[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Teddy Partridge, Host:
We should have paid closer attention to Tracey Baim, I suppose: she nicknames Barack Obama “The Great Equivocator,” having covered him since the beginning of his career. She was the managing editor of Outlines (the Chicago publication that since merged with Windy City Times) in 1996 when reporter Trudy Ring correctly reported on then-State Senate Candidate Barack Obama’s response to their candidate survey:
Democrat: Barack Obama. Supports gay rights, same-sex marriage; increased AIDS funding, abortion rights, affirmative action.
Despite appearing on national LGBT blog The Bilerico Project, Tracy Baim’s dry wit covers it: “The story did not blow up big before the November election.”
She meticulously and comprehensively traces the “evolution” of Barack Obama’s relationship with the LGBT community, and (like the rest of us) seems quite baffled by what appears to be the only documented case of a mainstream political figure moving against the cultural tide on marriage equality. By the time Obama appears alongside Pastor Rick™ Warren at his Saddleback mega-church in the summer of 2008, he had a whole new formulation about traditional opposite marriage: “God’s in the mix.”
He was for it (same-sex marriage) before he was against it.
Nowhere was Obama’s instinct for equivocation more on display than during the fall campaign that got him elected and LGBT Californians stripped of their civil right to marry: he opposed the “divisive” Prop 8 but wouldn’t act against its proponents who used his image and voice in their last minute ads. Worse, his campaign may have drained resources from California, desperately needed at the end of the campaign against Prop 8, into neighboring states, pulling volunteers, donors, and attention from a state he knew he had sewn up.
But this book is more than a compendium of The Great Equivocator’s relationship with LGBT Americans. It’s also an excellent reference — although, after DADT “repeal” and the “It Gets Better” movement, it is slightly out of date — for anyone who wants to follow the twists and turns of Obama’s campaigns, Obama’s positions, Obama’s stirring rhetoric, and the Obama Administration’s tapdance around our rights. Especially valuable to me was the detailed description of aligning The Gays Who Matter around the three major Democratic candidates for president in 2008.
Just this week, Team Obama once more showed that they are unwilling to take their foot off our necks when it comes to the Defense of Marriage Act: despite all the nice words about hospital visitation and federal employee benefits eligibility and his signature on the previously-passed Hate Crimes Act, Obama’s Justice Department still brought its mighty weight down upon us all, in their response to the District Court’s decision ruling DOMA unconstitutional, by appealing to the higher court, with no new or creative arguments, to apply the status quo.
For a president we elected in Hope of Change, an argument against our relationships predicated on maintaining the federal status quo is simply one more bitter pill to swallow. We’ve seen his White House head off Congressional approval of non-discrimination in military service for that year-long study, an interminable certification process, and then a subsequent two-month waiting period. We’ve also seen the largest Democratic majorities in Congress squandered, with no action to end jobs and housing discrimination, or to treat LGBT families the same for immigration purposes, or to end the Defense of Marriage Act. John Boehner’s House won’t move on these initiatives to make us full and complete partners in American life, and there’s no telling, really, how long the House will be the GOP’s.
It’s very distressing to me to be so often reminded, by a Democratic Administration, of the statement by Richard Nixon’s utterly corrupt and subsequently imprisoned Attorney General, John Mitchell: “Watch what we do, not what we say.”
Tracy Baim helps us remember what Barack Obama has done — and what he has said as well. This is a valuable book, one I really enjoyed reading and can heartily recommend to you. Every journalist and blogger who writes about Barack Obama should have a copy. Surely every fan of every Part Four essayist should want this book: featured are Pam Spaulding, Michelangelo Signorile, Lisa Keen, Kerry Eleveld, and the Reverend Irene Monroe, among many others.
Those of us who still watch and Hope can learn a lot about the man — and probably about ourselves as well — from this remarkable book. Please join me in welcoming Tracy Baim, author of Obama and The Gays: A Political Marriage, to the FDL Book Salon.