The Obama Administration

Supporters of Marriage Equality Need to Quit Whining

(Flickr/rudisillart)
You know how I felt about President Obama declaring himself in favor of same-sex marriage. I was gobsmacked . It’s politically risky . It’s symbolically powerful , in ways that Melinda Hennenberger noted sharply at the Washington Post . It pushed Senator Harry Reid, the next-highest-profile Democratic laggard on the issue, to support marriage equality, making full marriage rights pretty much the official platform of the entire Democratic Party. So I've been surprised by the number of people declaring that the announcement was too little, too late. Maybe, yes, it would have been better for him to have made his declaration a few days before, when his opinion might have influenced the appalling vote in North Carolina, which on Tuesday joined all the rest of the former Confederate states—and, actually, most of the country —in writing its opposition to marriage equality into its constitution . Okay, it's worse than that: The North Carolina law bans any recognition of same-sex partners or...

Bring On Less Democracy

(Flickr / afagen)
Is anybody else as depressed as I am about the next four years? No matter who wins, we face the prospect of bitterly divided government, savage partisanship in Congress, and increasing executive desperation. Even if Republicans win the Senate and retain the House, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; even if Obama holds on to the White House, he will face filibusters in the Senate and outright defiance in the House. A Congress that cannot deal with the tiny student-debt problem in orderly fashion is unlikely to be able to tackle big problems at all. The response to legislative paralysis is, of course, executive aggrandizement. Charlie Savage of The New York Times laid out recently the turn by the Obama administration to executive authority as its means of governing the country. It’s entirely predictable; legislative fecklessness has led to presidential power-grabbing for more than a century. And if Mitt Romney becomes president, he is already poised to follow...

An Evolution Too Little, Too Late?

Obama still has a chance to lead on LGBT rights—if he takes it.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last June, President Obama was pressed at a news conference on how his famous “evolution” on marriage equality was coming along. "I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one," he said . It was another in a long line of wink-wink statements indicating that the president’s stated opposition to same-sex marriage was shifting. Everybody knew the “different answer” was coming—just not when. Now we know. “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts today. The interview, which will air in full on tomorrow’s Good Morning America, was hastily arranged when Obama’s “I’m getting there” position on same-sex marriage went from being merely annoying to utterly ludicrous. After Vice President Biden and two cabinet members declared their support for gay marriage, the president’s spokespeople were finding it impossible...

I Am Gobsmacked

(Flickr/ntssu)
Well, I guess I'm cynical. I had a list of reasons as long as my arm for President Obama NOT to state that he favors equal marriage. My heart is turning such cartwheels that I am not sure I can write anything cogent. Here's what I was all ready to say before the announcement: In practice, the White House has already backed same-sex marriage as fully as it can at the federal level. Under the tenth amendment, individual states write the marriage rules—not the president or Congress. The federal government merely applies its rules and regs to marriages the states have performed. The exceptions str marriages like mine, between two men or two women—which, under the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the federal government is barred from recognizing. DOMA passed before any state had yet legalized marriage equality. Now that six states and the District of Columbia marry two women and two men, some married couples have brought lawsuits against DOMA, and are winning in the federal...

Doing the Right Thing Was the Right Thing

WikiMedia Commons
Today is obviously a great and historic moment for President Obama, who decided today to follow the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie's advice and openly favor same-sex marriage. The effects are primarily symbolic, but it's still a good thing that he decided to match his excellent policy record on LBGT issues with the correct position on a crucial civil-rights issue. One question that is sure to come up is whether this decision will harm President Obama's chance of re-election. I'm sure some members of Obama's political team were urging him to maintain the incoherent mess of a position he nominally took before today. This is, for reasons I discussed in the context of LBJ last week, certainly a serious question. Romney winning the 2012 election would be a disaster for LBGT rights, starting with the fact that this would probably result in Antonin Scalia being to the left of the median Supreme Court justice. Particularly since Obama has done pretty much all that is within his power to advance...

