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The Making of an Evolution: Obama “Comes Out” for Marriage Equality

7:59 pm in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

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(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Excuse me while I channel my inner Paul Harvey. . .

So, it was weekend before the North Carolina primary–a ballot that includes the searingly homophobic Amendment 1, a measure that takes the state’s already-on-the-books “preservation of marriage” law and tattoos it on the North Carolina Constitution–and everyone knew what was about to happen. Both polling and precedent said Amendment 1 was on its way to a solid victory–what’s a White House to do?

Conveniently, the Obama Administration has this guy on staff; his name is Biden. Joe Biden.

Appearing on Sunday with NBC’s David Gregory, Vice President Biden let it out that he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, and the predictable media tempest followed. “There goes Joe,” or something like that ran through the reportage across the political spectrum, and “boy, does this put the President in a tough place.” It was classic bright, shiny-thing journalism–underlying issues and other big news of the weekend be damned, we have mouth-runner Joe and a contentious social issue; win-win!

Then comes Tuesday, and once again, putting minority rights up to majority vote proves a lesson on the reason we have Constitutional rights in the first place. North Carolina voters still hate “teh gay.”

Wait, what’s that you say? The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for North Carolina later this summer? Dems had already pissed off labor unions by choosing a “right to work” state for President Obama’s re-nomination party–but the unions, doing what they seem to do these days, made a little noise, then mostly fell back in line and pledged to support the Democrats in the fall. Gay rights organizations, however, have proven a little more savvy and played a little more hardball with their support–and most notably, their financial support–during Obama’s first term.

It was not a surprise, then, that those on left-leaning email lists awoke today to find petitions in their mailboxes calling for the Democrats to pull their convention from Charlotte in protest (I think the Variety hed would read: “D R&F to DNC: Pull DNC from NC, ASAP”). This was probably extra irritating for some in the White House–uh, make that in Chicago, where Obama’s reelection team is based–because there is a big fundraising gala scheduled this week in New York City, hosted by Ricky Martin and put on by the LGBT Leadership Council, Obama for America, and the Futuro Fund.

Then came the political bombshell–OK, maybe a firecracker: in a “hastily arranged” (so the story goes) interview with ABC news, President Barack Obama, famous till now for his position on marriage equality not having evolved enough to endorse it, tells a waiting nation that he now personally believes in the right of same-sex couples to marry. He had wanted to take more time before announcing this, we are told, but events–named Joe–had sped up the timetable.

Yeah, that’s what happened.

Now, it should be noted that Obama made the distinction between personally supporting marriage equality, while still saying individual states should make decisions for their populations–hardly a crusading vanguard position in the civil rights community–but it is not without some meaning for the President of the United States to speak up on this issue. (And on a personal note, I consider marriage to be such low-hanging fruit in the battle for universal equality that it is practically a potato. But, that said, what is called a “right” for some should obviously be extended to all.) But to report on the president’s “change of heart” without explaining the politics–the actual politics–at play is lazy and actually does a disservice to the LGBTQ community and to the larger debate.

Perhaps it is with that sort of gimlet eye that Slate/CBS reporter John Dickerson tweeted:

Joe Biden has such an impact on evolution you’d think if you put a amoeba next to him it would be a horse in a day.

The truth, of course, is that Gay money has such an impact on evolution that when you put a plasmodial mass of jelly next to it, it becomes a spine.

That is not an insult–it’s a lesson. Hats off to the LGBTQ groups that have worked so hard over the years–they have now twice demonstrated (with marriage equality and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) that they understand how to move the Obama administration. They should keep this in mind moving forward (and push for something tangible, like an executive order on discrimination, and not just fall in love with the president’s personal evolution)–and other parts of the president’s purported coalition should take this to heart.

And now you know. . . the rest of the story.

Good day!

The Party Line – July 29, 2011: Those Who Can’t Teach, “Compromise”

8:31 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

I seriously cannot believe I am again writing a post with one eye on the wire, still waiting for a conclusion to the debt-ceiling debacle, looking for real news to read, instead of just thrice re-boiled tea leaves. But here I am—here we are—sweating out a crisis that is as malicious as it is manufactured, knowing that when a “resolution” comes, no matter which version/option/compromise we get, it will be both terrible and impermanent.

