Barack Obama | Don't Ask, Don't Tell | Military | News | Richard Socarides

Socarides: Will Obama Continue Treating Gays as Second Class?

Richard Socarides, special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior White House adviser on gay rights from 1997 to 1999, writes on Obama's approaching decisions on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in the Wall Street Journal:

Dadt Many wonder when their president will show the same kind of concern for the constitutional rights of gay American service members as he has for enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay. Many wonder what the administration's willingness to treat gay Americans as second-class citizens says to Uganda and other countries that are considering laws that would subject gays to imprisonment and even death.

Gay Americans have been among the president's most ardent supporters. Their enthusiasm, and that of their families and friends, could be crucial in this year's elections. The president's action—or inaction—on Don't Ask Don't Tell will be noticed.

An increasingly frustrated bloc of gay voters—angry over marriage setbacks in California, Maine, New Jersey and New York and emboldened by Ted Olson's and David Boies's high-profile effort to declare unconstitutional laws that prohibit gay marriage—are growing impatient for equality. As Mr. Olson said in federal district court in San Francisco recently, discriminatory laws serve only to "label gay and lesbian persons as different, inferior, unequal and disfavored."

Politico calls Socarides' column "a shot across the administration's bow."  Certainly there have been plenty.

Ask Obama About Don't Ask, Don't Tell [wsj]

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  1. Well, here we go again. I am not apologist for the Obama Administration, I don't work for them, I voted for him but wish they could move on GLBT issues more swiftly. But our community needs to stop demonizing this man.

    It was reported over the weekend that the chairmen of each respective Armed Services Committee in Congress are raising doubts whether they will let the DADT be repealed in the upcoming appropriations bill the White House is proposing, knowing that even Republicans would be likely unwilling to vote against funding for the military.

    Chairmen of congressional committees are extremely powerful. If they decide not to include something in a bill, it does not get in--at all!! Ike Shelton and Carl Levin, the chair of the House and Senate committees respectively, are extremely powerful in Congress. Plus, the military issued a report recently that they do not want DADT repealed. Obviously, I disagree with the military's stand on this issue. But Levin and Shelton will listen to the military leaders and give their opinion considerable weight.

    So it is not the White House that we need to fear or convince. Socarides should know this!! We need to be calling Shelton and Levin's offices and letting them know to support the White House's move to include DADT's repeal in the appropriations bill.

    Finally, I should note that some people have a lot of nerve calling out someone working to undo the damage done while they were in office and had a chance to change the very policy they themselves were instrumental in crafting. This is the height of hypocrisy, Mr. Socarides!!! It's like the Republicans decrying the national debt, which they produced almost half of over the past decade and now call Obama fiscally irresponsible. We, Democrats, need to be more mindful and careful not to fall into the same hypocritical stance.

    Posted by: Marc | Jan 25, 2010 7:15:53 AM

  2. @MARC,

    how is asking for fairness demonizing the prez? it is a simple proposition, really. some gay people want to serve in the military. why should they be prohibited?

    Posted by: nic | Jan 25, 2010 7:46:44 AM

  3. Hi Marc,guys....
    It's Ike SKelton, who is a Blue Dog from Missouri. I think it is a fairly safe(for him), largely rural, district he has represented for decades. He'll probably be in office until he croaks or retires. I'm not sure how "move-able" he is, but why not try?

    Posted by: Rocco | Jan 25, 2010 7:48:50 AM

  4. I have a grave concern that any progress made on DADT or marriage equality will ultimately be overturned when brought before the Supreme Court with it's current make-up. The liberal/progressive Justices are ancient, so the situation will only get worse if Obama doesn't get his full 8 years.
    I'm disappointed in the Administration and the Democratic Party too, but if the GOP regains power, kiss all our issues goodbye for another generation.

    Posted by: JONNY NYNY2FLFL | Jan 25, 2010 8:06:31 AM

  5. Contrary to your denials, Marc, you're not only a volunteer apologist for Obama Inc., you're worse at it than most.

    You give yourself away immediately, of course, by characterizing Socarides' tough talk as "demonizing." That's one of the first weapons in the Obambots arsenal: try to immediately drown the topic with exaggeration.

