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To Dems: Work for the Money

To Dems: Work for the Money

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In a July commentary on Advocate.com titled "The Glass is Half Full," Andy Tobias, the Democratic National Committee's treasurer and by extension one of the party's most fervent defenders in the LGBT community, made dramatic, fear-mongering pleas for your money, all the while slamming the (justifiably) negative sentiments of the gay blogosphere. Many gay blogs, spearheaded by John Aravosis's Americablog, advocated a financial revolt against the DNC in November with a "don't ask, don't give" campaign. (I was an eager supporter of this effort and continue to stand behind the continuing DNC boycott.)

"Is the true idealist the one who stands on principle and refuses to help?" Tobias wrote in that piece. "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? 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."

In other words, fork over your hard-earned dollars to support the very people who have not delivered and who have made no indication that anything will change on the morning of November 3.

Tobias's screed cannot hide just how disappointing our "fierce advocate" and his toothless party have been for the past two years. A few drops have been wrung out into the glass, including passage of a long-overdue hate-crimes bill that had been kicked around in Congress since the 1990s and an uncertain compromise on repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," as gay men and lesbians continue to be ejected from the military.

Real progress? The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is dead in the water this session. The Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, a bill that would give gay federal workers spousal benefits, and which Congress has promised a vote on since June 2009, is no closer to the president's pen. Meanwhile, the White House continues to aggressively defend the Defense of Marriage Act and is expected to appeal a July decision handed down by a Nixon-appointed federal judge who ruled that a critical portion of the federal ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. President Barack Obama has said he opposes the law but by all accounts has not lifted a finger to push for the legislative repeal that he promised would be a priority if he were elected.

And then there was the president's pitiful response to the landmark Prop 8 decision. A spokesperson responded to The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld that ,"The President has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory," without any congratulations let alone elation of any kind. Then White House advisor David Axelrod headed onto TV to push the message that the president doesn't support marriage for gays and lesbians, reaching out to homophobes on a day when he should have been reaching out to us. It was yet another nasty slap in the face.

So what, exactly, constitutes a glass that is "half full"? A DADT concession that the White House didn't even want to push this year and that doesn't secure a firm repeal date? Hospital visitation and other long-overdue executive branch policy changes that should have been done within weeks of Obama taking office--and that all can be thrown out by a future administration? The hate crimes law and the end of the HIV travel ban? Or should we only count real action--crucial legislation that would give gay people the broad civil rights they deserve?

Tobias bases his half-full scenario on a list of the president's accomplishments he posted on eQualityGiving. Blogger Pam Spaulding says the list looks like a padded resume, and I agree with her. One of the entries: "Publicly invited shunned Mississippi high school prom student to the White House," a reference to Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen who was not allowed to take her girlfriend to prom. Another: "Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King."

I do not want to negate those and other deserved and simple gestures, but how can Tobias list giving Harvey Milk a posthumous medal as an accomplishment when it wasn't one of the promises Obama made on the campaign trail in exchange for our money and votes? It's nice, but it doesn't do anything for the transgender woman in Alabama who just got fired because ENDA hasn't been passed or the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who lack the more than 1,000 federal benefits marriage confers because Obama refuses to push DOMA repeal and is instead vigorously defending the antigay law in court.

The disappointment is evident, the anger palpable, and that has Democrats spinning the party's negligible progress as enormous strides. All the while they've tried to save face by claiming that gays are rallying to their defense--more than a year after one stunning protest. In a case of rather unfortunate timing, the DNC held its annual LGBT black-tie fund-raiser in Washington, D.C., in June 2009. News had just broken of a Justice Department brief defending DOMA by--among other offenses--comparing homosexuality to incest. In the days preceding the DNC event, big-name gay Dems, including former Clinton administration adviser Richard Socarides and prominent activist David Mixner, dropped out. Protesters heckled attendees as they strode into the event. The DNC, however, later announced that the fund-raiser was a huge success, even claiming through an unnamed source that it had raised a "million dollars"--more, the source said, than any previous LGBT fund-raiser and proof that people were ignoring an angry call for a boycott.

Yet something doesn't add up. If the fund-raiser was such a major success and if the LGBT community is so pleased by all the supposed accomplishments of the president and Democrats, why did the DNC forgo an LGBT fund-raiser this summer for the first time in years? One would think after a huge success--the biggest ever, the DNC claimed--they'd have planned an encore event this year, especially in such a gloomy political atmosphere for the Democrats.

For Tobias, Democrats' shaky midterm prospects have little to do with their own mediocre track record among those who voted them into power. Republicans are a much easier target for blame. Though the GOP has faced a far-right mutiny by Tea Party zealots and have the smallest minority in both houses in decades, Republicans, we're led to believe, have somehow miraculously railroaded Obama's "change" message, forcing him to pander to bigots like pastor Rick Warren. If that's true, it's only because Obama and the Democrats let it happen by alienating their own base and playing nice with people who didn't vote for them--and likely never will.

Why should we be expected to mop up the mess Democrats have created even as we warned them over and over again while they caved in to Republicans? They pandered to conservatives on everything from energy policy and the health care public option to civil liberties and the war in Afghanistan, while spitting on the constituencies in their base who cared about those issues deeply.

And today, the desperate Dems' message to LGBT voters continues to make little sense. Even while they claim that Obama can't make progress on LGBT rights because of sinister Republicans, they also claim the Administration has done enormous things for us--more, to quote Tobias, than "any president in history," as if we've really been waiting since George Washington to get the hate-crimes bill passed.

Tobias's argument is that we must give money to our friends or else our enemies will completely seize control. But how can we continue to give money to friends who sell us out--taking our cash while sleeping with our enemies? How can we give money to the DNC, knowing it will dole the cash out to Democrats who run from our agenda or actively vote against it? If they want us to save them, they're going to have to treat us a lot better, and right now that means supporting full civil rights. No more settling.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't support individual Democrats this year. There are plenty of Democrats who deserve your support because they've done some good things and are pushing hard for equality. By all means, give to their individual campaigns. But not a dime should go to the DNC. And if Obama isn't willing to push the party hard--and come out for full equality, including marriage rights--then we'll need to think about withholding money from him too in 2012.
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