Sunday, May 03, 2009
There's been some blogophere discussion, started I think by John Aravosis on America Blog, about the White House changing its "civil rights" policy website for a little while last week to read that they'd work to "change" rather than "repeal" the military's "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" rule. After some noise, the section now refers to "repealing" again.
I have no idea whether someone was just trying to express accurately the reality that "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" is a law: getting rid of it is not something the chief executive can do by fiat. Or perhaps they really did aim to soften the President's commitment in the face of macho bluster.
What's interesting about this little tempest in a teapot is what it suggests about the relationship between a president and a social movement.
The LGBT community is the one fraction of Obama's constituency that has had the most clearly adversarial relationship with him. Even before he was in office, he'd outraged us with the Rick Warren pick -- and heard our furious howls of protest reach way beyond our immediate members into other sections of his base.
In the states, our push for marriage is quickly outrunning his weak stance in favor of mere civil unions in a quite remarkable fashion. We may be the only popular "movement" that is not having its agenda circumscribed by his political balancing act. (That's a statement with sorry implications about the mass of the labor movement, but I think true.)
According to polls, most of us support Obama, but we do not make our progress dependent on him.
And that's how it ought to be with a genuinely insurgent "movement." Some politician doesn't set the agenda -- an aroused group of people do. And we shouldn't expect our politicians to win progress for us -- we win it; they codify it.
This seems a truism, but the country's fixation on the amazing figure of our improbable President is obscuring the obvious. Our excellent President will achieve far more for us all when we push for our own agendas rather than expecting him to deliver progress on his platter. It's still up to the people to push in a democracy.
This post started as a comment at the Washington Monthly but seemed worth amplification.