They say a presidency is defined by its first 100 days and by most accounts, Barack Obama‘s was about as much of a success as you could ask out of someone asked to preside over the worst financial crisis of a generation. The reviews are coming in. Sen. Lamar Alexander told Bloomberg News, “At the beginning of his presidency, President Obama is doing very well”, Reuters says, “Obama’s efforts to make a sharp break with Bush were arguably the easy part. He has laid the foundation for a new less aggressive foreign policy, but delivering concrete results will be harder” and while Gawker rightly points out that the survivors of Lost battled smoke-monsters, saved the planet and shagged up with most of each other in the same time span, the reality is that our smooth, cool-as-a-cucumber President has done well in his first sprint as President– except of course, when it comes to gay rights.
There, he’s fallen behind– big time.
Now, I know what you’re going to say– “Hey! There are bigger issues at hand! Like the fact the economy is collapsing!” However, let’s face it– there will always be wars, crises and other geopolitical concerns that will seem like more pressing demands than issues of social equality, which are, by their very nature, deep-rooted and long-gestating. The fact that Obama has stayed curiously silent during these 100 days, only occasionally mentioning gay rights (which admittedly, is an improvement over his predecessor) while during that time, we’ve seen two states legalize marriage and the nation’s most populous state hold hearing in the California Supreme Court on Prop. 8 is surprising. It’s hard to imagine a time when the discussion of equality for gays and lesbians has been more front and center in the broader populace and yet our president, who campaigned with promises to deliver an end to much of the legalized discrimination against LGBT people, has refused to put his hat in the ring.
It’s clear that Obama cares about gay people (or at least our votes) and his advisers have said that he’s begun to lay the groundwork on Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell, but on other pieces of key legislation, such as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, he’s not been a leader. Of course, were Obama to stick his neck out for equality issues, he would undoubtedly draw fire from conservative quarters, but we’re seeing a distinct difference between the man on the campaign trail and the man in the Oval Office.
Barack Obama the Campaigner was about fiery and lofty rhetoric that spoke truth to power. He enveloped his candidacy in a personal narrative of a man who saw the American Dream, made it work for him and whose life goal was to make it accessible to all Americans, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation. Barack Obama the President is another guy entirely. He’s shown a Machiavellian bent, interested more in arranging the chess pieces of political power to achieve his policy goals. Some critics say he’s afraid of a fight, his staff says he’s about keeping fights from ever developing.
This is all well and good. We never expected Obama to be All-Hope-All-The-Time, however at some point, he needs to deliver on his campaign promises to LGBT folks. His political capital is at its highest now, and as previously mentioned, the national discussion about LGBT rights is in the public eye. So, what is he waiting for? The power of the White House is enormous and even one speech, in which the president comes out and calls for Congress to move on LGBT equality bills would have enormous impact. As the Great Consensus Builder, Obama would be happy to find that he has support in Congress for some of the most basic rights measures. Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell and the repeal of DOMA may take some time, but if these things are to happen, the foundation must be laid– if not in the first 100 days, then when?