My friend Richard Socarides has assumed the valuable role of Half Empty, pressuring the president to be our “fierce advocate,” as advertised. It’s an important role to play. He deserves our thanks for playing it. But to the extent he and others inadvertently demoralize our community into not coming out to vote this November ... or not supporting the party’s massive get-out-the-vote effort ... it will HURT — not help — our drive for equality.
We need to push AND support.
So let me play the role of Half Full.
Richard’s most recent Wall Street Journal op-ed characterizes the president’s efforts to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” as “lackluster”— and many in our community would call that charitable. If you or I had been president, the feeling seems to be, we’d have gotten this thing done long ago. Like Harry Truman, we’d have just issued the order, told the generals to salute, and moved on.
But how many in our community realize that Truman actually waited more than three years to issue his order? Or that it did NOT immediately integrate the military — it directed the military to establish a committee to recommend how best to do it? Or that the process was not finally completed — the last all-black unit not finally disbanded — until 1954, more than nine years after Truman was sworn in?
So (says Mr. Half Full), if our troops can begin serving openly by next spring — which is still not a given, but definitely in sight — Obama will have completed the process in less time than it took Truman to start it.
This is not to take anything away from Truman. And it is certainly not to deny one obvious difference: A majority of the electorate today favors repeal, whereas a majority opposed integrating the military. But there are other differences as well: Truman had served in the military himself, and as president, dropped two very, VERY big bombs. That won him the kind of creds with the military a President John McCain might have had (the same John McCain who threatens to filibuster repeal), but that Barack Obama does not. Second, Truman issued the order in peacetime, when the military was not stressed. But third and most important, Truman did not have to repeal a law. Congress had not segregated the military, so an executive order was enough. “Ddon’t ask, don’t tell” IS the law. Presidents can’t just overturn laws. Or force 60 Senators to vote for cloture. (Continued on following page)
Yes, the president might have done an end run around Congress and the military with a stop-loss order. But end runs have costs too. Reasonable advocates can disagree as to whether alienating the Congress and military brass would have been worth the cost, and what practical implications that might have had for our brave LGBT troops.
But while it has taken time and maneuvering — and we’ve still not crossed the finish line — it looks as though the law will be repealed this year, and the ban lifted not long afterward. Finally.
No one is saying the process has been perfect. But those who think the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs would have gone up to the Hill to give the testimony they did without this president’s leadership — or that we would have won critical votes like Robert Byrd’s and Ben Nelson’s in the Senate Armed Services Committee without White House pressure —are simply wrong.
Similarly, no one is saying the pace of change — on this and everything else — is not immensely frustrating. But if you and I are frustrated, imagine how frustrated the president must be. The Republicans cheered when his Olympic bid failed ... vowed to make health care his “Waterloo” ... even nixed the bipartisan deficit commission, once he accepted it, that they themselves proposed.
So Mr. Half Empty keeps up the pressure — as we all should. A successful conclusion to the repeal process can’t come soon enough. Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act can’t come soon enough.
But in downplaying what HAS been done — more than any president in history has EVER done, and in just the first 18 months of his presidency — and in failing to acknowledge that the administration’s support for our community is deeply felt — which it is — leaders like Richard (and our bloggers) run the risk of depressing the support we need to keep Nancy Pelosi from having to hand her gavel to John Boehner. (And Barney Frank from having to hand his gavel to Spencer Bachus of Alabama.)
That’s not an idle fear. It happened in 1994 — we lost the Congress for 12 years. Without all hands on deck, it could happen in 2010, just 16 weeks from now. (Continued on following page)
I know this firsthand.
Take a look at the LONG list of administration accomplishments posted here — and then at the almost universally negative comments.
Jonathan says, "I don't care who winds up in congress or the White House, I will never vote for another Democrat." Luke thinks it's not just worthless to have accorded Harvey Milk and Martina Navratilova the same honor as Rosa Parks, it’s practically offensive. HIS strategy for speeding up the pace of progress is not to vote. "I'm only 27 and have never missed an election," he writes, "but this year ... I AM SITTING IT OUT!" Roy says, "So the Republicans take back control. BFD."
The more that Jonathan, Luke, Roy, and others manage to spread a message that diminishes and demoralizes, the bleaker become our chances of winning the equality we deserve, and the slower it will come.
This may be maddening, but it is just as true as that Nader's 97,488 wonderfully idealistic Florida voters (who refused to be swayed by tawdry political reality) — gave us eight years of George W. Bush and the right-wing Supreme Court that will decide marriage. (Gore “lost” Florida by 534 votes.)
Does anyone think a Republican Congress would allow pro-LGBT legislation?
Kiss equality goodbye for as long as Republicans hold gavels.
So I ask you to consider: Is the true idealist the one who stands on principle and refuses to help? Or the one who accepts an imperfect reality and actually does help — while simultaneously marching and lobbying and working every day to persuade the general public of the rightness of our positions?
It’s great to support individual pro-equality candidates. We all should. But that alone does not drive marginal voters out to the polls. If anything, all the warring TV ads that candidates have to run turn voters off and keep them home.
OFA — then known as Obama for America, now called Organizing for America, but with much the same leadership — has shown that it CAN turn out the vote. Massively.
We’ll get only a fraction of Obama’s 15 million first-time voters to the polls this November; but if we can boost their turnout by 20% over what it otherwise would have been, that will provide HUGE leverage in close races for House, Senate, mayor, governor, state legislature, city council, school board — everyplace where the Democrat is almost sure to be more progressive on our issues than the Republican.
Whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, our allies — from the president on down — badly need your help in filling it up.