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View From Washington


In case you missed it, Congress is gone. It recessed for the midterms Wednesday evening.

It was missable ... it sort of went out with a whimper. Rather than scratch and claw for one more accomplishment, one more campaign issue, Democrats just couldn't wait to pack up and go home after passing a small-business tax cut that President Barack Obama signed into law Monday. Eh, why stay in the fight till October 8 -- the originally scheduled time to adjourn -- when you can just go on home?

So most likely, when the 111th Congress is a wrap in December, the Obama administration's major legislative accomplishment for the LGBT community will have been passing the hate-crimes bill. Though there may be one last attempt at moving the National Defense Authorization Act with DADT repeal attached, I can't find a single student of the legislative process in Washington who thinks there's any better than a slim-to-none chance the defense funding bill will pass during lame-duck.

And just so you're not left to wonder where it is on the priority list, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs rattled off lame-duck priorities on both Thursday and Friday, mentioning judicial nominations, appointments, child nutrition, and middle-class tax cuts, among other things. Defense authorization was notably absent.

Don't worry -- if you are underwhelmed by the political stylings of the Democrats and the White House leading up to the midterms, you are not alone.

At Thursday's briefing the White House press corps was equally baffled about the Democratic strategy headed into election season. Here's a bit of flavor as a couple reporters struggle to grasp why the Dems didn't force Republicans to take a vote on the middle-class tax cut that they keep saying the GOP is "holding hostage" in favor of passing tax cuts for the rich.

Robert Gibbs: [The Republicans] price tag for the middle-class [tax cut] was the $700 billion. We could have passed the middle-class [tax cut] alone, provided some much needed certainty to the economy and to middle-class families and had -- still had plenty of time to debate the $700 billion price tag for the other cuts.

Why not do that? Why not introduce the bill --

Why not get Republicans on the record?

-- and force Republicans to filibuster it?

[Republicans] were unwilling to do that. They were unwilling to --

But you can introduce a bill is the point. You can introduce the bill.

Guys, my original answer was I don't think the bill is the existence of the fight. It is that -- look, John Boehner said --

You're not even -- you're not even fighting with them.

Steve Hildebrand, Obama's gay deputy campaign manager in '08, railed against the missed opportunity to lead -- not to mention provide struggling Democrats with the type of campaign issue that could have launched 1,000 attack ads against Republicans.

"The fact that our leadership in the Democratic Party adjourned Congress without repealing the Bush tax cuts, I think, is a failure of leadership in a significant way," he told MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan. "That is something that we believe fundamentally was so wrong, was wrong from the beginning, and we didn't deliver on it."

Meanwhile, Barack Obama was out on the stump in Madison, Wis., doing an admirable job of trying to recapture a little of that ol' 2008 campaign magic. And guess what he was talking about: fighting.

"That election was not just about putting me in the White House. It was about building a movement for change that went beyond any one campaign or any one candidate. It was about remembering that in the United States of America, our destiny is not written for us -- it is written by us," he told a raucous college-age crowd. "The power to shape our future lies in our hands -- but only if we're willing to keep working for it and fighting for it and keep believing that change is possible."

But the rousing speech did nothing to soften Thursday's front-page news in The New York Times: "Democrats Find Many Big Donors Cutting Support." Namely, George Soros and Peter B. Lewis -- two of the biggest progressive donors in the country -- are sitting out the midterms this year. Though they each poured over $20 million into Democratic organizations during the 2004 election, neither of them has felt inspired enough by the accomplishments of the Democrats they helped put in office to pony up a single dime this year. They think their money is better spent elsewhere.

"Mr. Soros believes that he can be most effective by funding groups that promote progressive policy outcomes in areas such as health care, the environment and foreign policy," said his adviser Michael Vachon. "So he has opted to fund those activities."

In case you didn't make this connection, Peter Lewis's son is Jonathan Lewis, a gay man who backs many progressive causes, including GetEqual. It's not a stretch to think that Peter Lewis isn't particularly impressed with the Obama administration's hate-crimes achievement, among other disappointments.

Just by way of review, when Barack Obama took office, only one state legally recognized same-sex marriages. Now five do, including one in the Midwest and two that approved it through the legislature rather than the courts. In the past couple months, two very separate polls have found that a majority of the American people now support same-sex marriage.

One federal judge has ruled part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, while another federal judge said the same of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and yet a third federal judge ruled the discharge of a service member under the policy unconstitutional.

Poll after poll after poll finds that anywhere from 65% to 75% of the public believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve their country openly, including a solid majority of self-identified conservatives and Republicans.

A tidal wave of change is rolling through America, and yet this president and Democratic Congress accomplished only hate-crimes -- a measure that had already passed both chambers of Congress once before but was ultimately nixed from its host legislation based on a veto threat from President George W. Bush.

Hate crimes.

Where's the fight, Mr. President? Our kids are committing suicide because our government continues to tell them their lives are less valuable than those of their peers. That they cannot grow up and participate in our society like every other American. That they cannot share in the institution by which our society measures and values love. That they are too embarrassing to fight for our country in full view of their countrymen. That freedom apparently does not mean freedom for everyone.

Where's the fight, Mr. President?
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