BY Michelangelo Signorile
October 22 2009 2:40 PM ET
But further criticism of the White House over the next month, on the Web and in the mainstream media, built dramatically. Then, in June, reporter Jason Bellini on The Daily Beast claimed that unnamed sources on the Hill confirmed that HRC had told members of Congress that “don’t ask, don’t tell” wasn’t a priority as HRC pursued an incrementalist approach, pushing for hate crimes and ENDA first. HRC denied the story (though I had an on-the-record source on my show, Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center, saying the same thing), and soon went from apologist to critic almost overnight, even creating a “no excuses” campaign and seeming to agree with the grass roots entirely on Obama. Solmonese even called for Obama to issue a stop-loss order to end the discharges and to move on DADT.
Then came this month’s HRC dinner. The White House was looking for cover. Obama was invited to speak at the march, but the White House wasn’t about to acknowledge the protest. HRC was happy to have the president speak at the dinner, and really, it’s the right thing to give the president a forum and hear him out. Certainly it was also good for the organization and its profile to have the president speak. But perhaps the White House wanted more in return for giving HRC that kind of visibility and legitimacy, particularly since it hoped to contain the criticisms from the march protesters.
For whatever reason, HRC’s Solmonese did a 180 again and released what has come to be called the “2017 Letter” days before the speech, saying we shouldn’t judge the administration until that year. The group tried to backtrack after an uproar, but its explanation has not sufficed. Even on my radio program Solmonese couldn’t offer up clear reasoning as to why, from a PR perspective alone, he’d put the year 2017 in a letter like that. The only explanation, many believe, is that the White House asked the group to put that out there, and HRC complied.
HRC’s response to Obama’s speech backs up this theory. Only HRC seemed to think the speech was so “unprecedented” that it didn’t need any criticism, though the speech offered nothing new in terms of a timetable on any of the many promises the president made both before and after the election. Institutions as mainstream as Time magazine and the Washington Post editorial board agreed with many of the marchers who were quoted in the papers the next day discussing the speech, whose opinions could be summarized by the Time headline: “All Talk, No Action.”