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October, 5th 2009

"Don't Tell Me Words Don't Matter"

– Liz Mair

Back in the day (OK, last year), President Obama was known for saying things like "don't tell me words don't matter" and pointing out that some couplings of "just words" were actually far more than that, bearing historical significance and carrying great weight.  He was right, to a point.  "I have a dream" was one such instance of words being more than "just words."

But I'm afraid that Obama's planned speech to the Human Rights Campaign dinner this coming weekend is an instance of, well, words being... just words.  Per Phil Klein:

President Obama is scheduled to speak to Human Rights Campaign's dinner this Saturday in order to quell concerns within the gay community about his failure to act on gay marriage and the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. I think that this is a telling metaphor for his presidency. Faced with a difficult dilemma  -- whether to keep his promises to an important political constituency at the risk of causing a huge controversy that will threaten other domestic priorities -- his solution is to just give a speech. In this case, the matter happens to be gay rights, but it could just as easily be any other issue. The problem for Obama is that while speeches are enough during a campaign, they have diminishing returns when you're president, because at some point you have to actually make decisions that are sure to anger one side or another.

Indeed.  And gay and lesbian Americans (and some not gay-or-lesbian Americans, including myself) are disappointed and/or pissed off at Obama, because he hasn't seemed to figure out that on these kinds of issues, speeches aren't a good substitute for action.  Obama talks a good game, but on this front, anyway, he doesn't, you know, get.. [expletive].. done.

Andrew Sullivan seems to be fed up with the rhetorical exercises and be ready for a little less conversation, and a little more action:

If Obama wants to support gay equality, he knows what to do.

[...]

So spare us the schmoozing and the sweet-talking and do it. Until then, Mr president, why don't you have a nice steaming cup of shut-the-[expletive]-up?

Good question.  I'm tempted to say the same re: immigration, another area of policy I care about and where my views diverge from those of many Republicans, while remaining closer to those broadly held by another constituency Obama went out of his way to court in the course of working to ensure electoral triumph last year, and who he's recently been attempting to cuddle up to again in order to improve the odds of health insurance reform passing.  I posted recently about how Obama, who has recently found it beneficial to talk a good game on immigration voted for "among others, two amendments to sunset the Y-1 nonimmigrant visa program after a 5-year period and one to reduce to 200,000 the number of certain non-immigrants permitted to be admitted during a fiscal year."  These were both poison pills that took down comprehensive immigration reform in earlier years and which pretty firmly demonstrated a less-than-abiding commitment to that goal.  

At the end of the day, both Obama's lack of action on gay marriage and DADT and his apparent marginal, real-life, action-based commitment to immigration reform make it pretty hard for me to conceive of Obama as anything but your bog-standard politician.  He's a better speaker than most of them, sure-- which is good, since it seems that on issues like these, talk is all he's got.

UPDATE: GOProud has released a web video and is hitting Obama for his "abysmal" record on issues like gay marriage, DADT and standing up to the decidedly gay-unfriendly Iranian regime:

Per Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director of GOProud, “Talk is cheap, but unfortunately with this administration talk is all you get.  It’s time President Obama told gay Americans just how unimportant they are to him and his administration.” [intro]

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