Friday, November 7, 2008

Prop 8 and Obama's Better Angels

If any of us were truly naive enough to believe that Obama's election would bring all Americans together, walking arm in arm, singing "We Shall Overcome," the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Barack's chief of staff doused any such delusions.

I'm not sure what I think of this pick. Maybe Obama needs a tough enforcer to keep Congress on board. Or maybe Emanuel will become a polarizing figure who creates additional tensions between the White House and Congress. Best case scenario, as Mike Madden puts it at Salon: Emanuel will be the bad cop to Obama's good cop, allowing Obama to get stuff done without himself getting too bloodied in the fray.

What I hope: That even as he inevitably makes mistakes and betrays progressive principles, Obama will still be able to inspire our better angels. In return, we progressives will have to call on his better angels. We need to press him so that those betrayals are few and infrequent. In fact, as Digby argues eloquently, he can't govern left-of-center, even where he wants to, unless we keep the heat on him. For perhaps the first time ever, progressive voices - from Rachel Maddow through to us itty bitty kitty blogs - are strong enough that we should be able exert real influence.

Here's one crucial place to to begin: by mitigating the damage caused by Prop 8 in California, the harshest disappointment of this week. Glenn Greenwald notes that Obama can help to this by repealing at least the worst sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Obama is on record as having opposed DOMA from the get-go. During the primary campaign, Obama called for its full repeal. In the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden promised that gay and straight couples would have identical civil rights under an Obama-Biden administration.

Time to deliver, guys. It's the least you owe to the countless LGBT voters whose votes were crucial to Obama's victory. It's the least you owe to basic human decency - not to mention the constitutional principle of equal protection.

Greenwald says that while repealing DOMA wouldn't repair all the wreckage of Prop 8, simply revoking its provisions that bar the federal government from extending full rights to same-sex couples would transform many lives. He cites the case of binational couples who are forced to live apart or outside of the U.S.

That's an example that really cuts close to home for me. I was able to "import" my husband from Germany because he has boy parts and I have girl parts. How arbitrary is that?

So, President-Elect Obama, I may not be an angel, much less a better one. Please hear us anyway. Please make repealing DOMA a priority for your first hundred days. The "fierce urgency of now"demands no less.

The angel in the photos is not a random one. It's "Gold Else," who perches atop the Siegessäule in Berlin. The same Siegessäule where Barack Obama gave his grand Berlin speech last July. The very same Siegessäule that is Berlin's paramount symbol of gay rights. I took these photos just before Obama began to speak (moments before my camera batteries crapped out).


J.B. Kochanie said...


I'm going to paraphrase FDR here to give my two cents regarding Emanuel : He may be a son of a bitch but he is my son of a bitch.

Obama has a very short period of time in which to establish his credibility and that means getting things done. With his knowledge of Wall Street and the investment banking houses, Emanuel is an excellent choice as gatekeeper for the President-Elect who has to grapple with the financial meltdown. Could Emanuel's abrasive manner backfire? Possibly, and if so, Obama can replace his bad cop. But I think the new administration will lose more points for inaction, not abrasion.

The resistance that the Clinton administration experienced was due, at least in part, to the brashness of some of its staff who delighted in thumbing their noses at the Reagan supporters. However, the current economic situation is far worse than when Clinton took office. If the ship is sinking, I don't care if the rescue team is abrasive and uses four-letter words. I just want a lifeboat.

Sungold said...

Kochanie, it's such a pleasure to "see" you again. I knew you'd taken a sabbatical from blogging and I'm so glad you're back.

I think you're exactly right that Obama will need to move and shake things from day 1, and Emanuel should be able to make that happen.

My concern isn't so much about his SOB properties or abrasive manner. I worry that he's too close to the Clintonites and the DLC for my political taste. If he's merely an enforcer, that's one thing; but as a gatekeeper I'm afraid he may help steer policy too much toward the same old, same old.

Especially if Larry Summers gets picked for Treasury, I'm afraid we won't see meaningful and effective deregulation. After all, these Clinton-era gentlemen helped bring us the "reforms" of the late 1990s that set the stage for our current woes. I'd like to blame it all on Phil Gramm (oh, wouldn't that be sweet!) but it just ain't so.