    Obambot Tactic #2: "Change The Subject. Insist that the problem is not He Who Can Do No Wrong Obama but Congress, the military, Republicans, the price of tea in China, ad infinitum. 'The buck stops [anywhere but with the President]'."

    Obambot Tactic #3: "Rewrite His Job Description. Insist that He Who Can Do No Wrong, aka the President of the most powerful nation on earth, aka the Commander-in-Chief of the US military, aka the fuctional head of the Democratic Party, really has no power or responsibility himself except to sign bills. Amplify by rewriting the US Constitution such that it seems the military runs the country, that the President and Congress report to them."

    Obambot Tactic #4: "It Was On Fire When He Sat Down On It. Sure, He Who Can Do No Wrong has been 'in office' [see #3] for a year now but He still has no responsibility for [fill-in-the-blank] because He didn't start it, 'he inherited [fill-in-the blank]'. Sure, He campaigned as the Great Firefighter, the one who, if we trusted Him, gave Him our votes, would put out the fire but someone else is preventing Him from doing that [see #2].

    Obambot Tactic #5: Shoot The Messenger.

    Posted by: Michael @ | Jan 25, 2010 8:26:37 AM

  6. @MARC:
    So far, President Obama has let his Press Secretary do the talking, mostly lowering expectations. I understand that he is not all powerful, but is speech is powerful, and heeded. Why not a strong statement? It's like his position on DOMA and marriage equality: so weak that it was effectively used BY THE OTHER SIDE.

    Obama and the Democrats need to stop "reaching across the aisle" to the hatemongers on the other side, because they end up all being appeasers, and offering up solutions that are half-hateful.

    Democrats, grow a pair of balls and a spine!

    Posted by: Strepsi | Jan 25, 2010 8:31:19 AM

  7. The worst part of all this is everyone said give Obama time but time is not on our side . Fierce advocate not even We were told that healthcare and the economy needed first priority Healthcare is on life support and the republicans have already made the first move on making the democrats the minority party how much longer do we have to wait. a great opportunity was wasted

    Posted by: walter | Jan 25, 2010 8:57:57 AM

  8. excellent analysis Michael. Is Marc related to Ellie Light by any chance? Here's a good tale of two Commanders in chief.

    It's very simple, Obama is a bigoted homophobe.

    Posted by: gaylib | Jan 25, 2010 9:44:00 AM

  9. @Marc

    If there is any area that the President does have considerable sway and leverage over Congress, it would be in his capacity as Commander and Chief.

    "Don't demonize the man" my black ass, and this military is willing to accept open skinheads, racists, and gangbangers but is not willing to allow openly gay men and lesbians to serve their country.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jan 25, 2010 9:54:20 AM

  10. @gaylib

    It's very simple indeed,
    folks like you are just straight-up bigots!

    Posted by: David Kaufman | Jan 25, 2010 9:57:36 AM

  11. Asking for fairness is not demonizing Obama. Expecting him to speak on the issue in fair-minded terms is not demonizing Obama, and is, in fact, fair game.

    I was speaking to the expectations game we progressives continue to play, expecting Obama the Messiah to swoop in and save the day as if just by talking about the issue (which he has done repeatedly--so I don't know where people who claim otherwise have been).

    I want equality and I want it now, just like everyone else. But screaming at the top of our lungs hasn't really worked all that well for us, has it? Perhaps a different approach is demanded. We start by screaming at Levin and Shelton, working to elect progressive leaders and educating them. Not everyone who disagrees with us is a bigot. And simply because you're not aware of the fight behind the scenes doesn't mean it isn't being waged. All I'm saying is Socarides should know this well. In fact, he would probably argue that's exactly what the Clinton administration was doing when they were trying to change this policy.