That’s not easy to think about, but it is quite easy to say. There are no smart options on the table. There are not even smart planks left to use as bargaining chips. America, with its economy gasping for air, is left having to choose from a trio of plans that are all (as best as we are allowed to glimpse them) comprised of draconian cuts to so-called discretionary spending, no serious attempts at increases in revenue, and seismic blows to the bedrock programs of our social safety net—and none of which do a single, solitary thing to stimulate job creation. The only resemblance to a life preserver here is that all the plans look like a big, fat zero.

That the federal budget deficit is not even our real problem is a message completely absent from the national “debate.” That there is a difference between the debt ceiling and the deficit has been lazily obscured or purposefully ignored. And, again, the interests and desires of vast majorities of the American people—that jobs are more important than deficits, that a higher percentage of taxes should be paid by the very wealthy, and that the military should be cut before Social Security and Medicare—are marginalized as “extreme,” “not serious,” “unreasonable,” or (horror of horrors) “not adult.” Read the rest of this entry →

The Party Line – July 1, 2011: Dick Move

6:30 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

I feel like adapting a joke from Thom Lehrer, who once remarked that a debate over the MLF (look it up) happened during the baseball season, so readers of the Chronicle might not have heard about it. The incident I want to talk about happened during MSNBC’s Morning Joe, so if you have no stomach for that show (or morning television in general)—like me—or if you only watched MSNBC the rest of the day, you might have missed it. . . but plenty of others are talking about it: MSNBC’s “senior political analyst” Mark Halperin was suspended indefinitely on Thursday after calling President Obama “Kind of a dick” on Morning Joe. (You want a laugh—another laugh? Check out how the Washington Post wrote this up: “kind of a [vulgarism for male organ].”)

If you want, take a look at an unedited version of the exchange, it is really pathetic for about a dozen reasons, but let me focus on what might be (as it usually is) the most pathetic part, which is the sizzle becomes the story, and not the steak—the real meaty part being what is actually going on in Washington.

Mark Halperin (whose father, Morton, yes, did defend US bombing during the Vietnam War, but later went on to champion civil liberties and open government, and has always been articulate and exhibited a real gravitas—so who knows what happened with his son?) said the president was all genital-like because Obama, in his Wednesday presser, dared to get the slightest bit snarky about corporate jet-users and their GOP guardians. . . and that, in my considered opinion, was wrong. It was wrong because getting annoyed (or, more likely, “acting” annoyed) with the greedy and their handmaidens is the very least we should demand in this ravaged economy, and it was wrong because, even if that behavior was somehow beyond the pale, it wouldn’t make Obama a dick, and certainly wouldn’t make it intelligent commentary to have some lightweight “analyst” call him one.

One of the first rules of civil debate (and child-rearing—perhaps that is where Mort went wrong) is that you criticize the action, and not the actor. Ad hominem attacks do nothing to advance an argument, and they are certainly not analysis.

The president is not a dick—but, that said, the president did make a dick move. No, not the one that got Halperin to put in for a few extra weeks of summer vacation—that, as I said, was sub-minimal—the dick move was cutting the legs out from under congressional Democrats in an effort to prove his worth to whomever it is Obama looks to for approval (still trying to sort that one out), and improve his standing for his 2012 run.

Obama’s dick move actually comes in two thrusts (did I just write that?): First, the White House undermined the negotiating posture of Democratic members of Congress by a) continuing to move to the right on budget cuts in an effort to forge something the president can call a “compromise,” and b) offering up some sort of “trade” of cuts to what, for lack of a better word, are called “entitlements” in exchange for what (and not for lack of a better word but for lack of a spine) are called “revenue enhancements.” And, second, Obama kneecapped congressional Dems’ election strategy by setting in motion a process that will likely tie Democrats to a vote that will inoculate Republicans from the charge that only the GOP wants to cut Medicare.

Democratic leadership in Congress wants to send a clear message that they are the protectors of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—and increasingly, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) indicated this week, Democrats also want voters to know that Republicans are looking to benefit politically from an economic crisis and so, are not negotiating in good faith. The White House muddied that message with the specifics outlined above, and with the general posture that it is in some sort of negotiation with GOP leaders.

Will anybody be talking about any of that heading into the holiday weekend? (Present company excluded, of course.) Doubtful. But will tongues be wagging about Lil’ Mark and, perhaps, how his “analysis” was stifled by the “librul media?” Yeah, that feels like it has legs. . . maybe three of them.

