According to Andrew Sullivan, President Obama hasn’t got enough on his plate just yet. Oh, sure, Obama is:
- trying to extricate the USA from Iraq;
- trying to devise a winning strategy for Afghanistan/Pakistan;
- confronting an extremely serious economic crisis;
- setting out to reform the healthcare system; and
- setting out to tackle climate change
— all in his first term.
But that’s not a busy enough agenda for Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan wants the President, in his spare time, to champion equal rights for gays and lesbians:
I wonder how Obama would have felt if Truman had followed the same path of cowardice and convenience in 1948, when racial integration was far more contentious in the military than gay integration is today. Or whether he would have applauded if the NAACP had decided that inter-racial marriage was too big a step for them in 1967 and they’d be content with calling it a “civil union.” On the matter of civil rights in his own time, alas, the first black president has so far demonstrated the courage of a Clinton [i.e., soothing words, but no courage].
But wait a minute. To carry out his agenda, Obama must battle entrenched Republican opposition at every turn. That’s certainly the case with respect to Iraq, taxation, government spending, healthcare reform, and environmental policies. Can Obama afford to spend precious political capital championing gay and lesbian rights, too?
I don’t think so.
I’m being unfair to Sullivan when I stoop to mockery. I understand his impatience. Politicians always prefer to set minority rights aside for a more opportune time — and the opportune time never arrives. That’s why Martin Luther King, Jr., was driven to write a book entitled, “Why We Can’t Wait” .
But Obama is already a civil rights champion: he is the first black president. (Which Sullivan mentions in passing, by way of a cheap shot). Not so long ago, Rev. Wright’s greatest Youtube hits were played and replayed every day on TV. Appalachians, in particular, were prepared to vote for anybody but the n*gger.
Obama took his life in his hands merely by running for the office. So it’s a little rich to say, “When it comes to civil rights, Obama lacks courage.”
For the record: I support same sex marriage. I think it should happen immediately, and not be postponed for another day.
And yet — every politician has a limited supply of political capital. Even the most skilled politician can only achieve one or two big ticket items during a term of office. (It’s extremely unlikely that Obama will achieve success on all of the initiatives he has bitten off.)
A wise politician picks his or her priorities very carefully, and budgets his political capital stingily. If Obama were to champion equal rights for gays and lesbians, some other initiative would have to be dumped.
For Sullivan, that would be an easy choice — he would be happy to see government-run healthcare kicked to the curb. But Sullivan’s priorities aren’t necessarily a better choice than the President’s stated priorities.