Fresh off his Nobel Peace Prize announcement, President Obama addressed thousands of gay right protestors marching at our nation’s capital this past Saturday night. It was a rousing speech, as always, filled with promises and strong, assertive language.
But it was an empty speech, void of action, conviction, or credibility. He promised to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the controversial Clinton-era policy of identity suppression in the military. But it was a promise he’d made before. And it was a promise he has thus far utterly failed to act upon.
As Andrew Sullivan writes:
All I can say is: the president gave a speech he could have given at any point in the last three years. No one in that room could disagree with any of the things he said. I sure don't (with the exception of the hate crimes hooey). And he said it well and movingly. Like we didn't know he could do that.
But the point of electing a president who pledged to actually do things is to hold him to account, and to see if he is willing to take any risk of any kind to actually do something. I had a few prior tests of his seriousness or signs that he gets it, a few ways to judge if this speech had anything new or specific or clear. He failed every test.
Meghan McCain, equally appalled, writes:
Obama offered no timeline for phasing out this policy and, as usual, no real specifics. But the president verbalized his commitment to ending it—which is not insignificant [...]During the election, Obama pledged that the very first thing he would do as president would be to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Although I thought it was an ambitious promise, I believed him. It's now almost a year into his presidency and other than making speeches, nothing has happened.
There’s no two ways around it: Sullivan and McCain are spot on. This administration has thus far been absolutely abysmal in promoting social equality. Abysmal. Crumbling economy notwithstanding, don’t get on a pulpit and expect us to be happy with negligence. Don’t say all the right things and expect us to be satisfied with gross inaction. Don’t try to appease the progressive electorate that struggled to put you in office. Don’t make empty promises you have no intention of honoring.
It’s a sad state of affairs when the daughter of Obama’s Republican challenger from last November has a better stance on gay rights than our own Democratic President. If the Nobel Peace Price was intended to push Obama to, you know, actually promote peace by ending our two wars, what award do we need to give him to promote gay rights? What will it take, and how much longer must we wait?
As Meghan McCain continues to assert herself at the forefront of the fight for gay rights, Obama continues to disappoint. Maybe he thinks repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is unwise politically, regardless of his personal beliefs. Maybe he thinks a gay rights agenda will hurt him in the future. This may be so, but his insulting failure to act—on the eve of National Coming Out Day, no less—certainly isn’t winning him any new progressive allies.
Obama has the potential to promote real, substantive change. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like he'll be acting on that potential any time soon.