Where to Live If You're Gay

We're having a gay old week, aren't we? The White House press corps battles poor Jay Carney about Obama's eternally evolving position on same-sex marriage after the president's presumed proxies, Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, come out in favor. Meanwhile, North Carolina—an important swing state—reveals exactly why, in an election year, Obama might be just a little cautious about openly endorsing what his administration clearly backs: Why would any candidate in a high-stakes election make himself a target on an issue that has significant opposition in key states? My colleague Gabriel Arana wrote the definitive piece on yesterday's loss in North Carolina; I don't really have anything to add. But the National Journal 's Alex Roarty has some excellent reporting and analysis on that consideration here , including the obvious: Obama’s description of himself as “evolving” on the issue amounts to a public flirtation, and has prompted speculation that he’ll become a gay-...

Tired of War

(Flickr/The US Army)
Obama campaign thinks a general election on foreign policy works toward their favor, as the past few weeks have made clear. The President is trying to stake out a middle ground between the typical hawk and dove divide, highlighting his success in killing Osama bin Laden and engagement in Libya while also recognizing the country’s war-weary sentiment by extracting the country from Iraq and signing an agreement with the Afghanistan government to remove the United States from combat operations by 2014. For a time it looked as if Mitt Romney might not fall under the influence of the neoconservative dogma that dominated the GOP’s foreign policy vision during the last decade. Like many of the other Republican presidential candidates, he expressed hesitance toward an indefinite military force in Afghanistan, recognizing the quagmire of the decade-long war. His tone has changed since he’s dispatched his nomination opponents and has attempted to contrast his views directly with Obama. Perhaps...

Dreams from My President

E very president plays a symbolic, almost mythological role that’s hard to talk about, much less quantify—it’s like trying to grab a ball of mercury. I’m not referring to using the bully pulpit to shape the national agenda but to the way that the president, as America’s most inescapably powerful figure, colors the emotional climate of the country. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did this affirmatively, expressing ideals that shaped the whole culture. Setting a buoyant tone, they didn’t just change movies, music, and television; they changed attitudes. Other presidents did the same, only unpleasantly. Richard Nixon created a mood of angry paranoia, Jimmy Carter one of dreary defeatism, and George W. Bush, especially in that seemingly endless second term, managed to do both at once. While Barack Obama’s election left a joyous imprint on American culture—most of us were thrilled to discover that we could sometimes be what we want to think we are—his presidency almost immediately began...

No One Trust's Obama's Evolution

(Flickr/VJnet)
Few people truly believe Barack Obama when he claims his position on same-sex marriage is "evolving." He first publicly endorsed marriage equality in 1996 while running for the Illinois state senate. At the time, just 27 percent of the population shared his views, according to a Gallup poll. Now, Gallup's tracking numbers from last year have 53 percent of the country favoring SSM. It might have been politically expedient for Obama to position himself against same-sex unions in 2008, but it's impossible to imagine anyone at the vanguard of LGBT civil rights like that young Illinois legislator truly changing his mind. That's why his continuing "evolution" makes no sense. It ticks off liberals and moderates who are convinced that Obama does not have the courage to stand up for his convictions. And it certainly wins him no plaudits from conservatives, who also believe it is a smokescreen to hide his true agenda. To wit, here's RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on MSNBC earlier today: “So we’ve...

Disillusioned on Wall Street

Flickr/Matthew Knott
I can't say I know much about the psychology of the typical stock analyst or bond trader, so I've been as bewildered as anyone when I see stories quoting denizens of Wall Street complaining about the Obama administration. Not about, say, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—that's not surprising, since it's an agency created to rein in their abuses, and so it directly impinges on their financial interests—but about how their feelings have been hurt. After Wall Street gave more money to Obama than to John McCain, these days those masters of the universe feel put upon. As former Prospect writer Nicholas Confessore wrote in the New York Times Magazine about a discussion an Obama representative had with some of them not long ago, "They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed...

