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Obama Lacks the Gipper’s Political Courage on Gays

You can measure a politician’s principles by his willingness to do something which he believes to be the right thing, but which carries a political cost.

Before he was ever elected President, Ronald Reagan did just such a thing, showing political courage in standing up against anti-gay bigotry.  In 1978, he came out publicly against the Golden State’s Briggs Initiative which would have banned gay people from teaching in public schools.  At the time, that pernicious proposition led in the polls.  Not just that, the Gipper was gearing up to run for the Republican nomination for President in 1980.  Opposing that initiative would have hurt him among social conservatives, then beginning to migrate to the GOP.

And yet gay people prefer Bill Clinton to the Gipper, even though when that Democrat had the choice between keeping a promise he made to us during his successful campaign for the White House (repealing the ban on gays in the military), he cut and run because of the political cost.  Unlike Ronald Reagan, when it came to gay people, Bill Clinton showed no political courage.

And now where does the current President stand?  As Andrew Sullivan, dewy-eyed for the Democrat during the campaign and well into the first hundred days of his Administration, is now beginning to wake up and smell the coffee.  He’s figured out who the rubes are.  And it ain’t the true gay conservatives who backed John McCain.

The left-leaning blogger laments:

But I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach, and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away.

Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. . . .  And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. 

Obama surely senses that there is a political cost to doing these things, so like his most recent Democratic predecessor, he’s cutting and running.  Just like when it comes to standing up to a bigoted preacher (whose church he once frequented), when it comes to standing up for gay people, Barack Obama lacks political courage.

Perhaps, Andrew should have realized that if he — and other gays — got all googly-eyed over the charismatic candidate, that Democrat might realize he could take gay support for granted.  After all, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) continued to back Bill Clinton even after he signed DOMA.

There are only a handful of issues where we gay people really need the government to act on our behalf.  Repealing DADT is once such issue.  Federal recognition of same-sex unions is another.  It would be nice if there were a politician or two who would act on our behalf, even if doing so meant risking their political careers.

Some times, however, when they take such risks, as did the Gipper in 1978, they reveal themselves as men of principle.  The short-term loss they suffer to special interest politics, they more than make upin the long term for they help burnish their images as men who transcend petty politics.

Ronald Reagan was such a man.  And despite what dewy-eyed Democrats promised us last fall, Barack Obama is not.

RELATED:  Why Reagan Was a Better Friend to Gays Than Obama



  1. The “Gipper’s” record on AIDS stands on its own, over the bodies of the fallen. Reagan’s not exactly the best poster child for gay rights, no matter how you spin it.

    Comment by Thomas — May 14, 2009 @ 7:54 am - May 14, 2009

  2. Yes, I mean he only put money towards research, identified the problem and tried to address it.

    If only he’d tried to close the bathhouses or if it had been treated like epidimics in the past. Oh, wait…

    Comment by The Livewire — May 14, 2009 @ 8:08 am - May 14, 2009

  3. Dan, I’ll give credit where credit is due. I credit Reagan for standing up against the Briggs Initiative in 1978. Why do people like Clinton over Reagan. Because, among other things, Clinton at least allowed gay persons the military. Reagan did not even do that. As for AIDS, I don’t blame him for the people that died during the early days. But again, Reagan failed to show leadership there. Livewire, showing leadership includes saying things that perhaps the gay community doesn’t want to hear.

    I’ll agree with you that Clinton did not show political courage. He did intially promise that gay persons could serve openly in the military, but caved in. No argument there. Unfortunately, no president has ever shown leadership (as president) when it comes to gay rights. And, of course, this includes Obama.

    Comment by Pat — May 14, 2009 @ 8:34 am - May 14, 2009

  4. As is par for the course “victims” groups seem to think that Democrats are their saviours when the reality is that Republicans have done more for all groups than Democrats ever will. Democrats will USE you and EXPLOIT you and then FORGET you until the next election!

    Comment by Jaded — May 14, 2009 @ 9:07 am - May 14, 2009

  5. Pat,

    With DADT, I don’t have enough data to know about the issue of fratiziation (sp) in the barracks (Baracks?) if it would be an issue. I was/am a redneck born and raised. I am amused when I get hit on by a guy (and yes, it has happened) but brush it off. If he didn’t get the clue, then I might be prone to promote my heterosexuality forcefully. I’d assume anyone dumb enough to keep flirting with fellow recruits would have a horrible live fire accident. I’d also hope the USMCJ would be followed regardless of the orientation of the people involved, and that the volunteers would be mature adults. Maybe I’m an idealist.

