday's prime-time press conference marking President Obama's first 100 days, my mind kept returning to an observation Doris Kearns Goodwin made last Sunday on Meet the Press: Barack Obama likes to govern.
Seems like a relatively simple observation, but its importance and consequence cannot be overstated. Before George W. Bush won office in 2000, the late, great Molly Ivins and coauthor Lou Dubose wrote with great prescience, "Where Bush is weak is on the governance side of politics. For the record, it appears that he doesn't know much, doesn't do much, and doesn't care much about governing. ... Trouble is, when you aren't particularly interested in the nuts and bolts of governing, you end up with staff-driven policy." Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush predicted the calamity that became the U.S. government for the next eight years. Policy preferences aside, one need look no further than the disastrous Katrina response to know that our government was asleep at the switch.
Whatever one might think about President Obama's policies, he clearly relishes the work he was elected to do and has responded swiftly to every challenge facing our country. That enthusiasm was reflected in this week's battery of polls, which found the American public highly approves of President Obama personally (60%-70%) even if his policies on the economy, defense, and otherwise draw less unilateral support.
But popularity is fleeting, and President Obama has consistently said he will ultimately be judged by how effectively he governs -- whether people feel safe and are gainfully employed by 2012. The same is true of his LGBT policies -- he will be judged by his accomplishments, not his rhetoric or his intentions.
President Obama's first 100 days produced many promising signs for LGBT people -- not least of which is how much access community leaders are getting to the White House. But even with those advances, many activists charge -- and perhaps with some justification -- that most of what has materialized so far is window dressing. Inviting LGBT families to the White House Easter Egg Roll was a lovely gesture, goes the thinking, but it doesn't protect those moms and dads from getting fired for their sexual orientation or even provide them with health benefits.