    It's harder than we know, even for people who might gravitate toward us on the issue. Cut these folks a break. Let's ensure we are holding all of the right peoples' feet to the fire. Obama cannot do everything under the sun alone, which it sometimes seem our progressive friends expect him to do simply because the numbers marginally favor us.

    As someone astutely pointed out, we don't want Republicans working on this issue back in the White House and we lose an opportunity to work the issue (military leaders, like-minded Republicans in Congress, and the rest of the country, etc.). Even a tried-and-true progressive like Paul Wellstone, whom I loved, would have a hard time with this issue. Democratic presidents generally all want to do the right thing by our community; but there are other forces at work that we need to, if not entirely respect, at least acknowledge.

    Posted by: Marc | Jan 25, 2010 11:17:24 AM

  12. @ JONNY NYNY2FLFL: isn't your analysis of the SCOTUS vis-à-vis LGBT rights an excellent argument for moving on these issues now?

    Posted by: David R. | Jan 25, 2010 12:38:45 PM

  13. Wow, David Kaufman.

    Eighteen months ago Towleroad was full of people who labeled as bigotry any criticism of Barack Obama. They screamed most of us who had doubts about Obama into silence. Most of those people have been shamed by Obama's antigay behavior into silence, although very of them have made the apologies that they need to.

    So-- other than the fact that he criticized Obama-- what makes gaylib a bigot, David?

    And why shouldn't I despise you for calling him one?

    Posted by: Landon Bryce | Jan 25, 2010 12:53:49 PM

  14. @landon bryce

    despise away, my friend

    Pres. Obama is not a homophobe and calling him that gives power to the real homophobes who are out to take LGBTs down.

    It's reckless that @gaylib is even allowed to say things like that on this site.

    But then recklessness is all the "movement" seems to be able to muster these days

    Posted by: David Kaufman | Jan 25, 2010 1:23:22 PM

  15. "bigoted homophobe" is a very powerful phrase

    misuse it, and you only diminish its potential for meaning when then real "bigoted homophobes" make their attack

    Posted by: David Kaufman | Jan 25, 2010 1:25:29 PM

  16. @David

    Considering his soaring pro-gay rhetoric during the campaign and juxtaposing that with his relative silence on gay issues and even anti-gay rhetoric coming from his Administration (the DOMA brief, military leaders even DISCUSSING the segregation of gay troops) I would say that the Obama Administration is politically homophobic.

    Whether he is personally homophobic is of little or no consequence, given that.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jan 25, 2010 1:28:51 PM

  17. @Landon Bryce

    Consider the source.

    Kaufman is the same man who out and out called David Mixner a "bigot" for Mixner's simple opposition to Harold Ford's possible candidacy for the NY Senate seat.

    In spite of Ford's on the record votes on gay issues (including 2 votes for FMA).

    Kaufman's sole purpose, it seems, is to race bait and scream "racist" at every conceivable argument or disagreement with the GLBT community against the actions of this Administration. (granted, some of the commenters here at towleroad can make that easy, sometimes).

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jan 25, 2010 1:41:51 PM

  18. @chitown kev

    OK dude, let's leave it at that

    Posted by: David Kaufman | Jan 25, 2010 1:48:56 PM

  19. Marc, perhaps you should try not pouring beer on your Captain Crunch in the morning. There's only one other explanation for your incoherence and self-contradiction, e.g., now denying that you were equating Socarides' comments to demonization.

    But there's less point in cutting through your ball of rhetorical knots just because one could than responding to your fantasies.

    The first involves combining Obambot Tactic #1: Histrionic Hyperbole ["screaming"] with #Obambot Tactic #6: Insist He Hasn't Been Given Enough Time combined with Obambot Tactic #7: Claim There's A Secret Plan.

    Obama applied for this job and wrote a contact with us that we signed with our votes:

    "[To] achieve the goal of full equality for the millions of LGBT people in this country ... we need leadership that can appeal to the best parts of the human spirit. Join with me, and I will provide that leadership." - Job candidate Barack Obama, February 28, 2008.

