Saturday, November 22, 2008


Barack Obama will carry with him into the White House some of the highest expectations of any president, so much so that commentators have started warning us to relax and not expect everything to be solved at once. They’re doing this because they know that the higher the expectations, the more likely disappointment becomes.

Many GLBT Americans are saying that Obama must act quickly on his promises. Some have argued for yet another March on Washington, apparently to put pressure on both Obama and the more strongly Democratic Congress. But history provides us with an example of what could happen.

In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president and carried similar hopes and expectations of GLBT Americans. He’d campaigned on ending the military’s ban on GLBT servicemembers, and he’d said to us, “I have a vision of America, and you’re a part of it”.

Optimistic, activists organised a 1993 March on Washington and it was held some three months after Clinton was sworn in. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the Mall to demand GLBT equality. They had a supportive president and friends in Congress—a new era seemed at hand.

Instead, within a few months Clinton was forced into a backdown when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was made law. A few years later, we got the infamous “Defense of Marriage Act”. So, arguably, things for GLBT people were actually worse at the end of the Clinton Administration than they were at the beginning.

Obama seems determined to avoid repeating the Clinton experience, and the planned repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be delayed until at least 2010. 2009 would be spent building the base for Obama’s entire programme as well as consensus on this particular issue.

We can expect condemnation of this tactic by GLBT activists. Progressives will attack a number of aspects of Obama’s overall strategy, just as they’re sniping at possible members of his cabinet. Obviously, conservative journalists will be merciless in their criticism.

However, the majority of us closer to the centre should relax a bit. It’s far more important to change things for the better than to insist on speed and possibly lose it all—like I always say, “eyes on the prize”. We have another chance to move forward. This time, we can be part of a broad-based movement to improve the entire country, to move the nation forward for all of us.

We shouldn’t leave this to Obama alone, nor assume that Members of Congress will do the right thing, so we must keep the pressure on by lobbying Congress from all 50 states. So, let’s all take a deep breath and get to work turning our expectations into reality.


Nessa said...

Just having friends who are being affected by all this is so frustrating to me and I don't even want to be patient. I want equality across the board now.

You are certainly right in saying it needs to be done the right way, which will more than likely be the hard way. Better to have things well thought out and executed than being overly aggressive and getting little to nothing done.

Arthur Schenck said...

To be honest, I don't want to wait a second. It pisses me off that we have to wait for politicians to get around to doing the right thing when they should already have done it, long ago. It makes me angry that politicians make us wait for "someday, maybe".

However, that's the game they play, and we can't change that. What we can do is play their game and beat them at it: In addition to the 50-state lobbying of Congress I mentioned in the post, there also should be a 50-state GLBT voter registration drive to make sure that members of Congress realise that if they don't deliver, there will be consequences.

But winning is the important thing, and for now we must be quietly patient, even as we organise behind the scenes.