Thursday, October 28, 2010

Obama Meets with Bloggers, Hints at Lame Duck Plans for DADT, says He's Evolving on Marriage Equality

Blogger Joe Sudbay, of AmericaBlog
AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay was one of five progressive bloggers invited to meet with President Obama on Wednesday for a question and answer round table discussion. The big news out of the meeting isn't all that big, according to the Big O himself.

Sudbay started by asking the president if he thought DADT is unconstitutional and touched on the disappointment and disillusionment felt by many in the LGBT community. I found Obama's response be a little dismissive and insulting:
Q I was glad to hear that you and your staff appreciate constructive feedback.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that’s something we enjoy. (Laughter.)

Q We’ve been more than willing to offer that. We’ve certainly been more than willing to offer than from AMERICAblog, particularly on issues related to the LGBT community, which, you know, there is a certain amount of disillusionment and disappointment in our community right now.

And one of the things I’d like to ask you -- and I think it’s a simple yes or no question too -- is do you think that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s not a simple yes or no question, because I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court. And I’ve got to be careful, as President of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head.

I think that -- but here’s what I can say. I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is wrong. I think it doesn’t serve our national security, which is why I want it overturned. I think that the best way to overturn it is for Congress to act. In theory, we should be able to get 60 votes out of the Senate. The House has already passed it. And I’ve gotten the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say that they think this policy needs to be overturned -- something that’s unprecedented.

And so my hope and expectation is, is that we get this law passed. It is not just harmful to the brave men and women who are serving, and in some cases have been discharged unjustly, but it doesn’t serve our interests -- and I speak as Commander-in-Chief on that issue.

Let me go to the larger issue, though, Joe, about disillusionment and disappointment. I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history. I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any President in history. We have moved forward on a whole range of issues that were directly under my control, including, for example, hospital visitation.

On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I have been as systematic and methodical in trying to move that agenda forward as I could be given my legal constraints, given that Congress had explicitly passed a law designed to tie my hands on the issue.

And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.
(emphasis mine)

Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.

So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.
Sudbay followed up by asking the president about reports resulting from a White House meeting on Tuesday with representatives of Servicemembers United, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Log Cabin Republicans, that there is a plan to push the senate to vote on the Defense Authorization Bill after the elections. The DAB includes language to repeal DADT:
Q Is there a strategy for the lame-duck session to --


Q -- and you’re going to be involved?


Q Will Secretary Gates be involved?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to tip my hand now. But there is a strategy.
Sudbay managed to get another question in about same-sex marriage, pointing out our victories to the President, how attitudes have changed and how much progress there has been in the country:
Q So I just really want to know what is your position on same-sex marriage?
THE PRESIDENT: Joe, I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are. (Laughter.) But I’ll say this --
Q I just want to say, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you this question.
Q People in our community are really desperate to know.
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a fair question to ask. I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.
But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.
And I care about them deeply. And so while I’m not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about. That’s probably the best you’ll do out of me today. (Laughter.)
So, while nothing earth-shattering came out of yesterday's meeting, what was significant was that the meeting took place at all. In fairness, Obama has moved our cause forward more than any other president has done, although there is still a long way to go. I find his dismissive attitude about our community's loss of confidence in him to be especially insulting, considering just how much he and his party need us next Tuesday.

A big thanks to Joe Sudbay for having the stones to ask the tough questions. You can read his full account of the meeting at AmericaBlog
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