To respond to this article, direct your browser to: http://www.calcomui.org/blog2
Recently Outword Magazine published an article entitled “Anyone But OBama” written by Sam Catalano, former Executive Director of the Sacramento County Democratic party. The article is highly critical of the President, and Sam Catalano says he could never vote for Barak Obama again. Sam and I share many of the same political and policy views. However I must respectfully disagree with several of the points he makes in the article.
I suspect many peoples share Sam’s views so I will share my response with you all.
First, let me describe my political biases. I am very liberal, some say an extreme liberal. During my early adult years I was a registered Democrat. However, by the mid 1980s, I changed my voter registration to “Chooses Not To State”. I no longer supported the Democratic Party because I believed they had become too centrist. They had abandoned the Great Society, Anti-Poverty, Voting Rights Act ideals of the 1960s. Even so, I have voted mostly Democratic since then. They have usually been the better of the two major disappointing alternatives.
In his article, Sam complains that, “Obama did nothing to help repeal DOMA (which prohibits federal recognition of same sex marriages), enact ENDA (which would ban employment discrimination against LGBTI people), or to ensure that DADT (which prohibits LGBTI people from serving openly in the US military) was repealed.
I certainly am unhappy that these things haven’t happened. However, you need to consider things in context. Obama took office during what is arguably the second worst (and one of the longest lasting) recessions in US history. That recession has spawned some of the highest unemployment rates in our country’s history, and that rate has stayed very high in spite of the many things done to try to reduce it. The foreclosure rate on people’s homes were also near historic highs. Soon after Obama took office the US financial markets almost collapsed. If they had collapsed, the negative results would have been catastrophic.
So Obama had to deal with a whole set of very serious challenges. His failure to do so would again probably have been catastrophic. Attacking those problems required a massive effort on his part, and by his administration. It also required a lot of arm twisting of members of Congress. I respectfully submit that it would have been a serious dereliction of his duty to the nation if he had failed to put maximum effort into dealing with those problems and instead took precious time out to exert the effort needed to pass the LGBTI legislation that Sam and all of us want.
Obama faced an additional problem when he became President. The Democrats had a strong majority in the House of Representatives. But many of the newly elected Representatives were from districts with large numbers of conservative voters. Clearly many of those Democrats risked losing in the next election if they supported the LGBT legislation listed above. In fact many of them did loose this fall, in part, because they voted for other liberal legislation that Obama wanted, such as health care reform.
Persuading them to vote for the above LGBT bills would have taken an immense effort that would have drained essential time needed to address the larger problems of the nation. And, even so, Obama, and the Democratic House leadership, did get the House of Representatives to overturn DADT.
Obama faced similar problems in the US Senate. The Democrats had a majority there, but not enough to overcome a filibuster in that house. The Republicans, plus the few more conservative Democrats, have the power to block a vote, on the Senate floor, for any bill they dislike. The difficulty in getting a Senate vote on DADT, illustrates this problem.
Sam Catalano also complains about President Obama’s decision to defend DOMA and DADT in court. But please consider the following. Before becoming President, Obama took an oath of office which says, in part, “I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” Article 2, Section 3 of that constitution says, in part, that the President “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed”.
I believe that most legal scholars would say that these two together require the President to defend the laws passed by Congress, if challenged in court, until a final disposition is made by the courts on such a dispute. President Obama is a constitutional lawyer, so I expect he considers it his duty to defend even laws like DADT, which he dislikes.
There is another issue. The lowest federal courts (Federal District Courts) generally have jurisdiction over a limited geographic area. So, generally, an order issued by the US District Court for Central California (which recently overturned DADT) probably would not be binding in Massachusetts.
In addition, different lower courts often issue conflicting decisions. For example, In 2006, the US District Court in Boston Massachusetts (in a case called Pietrangelo v Gates) ruled that the DADT policy is legal. Later the 1st US District Court of Appeals upheld that decision. So, in theory, as things currently stand, the Army might be prohibited from discharging a soldier stationed in California but able to do so if that solder was reassigned to a unit in Massachusetts.
The only ways we can be sure to end the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is for the US Supreme Court to overturn it ( and appealing lower court decisions is a way to get it to the Supreme Court) or to get Congress to overturn the policy.
In the mean time we should give credit to President Obama for doing a reasonably good job in an incredibly difficult climate.