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View From Washington: Who's Left?

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President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday could prove a defining moment in his young presidency. Will he orient toward progressive ideals and assert that any bill without a public option just won't make the cut, or will he capitulate in favor of some bill -- any bill -- in order to claim victory?

Conflicting reports from the White House this week have suggested that, at the very least, the Administration is still waffling on the public option and how to approach it during Obama's speech.

Of course, the health care debate isn't taking place in a vacuum. LGBT activists have seen little to no action on equality legislation. A Politico article this week confirmed something I've been suggesting for several weeks -- that health care has so consumed the legislative process, there's no room left for "don't ask, don't tell" or maybe even easier gets like employment nondiscrimination or the domestic-partners benefits bill for federal employees.

"We have a very heavy, busy agenda and a few months left to do it," Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the Senate's number 2 Democrat, told Politico. So repealing the military's gay ban may not happen now, he said, "but that doesn't mean it won't be soon."

In the meantime, antiwar activists are getting a similar dose of sour medicine from the Administration.

The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, delivered on Monday a classified assessment of the war and issued a statement calling the situation "serious" and recommending a "revised implementation strategy." Talk immediately turned to increasing the U.S. troop commitment in Afghanistan -- currently standing at 62,000 -- by anywhere from 10,000 to 45,000 soldiers, and Defense secretary Bob Gates declared Thursday, "I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan."

President Obama has not made any commitments yet, but apparently the Administration is more worried about how Afghanistan will sell to voters than it is about selling equal rights for LGBT folks.

According to a dispatch from Politico's Mike Allen, "White House officials are increasingly worried liberal, antiwar Democrats will demand a premature end to the Afghanistan war before President Barack Obama can show signs of progress in the eight-year conflict."

That's probably because opposition to the war is peaking, with CNN reporting this week that 57% of Americans now oppose it, an 11-point increase since April. Perhaps more important, three quarters of Democrats oppose the war, with opposition rising 18 percentage points in that group since April.

None of this promises to get any better as the magnifying glass of the media moves from Iraq to Afghanistan and casualties ascend along with our troop presence. In fact, the 51 U.S. soldiers who died in Afghanistan last month, reported the Associated Press, rendered August the bloodiest month for American forces there since the 2001 invasion.

So as the man who aggressively courted LGBT votes and campaigned on his opposition to the Iraq war attempts to woo Congress, LGBT advocates are prepping to register their collective discontent with an October 11 march on Washington while antiwar activists organize a series of modest demonstrations around the country.

And what of the public option? Thursday, liberal behemoth MoveOn.org along with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched a petition drive to demand that Obama adopt a public plan as part of health reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is so worried about the potential omission of a public plan that she pronounced Thursday, "A bill without a strong public option will not pass the House."

Punting the public option, increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, and continuing to shortchange LGBT people could prove to be a losing trifecta that alienates most of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party -- Barack Obama's staunchest supporters and the only group that hasn't significantly softened on him in the polls.

Political analysts spend a lot of time talking about independents, but if progressives lose their will to show up at the polls in 2010, independents will be little more than a footnote to an avalanche of Democratic losses.

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