What did President Obama say new tonight? Absolutely nothing. What did the Human Rights Campaign get in exchange for once again giving our president cover for all of his broken promises to our community? Absolutely nothing.
I like HRC, I know a lot of people who work there, I’ve defended them when others in the community have been highly critical of them. But it is criminal that any gay rights organization would invite an embattled president to their dinner, giving him political cover for repeated broken promises and slaps in the face to our community (like the DOMA incest brief), and then get absolutely nothing in return. HRC’s actions only feed the suspicions of critics who say that the organization is more interested in fundraisers than in advancing our rights.
The President depends on his celebrity power (and its attendant fundraising ability) to get liberal validators like the HRC to shield him from liberal critique and protect his ability to say one thing and do another. It’s good for an organization that serves to fundraise and perpetuate itself, but bad for the cause they purport to further.
The one issue that has plagued the administration more than any other, for which it has no liberal shield, is that of torture and civil rights. And that’s because the ACLU refuses to be part of the veal pen. They were originally a part of Unity 09 but eventually withdrew. They never fit comfortably into the role of providing the White House with liberal cover for actions that were in opposition to what they stand for.
Part of the ACLU’s independence is due to their financial structure. They aren’t easily financially crippled by one or two phone calls from powerful people to big donors. Their integrity would be seriously compromised if they tried to throw a fundraising bash headlined by the very people they are at odds with — especially if the price is dissembling to give them cover. But that’s because those in the civil liberties community would give them unholy hell if they did so.
The organizations in the veal pen can only stay there until their credibility is called into question. And that often means criticizing our friends, people we like, and making them choose between allegiance to power and allegiance to principle. They like to fall back on “different roles for different people” to excuse their actions, but it is without question that Obama was trying to buy himself credit for something he does not deserve last night and protect his ability to do nothing. The HRC gave it to him, just as HCAN gave him liberal cover for an “opt out” provision that will weaken a public option. Richard Kirsch and other veal pen denizens were largely successful in neutralizing liberal criticism that would have screamed in opposition if the same proposal had come from Republicans. Others organizations complied simply by refraining from criticism. The consequences are not inert — they are seriously damaging.
It took courage for John Aravosis to call out the HRC on this. It would have been easy to sit back and let someone else do it, but his criticism is important — it has added impact because he is a prominent gay rights activist. His commitment to the cause he believes in transcends the personal, professional and financial ties that he risks for doing so. His willingness to step forward like this is commendable and until others are willing to follow suit the White House will do nothing about DODT and DOMA. They’ll just keep putting on shows.
Proud to know you, John.