Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gay Obama Campaign Aide Defends President

Steve Hildebrand, former deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, came on the show yesterday (audio clip below) to discuss the president's efforts on DADT, ENDA and other issues. As the closest openly gay person to Barack Obama during he political campaign, Hildebrand's comments on Obama's progress on LGBT right have carried a lot of weight. Hildebrand had criticized the president last year publicly on LGBT issues, and said he spoke with the president in the Oval Office at the time, expressing his views. But he later pulled back on his criticism, urging people to focus more on Congress, though appearing on the show several times throughout 2009 he has seemed to go back and forth.

This time, fresh from a meeting along with other LGBT leaders in the White House two weeks ago, he was back to defending the president against critics who have charged that, on DADT specifically, Obama has not taken leadership by publicly pushing Congress to vote on repeal this year even though he called for repeal during his State of the Union address.

Hildebrand's argument is not much different from other defenders: The president has done what he can on issues the president has the power to move on and is dealing with a Congress and, in this case a military, that has much opposition. Of course, none of the critics deny the opposition. That's been there for any president. The criticism is about how this president deals with the opposition. And we're surely not the only ones decrying Obama's often-naive style: Similar criticism is leveled at the president from progressives on a variety of issues, observing that this White House just doesn't forcefully take the lead in dealing with Congress. It doesn't help our cause to imagine it's not true.

Hildebrand describes a White House that is working hard and trying to change minds in Congress and in the military. It's evident from Admiral Mullen's words that the process has moved forward in that regard quite a bit. The idea, however, that Obama must build consensus to the point where every single general is on board -- and we see two generals yesterday expressing their irrational fears on repealing DADT, though they say they will dutifully follow orders -- is idealistic and indicative of a president who is indecisive and who loses opportunities in his grasp. If we don't move now on DADT repeal, the opposition will organize and win. As it is already, Democrats can very easily lose Congress this fall. Then a vote of any kind will not happen for years. On this, Steve Hildebrand says that the forecasts are too early and "a lot can happen in seven months."

The conversation was frustrating, in part because people like Hildebrand surely know the White House has not been on top of the political game -- even if the president's personal intentions are laudable -- and yet they're loathe to criticize the White House in any way. What we need is leadership all around, including from the Human Rights Campaign and people like Hildebrand -- which would include forthrightly speaking about how badly the administration is handling issues -- and yet what we often get is more loyalty to a political strategy that is flawed.