    The old reason was that being closeted could be a security risk. It’s still there, but lessened. (Though apparently it’s a valid assault tactic of the left still) The question is, is it lessened enough to remove DADT? I’d hope yes.

    Comment by The Livewire — May 14, 2009 @ 9:13 am - May 14, 2009

  6. Yes it was Ronald Reagan and not promiscuous gays who were responsible for the exacerbation of AIDs in the USA.
    What falderal. The GLBT community fought tooth and nail against any sensible and responsible public health measures, fought closing bathhouses quarantining, etc. The democraps (gay leadership) made up lies about the risk to the general population who did not engage in high risk factors, etc. The gay leadership and their pawns in the media painted Reagan’s portrait as if he were suffering with AIDS. They mocked and ridiculed him, one of the nation’s great Presidents.

    Comment by eaglewingz08 — May 14, 2009 @ 9:16 am - May 14, 2009

  7. “My criticism is that [the gay movement] isn’t just asking for civil rights; it’s asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I.” Ronald Reagan. This may be why he is viewed as anti-gay. He didnt lift a finger as president to help anything gay-rights related.

    Tolerance is not acceptance. Yes, Nancy had many gay friends, and Reagan was the first president to host an openly gay couple in the White House but that didn’t move gays along the road to acceptance.

    So, in a way, Reagan was “pro-gay” by providing lip service to the religious right while not attacking gays overtly during his administration.

    Comment by Chuck In Del — May 14, 2009 @ 10:46 am - May 14, 2009

  8. #4 – Jaded, well put indeed.

    #7 – Chuck, I hope you recall that when Bill Clinton was in the White House, his personal aides wore SURGICAL GLOVES when they met with GayLeftLib activitists. (Didn’t want to get that AIDS contamination, you know.)

    Where was the outcry on your side over this blatant discrimination?

    “Tolerance is not acceptance.” What a stupid statement – and the fact that you contradicted it by announcing that the Reagans were the first First Family to welcome a same-sex couple to the White House.

    Name one that the Clintons hosted. I dare you.

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — May 14, 2009 @ 11:11 am - May 14, 2009

  9. And, in the latest news, turns out the gay veterans that the Obama Party and its endorsed groups like Code Pink are putting forward as examples of people hurt by DADT were, in fact, never even in the military.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — May 14, 2009 @ 11:23 am - May 14, 2009

  10. I don’t normally laugh at unconsummated, unrequited, jilted lovers, but I’m making an exception in this case.

    Comment by Ignatius — May 14, 2009 @ 11:36 am - May 14, 2009

  11. Chuck,

    So you believe the Klan deserves acceptance?

    If you’re looking to force acceptance on anyone, you’re in the wrong country.

    Code Pink is a good example. We tolerate their antics as the cost of a good and free society. We don’t have to accept them as anything but barking moonbats.

    Being able to live your life without government interference is Tolerance. Forcing others to accept you is something else.

    I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out what.

    Comment by The Livewire — May 14, 2009 @ 11:37 am - May 14, 2009

  12. #9 – Michelle Malkin has the goods on that story, too. Turns out the rabid anti-war veteran was actually a patient in a mental institution.

    Talk about irony – and here we are mentioning the Code Pinkos! 😉

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — May 14, 2009 @ 11:39 am - May 14, 2009

  13. Re Andrew Sullivan: at least he’s realizing his niavete. Nonetheless, he’s still largely unredeemable in many eyes

    Comment by Pink Elephant — May 14, 2009 @ 11:55 am - May 14, 2009

  14. Obama also lacks the courage of Bush on undocumented immigrants. Bush put his reputation on the line to support guest worker passes. Bush wanted to change an unjust law. Obama doesn’t want to change unjust laws for anyone–not gays in the military or undocumented workers.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — May 14, 2009 @ 12:22 pm - May 14, 2009

  15. I know this is a post about Reagan’s courageous stand on pro-gay issues, but I wonder why the gayLeft isn’t demanding that Obama appoint the first openly gay or transgendered person to SCOTUS?

    I mean, if he did that, wouldn’t gayLeft organizations be able to say “He’s one of our Presidents, too”?

    Heck, I’d even let Obama do it in a wifebeater tshirt and snug fitting AussieBum swimsuit if it would appease the gayLeft and the inner MetroSexual in Obama… ok, maybe I wouldn’t.

    Yeah, nothing is worth having to endure that. But an openly gay nominee would be a great bone(r) to toss to the gayLeft Democrats.