The Party Line – April 8, 2011:
Are You Ready for Some Shutdown?

8:52 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Feeling poleaxed by the audacious hopes it raised during the ‘08 campaign, Team Obama will attempt to lower expectations going into 2012–and nothing lowers expectations like proving yourself irrelevant.

(By the way, for those with questions, we have a government fact sheet with basic information on what will or will not be affected by the shutdown.)

The Fierce Urgency of What, Now? Obama Gives Time to Stewart, Five Bloggers, Days Before Midterm Vote

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 1
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

Depending on your perspective (and/or tolerance for slow-pitch softball), there is either much or little to take away from Wednesday’s presidential charm assault on the professional left. I am actually a bit gobsmacked by much of what I saw on The Daily Show and read in the transcript of Obama’s meeting with the five bloggers who found golden tickets in their Wonka bars. The fact that the president still can’t give a compelling “elevator speech” about his sometimes-touted health insurance reform–amazing. Saying his ballyhooed “change you can believe in” can’t happen overnight–after 20 months in office–unbelievable. Refusing to give his opinion on whether or not “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional because he is “not sitting on the Supreme Court”–wtf?

For the moment, however, I want to highlight this short passage from the prog-blogger confab:

But I don’t go into the next two years assuming that there’s just going to be gridlock. We’re going to keep on working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible because folks are hurting out there. What they’re looking for is help on jobs, help on keeping their homes, help on sending their kids to college. And if I can find ways for us to work with Republicans to advance those issues, then that’s going to be my priority.

What’s going to be your priority, exactly?

I suppose I should take it as a baby step that Obama acknowledges there is still a hydra-headed economic crisis out there, but that’s kind of the price of White House admission as far as I’m concerned. And that the president can’t find it in his rhetorical rucksack to explicitly promise help and lay out a series of concrete actions that he will undertake—on the eve of a crucial midterm election, no less—negates any credit he might get for recognizing the problem. “Working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible” doesn’t communicate anything resembling fierce urgency. It is the kind of verbal tap dance that has me wondering what’s behind the ineloquent words, leaving me to choose between cowardice and connivance.

But it is that last sentence that is either most ineloquent or the most telling. “If I can find ways for us to work with Republicans to advance those issues, then that’s going to be my priority.” What’s the priority? Because to me it sounds like his priority is finding ways to work with Republicans more than it is to “advance those issues,” however weak-willed that phrasing already seems.

And what if Republicans don’t want to play—because they have made it very clear that they don’t—then what? What if the president can’t find a way to work with what will certainly be a more Republican Congress—does that mean that joblessness and the foreclosure fraud crisis will not be his priority? Because, seriously, if it is not my first interpretation, it has to be the second.

Obama’s 2008 electoral success, like all success, had many mothers, but one of the reasons he was able to take the country by storm was his ability to build a compelling narrative. “Change we can believe in,” “The fierce urgency of now,” and the phrase that Jon Stewart kept coming back to, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” helped candidate Obama tell a story about what President Obama’s America would look like. And it was a persuasive story. “Working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible. . . if I can find ways for us to work with Republicans” is not.

In his own defense, the president sometimes likes to quote former New York Governor Mario Cuomo: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” So be it. But even as prose, the aggregate of Obama’s day of talking to the left falls flat. Perhaps he failed to grasp the metaphor, so I will explain: the prose, Mr. President, is not just words. Your problems with a broken process is not a story jobless, homeless, or just plain insecure Americans need to hear right now. Governing is doing, and the story is told in good jobs, mortgage modification, and real relief in the face of rising health care costs. To Wednesday’s intended audience, it might be told by closing Guantanamo and trying any remaining detainees in civilian courts, by prosecuting Americans that used torture, defrauded the federal government or lied to Congress, and by immediately halting military discharges resulting from “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

What the president cannot seem to grasp is that people now hear his words—poetry or prose—in the context of their lives. And when Obama tells his one-time supporters that he has gotten 90 percent of what he wanted, those people have to wonder if what the president wants and what they want is still (or was ever) the same thing.

That is not a question Democrats want voters asking six days before the midterms.

Behold, the Power of Dems!

8:45 am in Health care by Gregg Levine

Ahhh, the power of the Democrats! To all of you who said that Dems couldn’t get anything done, to all of you that said Congressional Democrats couldn’t find the President’s desk with a map, a flashlight, and guided tour from Desirée Rogers, to all of you that said this White House did not know how to play political hardball, I say: Behold!