Obama's Untenable Position on Same-Sex Marriage

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
Oh, good old Joe. The vice president just can’t help himself sometimes, getting juiced up and spouting off whatever comes to his mind rather than staying on message like the Obama campaign would prefer. On yesterday’s Meet the Press , Biden was questioned about his stance on same-sex marriage and seemingly went a step further than the official White House line, perhaps not endorsing marriage equality directly but coming pretty close : David Gregory: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now? Biden: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that. Of course that’s not the official policy of the Obama campaign, so officials acted quick to walk back Biden’s statement. But the...

Get Ready For A Nasty General Election

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Let the general-election fun begin. Less than 24 hours after Mitt Romney rebooted for the umpteenth time , the Obama campaign announced the official start of rally season. The campaign announced an impromptu press conference call Wednesday evening to announce campaign swings through Ohio and Virginia by the president and first lady on May 5. "We understand we've pulled one or two of you out of the bar and we apologize for that," said campaign Press Secretary Ben LaBolt. "I want to go on record: I was opposed to pulling you guys out of the saloons, I didn't think that was the right thing to do," echoed senior advisor David Axelrod, who was joined by campaign manager Jim Messina. Once they finished pandering to reporters' alcoholic tendencies, the two ripped into Mitt Romney, laying the groundwork for the next six months of talking points. "Welcome to the general election," Messina opened. "As you've all been reporting today the Republicans have settled on their candidate, or should I...

Shooting Blanks

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In many ways, this presidential election features a reversal of a pattern we've gotten used to in recent campaigns. More often than not, it's the Republican who is self-assured and ideologically forthright, while the Democrat apologizes for what he believes, panders awkwardly, and generally acts terrified that the voting public might not like what he has to say. This time around, Barack Obama is the confident candidate, and Mitt Romney is the worried one (which says far more about these two men than it does about this particular historical moment). But there is one major exception to this pattern, on an issue that has re-emerged after being dormant for a decade and a half: guns. It isn't that Romney isn't pandering unpersuasively on the issue. What's different is that Barack Obama's campaign seems frightened of its own shadow and is trying hard to convince Americans that Obama is actually some kind of pro-gun president. Which, for all intents and purposes, he is. A week and a half ago...

The Man the Banks Fear Most

Wall Street's gone largely unpunished for its role in 
wrecking the economy—until New York Attorney General 
Eric Schneiderman came along.

Steven Moors
Steve Moors I n February 2011, one month after he’d been sworn in as New York state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman sat down with the staff attorney who’d been delegated to track the negotiations that the 50 state attorneys general and the Obama administration were conducting with five of the country’s biggest banks. A few months earlier, the story had broken that the banks had been “robo-signing” thousands of notices foreclosing on homes. Instead of assessing how far behind in their payments the homeowners had fallen or seeking to modify the terms of their mortgages, the banks had employed junior staffers, some hired right off the street, to sign hundreds of foreclosure documents daily, though the banks’ title to many of the properties was uncertain. Even when the banks’ claims to ownership were clear, robo-signing violated numerous state laws requiring due diligence before a bank can foreclose on a home. The scandal had prompted a number of banks—Bank of America most...

November Dreaming

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
I’ve been noticing that, since January, the Obama administration has kicked up its attentions to the LGBT communities, announcing one small regulatory change or conference after another. But they’re not delivering the bigger changes that LGBT groups have been agitating for. I’ve been assuming that the goal is to boost turnout in November. Will it work? What kind of small change am I talking about? Well, there’s the White House LGBT conference series. HHS, DOJ, HUD, even the CIA—they’re all putting on some show or other. March saw a Detroit conference on LGBT housing and homelessness , where HUD Secretary Donovan announced new nondiscrimination rules for public housing and mortgage financing, on both sexual orientation or gender identity. No kicking you out of the projects or your Section 8 apartment because you turn out to be queer; no refusing to give you a mortgage because your birth sex is still visible while you’re transitioning. All good news. And soon, the White House will hold...

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