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — May 14, 2009 @ 12:46 pm - May 14, 2009

  16. Andrew expressed his naivete on his blog but will he repeat himself when he is a panalist on the Chris Mathews Sunday morning program? Will he concede that some of the Tea Party protesters are disillusioned Obama voters? If he does it might cause the thrill in Chris Matthews leg to change course and run down and ultimately out.

    Comment by Roberto — May 14, 2009 @ 12:54 pm - May 14, 2009

  17. But an openly gay nominee would be a great bone(r) to toss to the gayLeft Democrats.

    Matt, if Obama wants to appoint an openly gay person to the Supreme Court, that’s fine by me. But it wouldn’t be anything more than a bone(r) to toss, unless he actually took up DADT and federal civil unionsmoved on them. Then he can toss all the bones he wants.

    Comment by Pat — May 14, 2009 @ 1:02 pm - May 14, 2009

  18. …bone(r)…


    Comment by Ignatius — May 14, 2009 @ 1:09 pm - May 14, 2009

  19. Point of reference: No American President has ever signed a federal gay rights bill passed by the United States Congress.

    This year, Obama will be the first.

    Comment by Erik — May 14, 2009 @ 1:13 pm - May 14, 2009

  20. well, i agree with the first part of your statement. obama has not been the lgbt advocate he promised during his campaign, and his lack of attention to gay issues is stark given the gains we’ve achieved over the past several months. but to suggest that reagan had more courage than obama seems revisionist to me. the single example you provide for reagan’s courage is his opposition to the briggs initiative, which isn’t exactly a fair comparison, since reagan opposed that measure when he was governor, not president. when did he demonstrate this courage as president? how do you explain his inaction to the AIDS crisis, especially given his friendship with rock hudson? did he ever advocate civil unions or legal recognition of same sex relationships(as obama has)? why didn’t reagan repeal the ban on gays in the military when he was president, if indeed he was so courageous?

    Comment by chad — May 14, 2009 @ 1:42 pm - May 14, 2009

  21. 19: Thrilling. When he signs the repeal of DADT which will actually provide immediate benefit to gays than I’ll be impressed. Until then, this is nothing more than a near-meaningless sop to gay activists.

    Oh wait. I’m sorry. Obama would have to actually care about repealing DADT instead of writing notes to look good while not doing a damned thing.

    Comment by John — May 14, 2009 @ 4:45 pm - May 14, 2009

  22. did he ever advocate civil unions or legal recognition of same sex relationships(as obama has)? why didn’t reagan repeal the ban on gays in the military when he was president, if indeed he was so courageous?

    Chad, that you are puzzled by this shows how far gay rights have come in the last 25 years. So much so, you can’t conceive of how few gay people were “out,” The idea of gay marriage at that time was inconceivable. Get a little historical perspective.

    Comment by Amy K. — May 14, 2009 @ 4:58 pm - May 14, 2009

  23. how do you explain his inaction to the AIDS crisis, especially given his friendship with rock hudson?

    Really? The federal government spent $5.7 billion on AIDS under Reagan.

    “I can remember numerous sessions of the domestic-policy council where the surgeon general provided information to us, and the questions were not whether the federal government would get involved, but what would be the best way. There was support for research through the NIH. There also were questions about the extent to which public warnings should be sent out. It was a question of how the public would respond to fairly explicit warnings about fairly explicit things. Ultimately, warnings were sent out.”

    – Edwin Meese

    “As I recall, from 1984 onward — and bear in mind that the AIDS virus was not identified until 1982 — every Reagan budget contained a large sum of money specifically earmarked for AIDS,”

    – Peter Robinson

    “[T]his budget provides funds for maintaining — and in some cases expanding — high priority programs in crucial areas of national interest…including drug enforcement, AIDS research, the space program, nonmilitary research and national security.” Reagan’s budget message added that AIDS “remains the highest public health priority of the Department of Health and Human Services.”

    1986 budget

    So where, Chad, is the inaction of which you speak?

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — May 14, 2009 @ 5:06 pm - May 14, 2009

  24. Andrew Sullivan’s piece is brutal! It would have been nicer if he’d seen the truth about Obama before the election, but better late than never.

    People should print his essay out and send it to the president. (Yes, that’s a hint. 😉 )

    Comment by Classical Liberal Dave — May 14, 2009 @ 11:41 pm - May 14, 2009

  25. Not to mention, chad, (in case GPW’s original post didn’t make it clear) Reagan was opposing an anti-gay measure while he was gearing up for a presidential run. Which part of that do you not understand? Which part of “going against the social conservative grain before you run for national office” do you not understand? Did you think that at least some hard-core cons wouldn’t throw that in his face?