Just look what has happened in the last fortnight (or so): the president actually put his health plan on paper, the Senate leadership and the White House decided that budget reconciliation wasn’t such a bad idea after all, Democrats in both houses of Congress came together on a sidecar strategy, leadership has started whipping votes like there’s no tomorrow, President Obama has taken his show on the road in campaign-style events to sell his reform plan, and he, the president himself, is having one-on-one meetings with Democratic members (yes, that’s Democratic, not Republican) of the House to arm twist and horse trade. And, the great grassroots organizing forces of the left—from OFA to SEIU, from DFA to HCAN, from MoveOn to what the serious folks call “the liberal blogosphere” (not the marginal blogs, of course [smile])—have been mobilized in an all-out, no-holds-barred, damn-near scorched earth effort to move every last member of the House off the dime and on board the health care highway.

Hell, the White House is giving away NASA bases, and the SEIU is threatening primary challenges to anyone that votes against the “Senate-plus” health care overhaul—even if that means running kamikaze, third-party candidates. All to counteract the horrible, obstructionist, downright evil efforts of notorious Public Enemy Number One. . .

Dennis Kucinich.

Uh, yeah.

But, whatever—there are mountains to be moved here!

And look what they are moving mountains for.

It is strikingly educational to note that none of this was done last spring for single-payer. None of this was done last summer for a bill with a robust public option. None of this was done last fall for drug re-importation. None of this was done to stop the health care bill from containing the greatest threat to reproductive rights in a generation. Some yelled, some organized, some worked hard—a group here, a blog there (or vice versa)—but there was no massive, coordinated push, no hard sell, no “win one for the gipper,” and no demonizing of those who were then the obstacles to real, progressive change.

But, today—today everything is different. The White House has the bill it really always wanted. They have their deals with PhRMA, AHIP, and the Hospitals more-or-less unbroken (despite some of their protest-too-much carping); they have their real goal in sight.

The White House has their individual mandate—a law that will require those without coverage to buy from private health insurers under pain of penalty enforced through the IRS—they have their restrictions on drug re-importation and direct drug price negotiation still intact, and they have kept their word on the handshake deal that they made last spring with the medical industrial complex: no public option.

They have the Big Insurance Bailout and Medical Industries Profit Protection Act of 2010. If BIBMIPPA doesn’t sound good to you, it shouldn’t. This bill will not provide universal coverage, it will not provide universal access, it will not significantly bend the cost curve, it will not prevent draconian escalations in premiums or out-of-pocket expenses, and, upon signing into law, it will not do anything at all for the large majority of the 48 million uninsured for another four years.

What it will do is mandate an expansion of the customer pool for private insurance. What it will do is funnel taxpayer dollars into the coffers of the lobbying arms AHIP, PhRMA, and the various private hospital associations. What it will do is enrich and entrench the current powers-that-be at the expense of middleclass and poorer working Americans.

What it will do is make future efforts at reform much, much harder.

And for this, the Democrats have practically risen from the grave—and with the force of an army of hungry zombies, they will not stop until they have converted the whole village. And, today, it looks pretty much like they will.

So, behold: Democrats can get things done. When everyone comes together and whips in one direction they can take on any foe—FOX News, John McCain. . . even Dennis Kucinich. But is this really the battle Democrats should be fighting—is this the battle we should be proud of?

No, fair cousin. Today is not St. Crispin’s Day. (Or, at least, Obama is no Henry V.) Those that the White House and its legions are fighting for are the ones covetous of gold, Rahm doth care who feeds his cost, and too many in this new vanguard do covet honor. Rather, after a year of claiming to be on the side of real health care reform, it is those who have joined this final push for the Obama plan that should think themselves accursed and hold their manhoods cheap.

And, a note, too, to those that plan on complaining about and campaigning against Republican obstructionism—this week’s events render that strategy weaker by a furlong than that of the French at Agincourt. Even without the mythical army of 60 senators—or bipartisan support—the Democrats can get things done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That this will was to serve corporate interests, over and at the expense of the public good, is as sad as it is signature. And, I believe, it will be noticed and remembered by voters, maybe not from this day till the ending of the world, but certainly through November, and likely long past. Behold, the power of Democrats—and for what and whom they would wield it.