Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The case for nuance

  • This morning, I learned of a twitter posting from Lt. Dan Choi. As those who follow this blog know, I have held Lt. Choi in high regard for his service to the nation. Indeed, it was I who created the Wikipedia article on him. So it pained me to read Lt. Choi’s Tweet:

My response:
Barack Obama’s far from perfect on LGBT issues, but he’s not as horrible as Choi and some others have stated. Here’s what we’ve gotten in the past 20 months from the Obama administration and the Democrats on the Hill:

*Hate Crimes bill – first federal law extending protections to LGBT people – passed by Democrats, signed by Obama.

*Issued directive banning discrimination against gays in respect to hospital visitation rights – signed by Obama.

*Persuaded top military brass to speak out against DADT, started process likely to lead to eventual repeal.

*Ended the HIV travel ban – Executive Order signed by Obama.

*Extended benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees – Executive memorandum signed by Obama.

*Over 150 LGBT appointees in less than two years (a record by a large margin).

Let’s compare Obama’s record to that of some recent Presidents:

Jimmy Carter: Did nothing for LGBT people beyond a tepid statement at a political rally for California voters to “vote against Proposition 6” (at the request of Governor Jerry Brown – and it wasn’t certain that Carter even knew what Prop 6 was).

Ronald Reagan: The patron saint of America’s right-wing ignored the growing AIDS crisis of the 1980s – refusing to even utter the word AIDS in public for a full six years. Indeed, he was outright hostile at the mere mention of the subject, avoiding discussion of it during meetings and shooting angry looks at anyone who dared mention the word. He opposed legislation extending any protection to LGBT people. He appointed the virulently anti-gay Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, but he also appointed Anthony Kennedy, who turned out to be a moderate. (Kennedy’s appointment, it should be remembered, came on the heels of Robert Bork’s failure to gain the Senate’s approval. If Bork had become a Justice, he would have been as anti-gay as Scalia.) True, Reagan issued an op-ed in the 1970s against Prop 6, but he wasn’t President then, so it doesn’t count.

George H. W. Bush: Told ACT-UP protestors to “shut up and sit down” during a speech. Like Reagan, Bush opposed any extension of federal protection to LGBT Americans. He also told an interviewer that if one of his grandchildren came out as gay, he would “embrace that child, love that child”, but would advise them to “not become an advocate for that lifestyle” - in other words, to stay in the closet. Bush appointed anti-gay Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

Bill Clinton: the first party nominee for President to actively seek the gay vote (“I have a vision, and you’re a part of it”) before his nomination, blundered out of the gate with his attempt to allow openly gay/lesbian service members – resulting in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. At best: a transitional policy toward full open service; At worst: a hazy unclear policy that resulted in an increase in discharges. Clinton failed to persuade Congress to pass any LGBT friendly legislation. He also signed the Defense of Marriage act, even though he could have let it pass without
his signature in symbolic protest (and been easily reelected anyway). On the other hand, it was under Clinton that HIV funding dramatically increased, leading to new drug regimens that greatly increased the life-expectancy for those living with HIV. There are literally tens of
thousands of Americans living today who would be dead without those medications. Appointed two gay-friendly justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer, to the Supreme Court.

George W. Bush: Despite claiming that “I’m not a gay basher”, he threatened to veto Hate Crimes legislation. On multiple occasions, he lobbied Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage, over the objections of his own Vice President. (Think about that for a moment: If Bush had gotten his way, people in Vermont, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa would be unable to marry their same-sex partner. The progress we’ve made in the last few years, inadequate though it is, would have been wiped out.) Bush’s pre-emptive war in Iraq led to a fundamentalist resurgence in that country, causing a
monumental step backwards for LGBT people there, who had enjoyed a modicum of acceptance under Saddam Hussein. Bush’s Supreme Court appointments, Thomas Roberts and Samuel Alito, were the most anti- LGBT since Scalia’s appointment under Reagan.

So, based on the above, is President Obama really “the worst”? Or is he merely disappointing because people expected better?

I believe based on his Tweet, as well as various statements and actions over the last year, that Lt. Choi is experiencing “newly-out” syndrome, in which everything revolves around being gay. (This is very common, and I went through that phase myself when I was in my early-20s.) I also feel that residual anger toward his parents (who, Choi states, have not spoken to him since his coming out) has boiled over into his public persona. He’s been given to venting rage at anyone who does not agree with every facet of his agenda and methods. Choi’s attitude is disturbingly reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “you’re either with us or against us” approach to foreign

The problem with Choi’s Tweet can be summed up by a fictional president, Jed Bartlet: "Every once in a while, every once in a while, there's a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren't very many un-nuanced moments in leading a country that's way too big for ten words [or 140 characters]. I'm the President of the United States, not the President of the people who agree with me."

We now come to the issue of Choi’s own core political beliefs, which he has yet to disclose. But in the context of his other remarks, I feel that Choi, were he not gay, would be opposed to Democratic policy positions across the board. Certainly he has neglected to criticize any Republicans in the way he has Democrats. Given his comments about the war in Iraq, it’s obvious that he is a “true believer” in that bloody, unwarranted conflict. Further his comment referring to Senate Majority Leader Reid as a “pussy” who “bleeds once a month” is appallingly misogynistic and immature. They are also unworthy of a man who is supposed to represent the
finest in his country. (Add to that his frequent protests and arrests while in uniform, and it’s very unlikely that Choi would be allowed to reenlist even when DADT is repealed.) Let us have no illusions that Dan Choi is not as politically correct as many in the LGBT community would
prefer. But as a public figure, it's disingenuous for him to be coy about where he stands politically.

And though this may pain Lt. Choi to hear it: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is but one issue facing one segment of the gay community. While it is high profile, there is no reason it should be the LGBT community’s highest priority.

I have made plain my own disappointment with President Obama and the Democratic leadership, not just on LGBT issues but across the board. But I don’t for a moment accept that he is “the worst.”

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