The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Exchange Re: Obama and the GLBT Community

Today an e-mail of mine was selected as Andrew Sullivan's Dissent of the Day. Something of an honor, really, as Sullivan is unquestionably the big leagues of blogging.

Anyway, here is what I wrote:
You've pointed out twice now that "[n]ot a single prosecution of an anti-gay hate crime has occurred under the law in the year since it [the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009] was passed." May I point out that, as a criminal statute, the Act can only operate prospectively, under the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution? As a former public defender, I'm aware that judging a statute by the number of prosecutions within a year of its enactment is a pretty bizarre metric, since only acts committed after passage are even arguably subject to prosecution under the Act. Since you earlier noted that there are investigations pending of criminal acts which might result in charges under the Act, I think the ill-founded nature of this contention is self-evident.

By contrast, I think your complaint that "it took Obama over a year to begin a year-long Pentagon review. If he had acted sooner, the review would have been done in time for the vote" is not entirely divorced from reality, but is a bit naive. Doesn't it make sense that President Obama would have wanted to forge relationships with the military brass prior to starting the review, in order to avoid the blatant, insubordinate--and successful!--sabotage that Bill Clinton was subject to?

You know, I admire the lucidity of "The Conservative Soul," the passion you've brought to your anti-torture campaign, and much you've written about Palin. But I think that you're projecting responsibility for the villainy (no other word fits) of the GOP and its demonization of GLBTs onto a single man who is trying to coax a fractious party that has been in a defeatist crouch for decades into strong action. He's not a god-king. And your reaction is, I'm sorry to say, both over the top and helpful to the Party of No.
Now, let me point out that I was not entirely defending Obama let alone the Democrats, but that I sent my e-mail within a day of Sullivan writing that "[i]f I lived in Nevada and had the vote, even though Sharron Angle is beyond nuts, I'd vote for her. Better nuts than this disgusting, cynical, partisan Washington kabuki dance, when people's lives and dignity are at stake."

In responding to my dissent, as he sometimes does, Sullivan wrote:
I will gladly report any prosecutions that occur in the future that clearly would not have occurred without the Hate Crimes Act. As my reader noted, there are several investigations in process and some may get somewhere. But this act was sold as a vital defense against gay-bashing. I call bullshit on that now as I did then. It was a fundraising tool for HRC primarily and a way for the Democrats to do nothing substantive for gay equality, except treating us as victims in need of their protection. Nonetheless, I promise to provide an annual update on prosecutions to measure its impact, along with data on anti-gay hate crimes, to see if it has any effect whatever on their incidence. As to the final point, where is there evidence that the president has done a single thing to "to coax a fractious party that has been in a defeatist crouch for decades into strong action"? I see none. No speeches defending gay equality, except to the pathetic tool of the Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign. No public support on marriage equality, which he formally opposes, even as a majority of the public backs it. He even prevented anyone in the administration from celebrating the end of the HIV travel ban before it was passed, so scared was he of Republican bigots. I know. I tried to report on the record about progress but was told shhhh - we might alert the right.

I don't think anyone can possibly accuse me or the Dish of excusing or ignoring the virulent and disgusting homophobia of the Christianist GOP. There is no comparison on the merits between their hate and contempt and the president's indifference and cowardice. But I refuse to have their bile held over my head as a reason to shut up about the Democrats' uselessness and this president's betrayal of almost every single promise he made about gay equality in the campaign.
I think he actually is closing much of the gap between us here. On the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, he is (I think) tacitly conceding my main point, that the efficacy of the statute can't be evaluated so soon after its enactment, as it can only apply to post-enactment conduct. The fact that he thought the statute was not responsive to a vital need before it was passed and continues to think so now doesn't blunt the fact that reporting of crimes, as well as investigations and preparation of prosecutions under a bran-new statute, take time. I'm not trying to get him to love the statute, but to use a reasonable metric to grade it by.

As to his second point, my own statement was somewhat--not entirely!--overly strong. But it was occasioned by Sullivan's own hyperbolic statement of preference for Angle over Reid--which I think is greatly rectified by his statement that "There is no comparison on the merits between their hate and contempt and the president's indifference and cowardice." I confess that he may know better than I do regarding President Obama's actual views. I think discounting Obama's speeches made to HRC because of the venue is a little tough on the President, and I think Sullivan overstates the President's indifference. But Sullivan is actively engaged in this fight, has met the President, and his view of the behind the scenes is certainly more informed than mine.

Regardless, I certainly don't want to shut him up, or mute his entirely justified criticism of the Administration and of Congress. Pressuring them until equality is reached is the only way to make any progress. I just don't want the debate to be framed in a way that excuses the bigots from their bigotry, and places all the onus on those who are, on the whole, well intentioned, even if they are lacking in passionate intensity.

By the way, I stand by my compliments to Sullivan,especially regarding The Conservative Soul, which makes the best case for a non-Christianist, non-extremist, honorable conservative philosophical tradition of which I am aware.

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