    For the other complainers: the man was born in 1911, for chrissakes! How can you expect him to think like someone born in 1970?

    Humorous aside: just dropped by Wiki to double-check when he was born, and the article includes a 1938 shot of him starring in Cowboy from Brooklyn. Gosh darn it if he doesn’t look a lot like Ray Romano in that shot! 🙂

    Comment by Casey — May 15, 2009 @ 3:14 am - May 15, 2009

  26. Isn’t it refreshing when Gay blogs actually criticize people regardless of general agreement on partisan views. Sully, Americablog, and Joe my God have criticized Obama on this. Loudly and persistently. Its a shame that Gay blogs that support the GOP won’t hold their own party to the same standard by criticizing them when they don’t behave as well.

    Comment by Tom in Lazybrook — May 15, 2009 @ 8:18 pm - May 15, 2009

  27. I admired Reagan for his commentary on the Briggs initiative, however, that was thrown out the window when he ran for president in 80. The republicans close alliance with christian conservatives and demonizing of gays is proof. Frankly, AIDS doesn’t even have to enter the conversation for this to prove itself. Talk about revisionist history.

    As far as the repeal of DADT and the removal of all sexual discrimination in the Armed Forces? I still believe it will happen during Obama’s presidency; just because it hasn’t happened in the first 4 months of his presidency doesn’t mean it won’t; I do believe in the vast agenda of things to be done, there are other issues which affect all Americans right now and to a much greater degree.

    And for all of you who whack on Clinton for compromising and then signing DADT, I don’t notice you whacking on 6 years of a Republican Congress coupled with 8 years of a Republican president for not having any “courage” to repeal it.

    Comment by Kevin — May 16, 2009 @ 11:45 am - May 16, 2009

  28. Sully, Americablog, and Joe my God have criticized Obama on this. Loudly and persistently.

    Really? Where have they called him a hatemongering homophobe?

    That’s right, they haven’t. In fact, here’s what Andrew Sullivan says:

    No one expects a president to be grappling with all this early on, or, God help us, actually leading on civil rights. That’s our job, not his.

    They’re making excuses for him. And, as Tom in Lazybrook shows here, they’re not criticizing him; they’re attacking gay Republicans for imaginary problems rather than confronting their Messiah.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — May 17, 2009 @ 12:46 am - May 17, 2009

  29. And for all of you who whack on Clinton for compromising and then signing DADT, I don’t notice you whacking on 6 years of a Republican Congress coupled with 8 years of a Republican president for not having any “courage” to repeal it.

    Notice how Kevin doesn’t say that what Clinton did was wrong. Therefore, since Clinton passed and signed DADT, and publicly promoted it, there’s nothing wrong with it, and Kevin is a hypocrite for attacking Republicans about it.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — May 17, 2009 @ 12:50 am - May 17, 2009

  30. #29 – Gee, NDT – liberals as hypocrites? Who’da thunk it?

    Next thing you know, we’ll have the Speaker of the House accusing the CIA of lying to her! 😉

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — May 18, 2009 @ 12:39 pm - May 18, 2009

  31. Last word. Anyone who has read ‘And The Band Played On’ by Randy Shilts knows exactly what happened when AIDS first rampaged throughout the gay community. Even Randy Shilts wanted the bath houses closed. How much of a monster would Reagan have looked like if he stood out in front of one and railed against all the cornholeing that was going on in there, like Shilts was? He never did that. And he never would.

    I’m not ignorant of those issues. I lived through that time. I know people that died of AIDS in Boston. Friends and aquaintances who passed needles, mostly. Six infected in one room in one night in 1986. All dead for 18 years at least. All that said, Reagan did uphold his promise of tolerance but not acceptance, and no major gay rights legislation advanced on his watch. But neither did anti-gay Briggs-like bills in Congress from the far right, which would have been DOA on Ronnie’s desk.

    Let us also not forget that nearly any effort by the NIH under Reagan would not have gotten very far anyway. We may have cocktails now, but AIDS is still a most lethal virus. Agreed? So, now that that’s out of the way, what has Obama done lately? Crickets? Yeah, I hear ’em too. Coming from the closet, I think.

    Comment by John T. Simpson — May 23, 2009 @ 6:59 pm - May 23, 2009

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