Flashing back to the 2008 presidential race, the Democratic GLBT agenda was portrayed as a central component of Barack Obama’s campaign. According to Obama’s speeches and senate voting record, he opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, advocated full civil unions, the expansion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a full repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which bans openly gay service members.
Moving back to the present, none of Obama’s GLBT campaign promises have even come close to fruition. The president has failed (or refused) to spend political capital on numerous issues and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy remains decidedly in place. Either in recognition of this fact or in strategic hopes of preempting criticism from the next day’s GLBT march on Oct. 11, the president used his platform at the Human Rights Campaign as a platform to renew his commitment to the GLBT agenda. Without being prompted, Obama reaffirmed his pledge to repeal DADT and to push for GLBT issues. Once again, the president seemed remarkably good at appealing to his audience while simultaneously making no real commitments or even providing any tangible details.
Even more revealing was a statement from the President’s national security advisor, James Jones, aimed at addressing GLBT questions over Obama’s plan. The statement clarified President Obama’s statements as saying that he will focus “at the right time” on how to overturn DADT. Jones further stated that he “[doesn’t] think it’s going to be — it’s not years.” This clarification doesn’t seem any more reassuring than Obama’s original nondescript speech. The GLBT community has already been waiting several years and openly gay soldiers are continuously discharged from year to year.
Unfortunately, despite James Jones thoughts and Obama’s speech, any action on GLBT issues and a DADT repeal in particular seem unlikely. This lack of momentum does not necessarily stem from a lack of parity between Obama’s rhetoric and his actions but instead from the political climate as a whole. First, Obama and congressional democrats are pushing incredible hard for comprehensive health care reform and Republican swing votes are seen to be crucial.
Several of the more key Republican candidates are forced to placate to their base on both defense issues (e.g. DADT) and on social issues (e.g. Civil Unions and Discrimination Bills). Moreover, the administration is pushing for a senate financial reform bill that will target both the transparency of the Federal Reserve and the habits of Wall Street firms.
Not surprisingly this is yet another area where swing Republicans will be desperately sought. Any action on GLBT issues or DADT will most certainly aggravate both the Republican leadership and their perceived base, causing a backlash on either health care or financial overhaul. Second, it is important to note that even if Republican Senators are not deterred by a strong GLBT platform, the Obama administration is already stretched thin across several issues. There simply isn’t enough political capital or focus left to push for a DADT repeal. Finally, the recently leaked General McChrystal report (the Afghanistan report) has undermined current civil-military relations to the point where additional stress via a forced DADT repeal may very well exacerbate military strategy. Certainly from the White House’s perspective, risking any further stress in military leadership would be harmful for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the end, there does exist an obvious disconnect between Obama’s rhetoric at the Human Rights Campaign and his actual level of action. However, even if Obama is fully committed to repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, it seems highly unlikely that the present political climate will allow him such luxuries. Unfortunately to both the members of the GLBT march and to the GLBTs serving secretly in the U.S. military, my advice is, don’t get your hopes up.