As I worked on Pajamas piece on the President’s benefits package for the same-sex partners of federal employees, I kept coming across articles and blog posts indicating the disappointment and even betrayal gay Democrats feel at the President’s failure to follow through on the campaign promises he made to our community. This morning, when I checked my e-mail, my in-box was inundated with missives from readers alerting me to other such posts and articles.
While I certainly understand their frustration of gay Democrats, I almost feel like telling them, “I told you so.” (I guess I just did that.)
Democratic politicians, with a few notable exceptions, have an uncanny habit of breaking the promises they make to gay people. Aware of the affluence of our community and the dedication of our activists, Democrats know that by appealing to our interests, they can increase both their campaign contributions and their grassroots efforts.
Their enthusiasm for Democrats who say the right things, however, seems a little unmoored from reality. Then-President Bill Clinton backed down on his promise to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military as soon as he saw there was a political cost. He signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 when he thought he might help him with evangelical voters. Obama sat in a church for twenty years where a racist pastor spewed anti-gay rhetoric and never once challenged him on his prejudiced attitude toward homosexuals.
Now, some may say, “Well, Dan, you support the GOP and Republicans are no better, perhaps even worse.” And I’ll reply, “Yep, you’ve got a point, my party’s not perfect, but at least my guys don’t treat our community like a cash cow, milking it when they need funds and hiding it in the barn when they fear it might offend the neighbors.” it’s not just that. As a conservative, I don’t believe state action is the appropriate means to advance social acceptance of gay people.
To be sure, I do believe we need repeal the ban on gays in the military and enact some kind of recognition of same-sex partnerships*. I wish Republicans would at least move forward on the former as a national security issue, since the ban unnecessarily reduces the pool of recruits from which the armed services can draw. On the latter, I wish GOP leaders would do as outgoing Utah Governor John Huntsman has done and back civil unions.
All that said, at least they have not promised to act on those issues as candidates, only to balk at taking action once in office. It’s an issue of integrity.
And on that score, I salute gay bloggers like John Aravosis and Andy Towle as well as activists like David Mixner for standing up to their party when its leaders fail to follow through on their promises. Lickspittles they are not.
In the great scheme of things, the President has done a lot of good with this benefits package. The federal government finally recognizes the reality of same-sex relationships. And that is an important and necessary step towards real social change. I would even argue that Obama is moving at exactly the right pace. By taking small steps, he helps build consensus without exciting a reaction which could galvanize social conservatives (as have court decisions mandating state recognition of same-sex marriage). It makes good political sense for the President not to move forward on repeal of DOMA. In every state where voters have had the chance to vote on the definition of marriage, they have opted for the traditional definition,
Why then did the Democratic candidate not think of that during the campaign when he promised repeal? (Was he spooked by the success of Prop 8 in one of his best states?)
With his campaign promises, then-candidate Barack Obama raised expectations among gays for his Administration. In the comments section to this blog, many of our readers were most prescient, all but anticipating what has actually happened, that he wouldn’t follow through. He’s actually been worse than I’d expected. I assume he would certainly move forward on repealing DADT, given a recent poll showing that even conservatives favor repeal.
But, he has not.
Politicians can be fickle. It is why we conservatives (and libertarians) prefer to trust to the private sector which can adapt more quickly to changes in society. And if an institution doesn’t adapt, we don’t have to partake of its goods or services. The free market allows us, indeed, encourages us, to go elsewhere.
We gay conservatives don’t expect much from our leaders on gay issues. Basically we just want them to leave us alone so we can address on our concerns on our own, free of state intervention.
I suggest gay Democrats take a similar tack. When you don’t expect too much of your politicians, you won’t be so easily disappointed. More often than not, alas, politicians just don’t keep their promises, even those who bill themselves as a new bread of leader.
*It’s why I believe the President’s announcement yesterday was a step in the right direction.