    On no part of his frequent job applications to us/contract with us was he more explicit about what he would do and when he would do it than re DADT. Wrote job candidate Barack Obama on November 29, 2007 [emphasis mine]:

    "As president, I will work with Congress and place the weight of my administration behind [repeal].

    I will task the Defense Department and the senior command structure in every branch of the armed forces with developing an action plan for the implementation of a full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    And I will direct my Secretaries of
    Defense and Homeland Security to develop procedures for taking re-accession requests from those qualified service members who were separated from the armed forces under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and still want to serve their country.

    That work should have started long ago. IT WILL START WHEN I TAKE OFFICE. America is ready to get rid of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. ALL THAT IS REQUIRED IS LEADERSHIP."

    Full statement at:

    To the contrary, a year has passed since he took office and no evidence has been OFFERED by him that he has DONE anything positive other that "start conversations" with the Pentagon and Congress. Rather than the "weight of his Adminstration," all he's thrown is a one-sided rewritten contract that he will deliver sometime before the end of his administration, i.e, sometime in the next presumably seven years.

    His only justification for trying to shove this new, longterm expiration date down our throats is that "Congress must act before I can do anything" and "it's a generational problem."

    And if one can equate insulting our intelligence with pouring salt on our wounds this former Constitutional law prof has explicitly done that by 1. claiming he has no power from Congress to stop discharges unilaterally when he DOES [and no less than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has ASKED him to do], and, 2. claiming that DADT has been declared constitutional when it has NOT.

    In contrast to his failure to keep his promises to immediately set in motion his legislative representatives and Dept. of Defense to end DADT, he has continued to discharge people [some 700 since he took office] AND allowed his "Justice" Department to defend DADT in court in the same homophobic terms used to pass it in 1993; attacking efforts TO HAVE IT DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

    Ike Skeletor is a lost cause, but his homophobic opposition to ending DADT is surmountable, in addition to the fact that the Defense Budget does NOT come out of HIS committee. And in June of last year, his Senate counterpart Carl Levin [one of the few Dems to have tried to have stopped DADT from being implemented in the first place] stated the solution to the gridlock" "Presidential leadership."

    If Obama RETURNED to his 11/29/07 action plan, and delivered it to the American people who already support out gays in the military wrapped in the red, white, and blue of what is necessary for helping make their families more safe in the war against terror, ANYONE who continued to oppose it would be putting their redneck on the block to be choppped off as "unpatriotic."

    There IS a way and it wouldn't be hard. The fair question is why has the person we gave the job lost the will?

    Posted by: Michael @ | Jan 25, 2010 1:57:36 PM

  20. Hey, Chitown Kev,

    There is a saying in politics, "One campaigns in poetry and governs in prose." This is what Obama is trying to navigate, I think.

    The campaign and speeches are where he stands. Enacting laws, however, are much harder and nowhere near as eloquent. He got to write his own speeches; he doesn't get to write his own laws! Our political system ensures this. If you want an even better example, look at the healthcare issue. Can anyone doubt Obama wants a healthcare bill passed? Yet, speaking up on the issue hasn't made come to fruition. And as everyone has seen, writing laws is messy and downright delirious sometimes. Yet, we still don't have healthcare reform yet. And this is on an issue hardly anyone should disagree about, let along GLBT issues.

    I am not apologizing for Obama. I think during the first half of last year, his administration made mistakes (e.g., the brief by the Justice Department, not speaking to the issue until the HRC dinner, and not ordering the Secretary of Defense to undertake a year-long study of how to GLB folks--sorry the T isn't going to happen--into the military). I understand the frustration. I think there are some things he could have done to smooth over the edges and show he is moving forthwith on these issues. But he is human and he errs, too.

