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May, 7th 2009

How about some change on these two fronts, President Obama?

– Liz Mair

President Obama campaigned hard on the theme of change last year, but the longer he occupies the White House, the more evident it is that there's not quite as much of that prized commodity on offer as a lot of Americans would like, myself inlcuded.

Exhibit number one for today: This item, from Huffington Post, which underlines that Obama is about to fire his first gay Arabic linguist.  Yes, indeed, Obama has the option of suspending gay discharges with a "stroke-of-the-pen":

Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and officer in the Army National Guard who is fluent in Arabic and who returned recently from Iraq, received notice today that the military is about to fire him. Why? Because he came out of the closet as a gay man on national television.

Some readers might think it unfair to blame Obama. After all, the president inherited the "don't ask, don't tell" law when he took office. As Commander-in-Chief, he has to follow the law. If the law says that the military must fire any service member who acknowledges being gay, that is not Obama's fault.

Or is it?

A new study, about to be published by a group of experts in military law, shows that President Obama does, in fact, have stroke-of-the-pen authority to suspend gay discharges. The "don't ask, don't tell" law requires the military to fire anyone found to be gay or lesbian. But there is nothing requiring the military to make such a finding. The president can simply order the military to stop investigating service members' sexuality.

An executive order would not get rid of the "don't ask, don't tell" law, but would take the critical step of suspending its implementation, hence rendering it effectively dead.

Apparently, this "critical step" is not one that the change-meister is prepared to take, which is incredibly unfortunate considering that during the campaign, Obama supporters writing in the NY Blade (link now dead, but text believed to be complete available here) praised him for "regularly" talking "about LGBT equality on the campaign trail, even when the audience was not LGBT-friendly."  Said these Obama supporters then, "Barack has been changing hearts and minds, and the visibility he has given to LGBT equality is unprecedented.  Barack’s commitment to LGBT rights is also manifest in his record of accomplishment, which extends throughout his 11 years in public office on every issue of concern to our community."

Every issue of concern to the LGBT community?  Listen, I'm not gay, but everyone I know who is thinks that the ability of a gay individual to serve his or her country in their armed forces is an issue of concern.  I think it's an issue of concern, too, and not just because this is a matter of basic fairness, where I believe basic, underlying concerns (e.g., homosexual fraternization) could be dealt with via ordinary conduct rules while still not preventing those who simply wish to serve from doing so.  I also think it's an issue of concern because, well, as Dan Choi's case exemplifies, the continued existence of Don't Ask Don't Tell is something that threatens to remove from our armed forces individuals with specialized, and highly-prized, skills-- like, say, speaking Arabic (a language spoken in a country where we continue to be engaged, not coincidentally, under the leadership of President Obama as we were under President Bush).  I understand that many in the military have objections to eliminating Don't Ask Don't Tell and that the President doesn't want to get tagged as a big liberal, but if there is one area of policy that really adversely impacts gay people, and very arguably to the detriment of us all, this would be it.  It would be nice, especially in the wake of this news regarding Dan Choi, to see the President make some movement to at least reform this policy, which feels increasingly outdated and outmoded-- especially given that the public, and military mood, on this issue seems to be shifting and we're simply not where we were in the first Clinton term of office anymore.

Conveniently, this leads us to example number 2: Government growth and outsized spending.  I spent plenty of time during the final Bush term in office complaining about his big-spending ways (sadly hard to miss after the relatively restrained Clinton years) and the fact that charts like this one, courtesy of the Cato Institute (and published back in October 2005) even exist:

So, you can imagine my general pleasure when I read things like this, from ABC's Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller:

In formally introducing his $3.55 trillion budget to Congress today, President Obama emphasized $17 billion in spending cuts.

[...]

$17 billion is without question real money, and it means something, though within the context of the president's budget it's less than one half of one percent of the total budget.

And it's about 1.4 percent of the projected deficit for 2010 of $1.17 trillion.

And as the Wall Street Journal points out, the president's proposed "cuts are outweighed by proposals to spend more on an array of programs and regulatory functions." The budget for the Federal Railway Administration budget is increased, for instance, from $1.8 billion to $2.7 billion.

Whether or not $17 billion is a lot of money in spending cuts depends, of course, on what one compares it to -- and who's doing the comparing.

During the campaign last year, then-Sen. Obama discussed how Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, railed against earmarks, and pointed out that the $18 billion in savings from eliminating earmarks paled in comparison to the $300 billion in tax breaks McCain proposed.

“Now, Senator McCain talks a lot about earmarks," Mr. Obama said during the third presidential debate in Hempstead, NY. "That's one of the centerpieces of his campaign. Earmarks account for 0.5 percent of the total federal budget. There's no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on, and they need to be eliminated. But it's not going to solve the problem.”

It was a frequent Obama talking point, that $18 billion -- while not to be sneezed at -- is a trifle comparatively to the proposed McCain tax cuts, and to the budget in general.

“Earmarks account for $18 billion in last year's budget," Mr. Obama said on Fox News Sunday on September 28, 2008. "Senator McCain is proposing $300 billion in tax cuts. Now, $18 billion is important. $300 billion is really important.”

So is $3.55 trillion-- really, really important.  And so is $5 trillion, the amount of national debt ABC cites as having been racked up by Bush during his two terms in office-- the same Bush whose footsteps Obama seems to be following in, right now.  Per CATO's Chris Edwards, quoted in the ABC story, "President Obama is really continuing fiscal irresponsibility."

No kidding.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  First, Obama is delivering zero real change where anything much to do with fiscal policy is concerned.  He's a big spender, just like Bush was.  And he'll deliver higher taxes in the end, just like Bush, because of his big spending, even though he continually touts his commitment to widespread tax cuts-- remember, he proudly said, in summarizing his accomplishments during his first 100 days in office, "We have already... provided a tax cut to 95 percent of all working families."

So, then: Change?  The evidence continues to mount that where Obama is concerned, he's all talk and no action.

UPDATE: I see Rep. Joe Sestak was on Rachel Maddow's show tonight, making the point that just suspending Don't Ask, Don't Tell's implementation might not be such a smart move by Obama, in view of the US being a nation of laws and all that.  I get what he's saying, but I suspect that getting this policy repealed through the proper, full, governmental procedures isn't going to be a walk in the park-- and it's one that I have yet to be fully convinced Obama is treating as anything like a real priority.  I'd like to see some action, whether or not suspension is the ideal route to go. [intro]

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