Strong words from Eliot Spitzer:
KEVIN SESSUMS: On another legal matter, do you agree with Obama that he had no choice as president defending the law of Congress to appeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ruling that said it was unconstitutional? Or do you agree with Ted Olson that he did not have to.
ELIOT SPITZER: He didn’t have to. He should have gotten rid of it with an executive order. He is the president! He is the commander in chief!
SESSUMS: Is he a coward about this issue?
SPITZER: I don’t want to call the president of the United States a coward.
SESSUMS: I will. On this issue, he’s a coward. He is playing politics with people’s lives. It’s cowardly.
SPITZER: Let me put it this way. From the very beginning, I have been very disappointed in his positions on a lot of civil-rights issues, on a lot of state-secrecy issues, a lot of judicial moments when he could have actually chartered a very different course than his predecessor and he hasn’t. And certainly Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is one of them.
SESSUMS: And on gay marriage, he is to the right of Dick Cheney and Ken Mehlman and Ted Olson. It would be almost poetic if it weren’t so sad and disheartening that on the civil-rights issue of our time, our first African-American president will be seen on the wrong side of history. Again, for political reasons he’s playing with people’s lives.
SPITZER: It dismays me, too. It’s dismaying. I am proud to say that I was the first governor in America to propose that same-sex marriage be legal and it still appalls me where we are on this issue in this country. Appalls me.
Beyond being dismaying (which it is): It’s also just plain bizarre. One thing that concerned some people about Candidate Obama was his tendency to come across as arrogant (“you’re likable enough, Hillary”) when he really wanted to be straightforward. To come across as too passionate to ever survive in the pragmatic world of politics. To seem like his admirable principles could actually endanger the progress if not finely tuned to the pulse of America. And we still see this willingness to go there from time to time, like when he talked about the Bush era Republicans having driven the car in the ditch. That sort of thing can be risky — but it comes from feeling so real it can’t be muted or faked.
But on LGBT issues, it’s been all compromise all the time! The principled push forward, a subjective path that those who value equality for all citizens have chosen to take without hesitancy or qualifiers, is typically presented by this administration as a two-footed, equally-merited, completely objective march. There’s been little danger in the bold leadership seeming too tough, except with the far-right social conservatives who think watching “Modern Family” without fast forwarding through the Cam/Mitchell scenes is too pro-gay. The promises have been there. The speeches and proclamations have been inclusive, which does make a statement and should not be denied. But the White House has expended shockingly minimal capital on true change for LGBT rights, during a time when they should’ve realized that the window was always destined to close. In turn, the people who’ve become much more disenchanted, alienated, and/or confused are the ones who put so much hope in a president who they expected to take real world risks to accomplish what’s long overdue and undeniably right.
The mere fact that we LGBT people still have to discuss our basic humanity here in 2010 is appalling: That’s a truism that expands well beyond the presidency or even politics. However, there is no person in the world — NOT. ONE. PERSON. — who is in a more powerful chair in terms of changing civil rights history. It’s past time President Obama risk seeming arrogant on these core values issues, lest he risk seeming worthy of primary challenge in 2012.
And that’s not a threat from a detractor, either. It’s a real concern from a frequent defender who still wants to believe.