    But this whole questioning about where his heart lies is way over the line, destructive not constructive, and underlies why Democrats often lose elections. We want everything...NOW!!! We don't care if you have to save our economic system from utter collapse, fight two wars--one that was waged stupidly and the other waged incompetently, save the auto industry, create jobs, repair our world image, and try to provide healthcare to every American while reducing the cost of everyone else's health insurance against some of the most intractable elements our political system has ever unleashed on one president. Not to mention a deficit that one president accumulated, which more than every president before him had accumulated combined. "But I'll get right on the GLBT issues as one of my first 10 things--since that's what the country is in dire need for right now!!"

    Cut the freakin' guy a break.

    Posted by: Marc | Jan 25, 2010 2:07:27 PM

  21. @David Kaufman

    Actually, I would leave it there, it just seems as if you are not able to.

    Now, everyone here at towleroad knows that I don't defend nonsense coming from either of my communities and I have no problem criticizing either. I'm not looking for brownie points from either community by trolling and shucking and jiving around the blogosphere.

    If the pumps fit, bitch, then you need to wear them.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jan 25, 2010 2:14:33 PM

  22. @Marc

    Finally, a voice of reason.

    It's like you people want the man to fail.

    I just don't understand why.

    Posted by: David Kaufman | Jan 25, 2010 2:21:43 PM

  23. Marc:

    I wonder to what extent you followed the Clinton presidency. Many of my reactions to Obama's actions are based on feeling that we are getting no more than Clinton offered then, despite the tremendous changes in public attitudes towards gay people. We are advised to be patient then, and most of us complied. And what we got was DADT, DOMA, and eight years of George Bush. Seriously. We did that once. We can't wait until for those who didn't start politics seriously until Clinton was out of office to get burned by Obama and wise up.

    And, David Kaufman, I did not say gaylib's post was charming or accurate. It is neither. I don't agree that Obama is a homophobe. I asked you what gaylib said that bigoted. Answer that, please, or explain why it is okay for you to lob the charge of bigotry at a post that was annoying for different reasons.

    Thanks, Kev. You make me feel sane. Not an easy feat.

    Posted by: Landon Bryce | Jan 25, 2010 2:34:23 PM

  24. Landon,

    I follow politics very closely. I followed it closely in the Clinton administration. I understand the need to hold Obama's feet to the fire. We went eight years with the Clintons all we got was DADT in the first place. My point is that the criticism is rich coming from someone who perpetrated DADT in the first place. And Clinton didn't have nearly the number of problems presented to him when he walked into the Oval Office as Obama did.

    I am not saying let him off the hook, but to temper our expectations and timeline in totality with the rest of the country's problems. Lower our expectations on the timetable for him to get stuff done. He's been elected for four years, and he will need our votes if he wants to get reelected. Give him some breathing room to run, and one year is not enough especially the ginormous problems he inherited.

    Posted by: Marc | Jan 25, 2010 2:57:01 PM

  25. @Marc

    But how much speaking up has Obama specifically done on the health care issue? Sure, there's been plenty of stuff going on behind the scenes but basically, as far as the public record is concerned, he more or less told the Congressional Dems to work it out. He never stated a bottom line as far as what he would NOT sign. And now, the Dems are so desperate to sell a pile shit and call it HCR that they are ready to delete the provisions for coverage with those with pre-existing conditions from the bill (that is if you're older than 19).

    And where is the job program? Unemployment is still at 10%, unemployment in Massachusetts is at a 32-3 year high?

    I do understand that part of what Obama is attempting to do is to restore the proper balance between the legislative and executive branches of government that got horribly out of balance under the Bush Administrration.He's gone too far the other way, acting more like a laissez faire Chicago School type od President than anything. While I applaud his attempt to restore that balance, he's gone too far the other way.

    I think Obama's handling of LGBT issues can be seen, somewhat, in his handling of other issues, especially health care. Now emotion, no passion, it's all an exercise of 35 dimensional chess to him.

    And whether it's "gay issues" or "black issues' (and Obama has been horrible on those as well) or HCR, it's Clinton redux, and landon bryce said. And that's not the change that I voted for. And when someone...lies to me about important matters, then, yes, I DO take that personally.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jan 25, 2010 3:06:03 PM

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