Friday, June 19, 2009

Pressure Works/ Clapping Louder Does Not

As a follow up to my post on the pressure the Obama administration is getting from the Gay community, it's worth pointing out the news that broke earlier today.

Reacting to a rising tide of anger from gay and lesbian supporters at a series of slights and deferred promises, President Obama will tomorrow extend some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

The move, which begins to mirror the policy of many large corporations, will have an immediate effect for many workers, but it is a deeply reactive response to a core Democratic group whose concerns have been festering for six months. The presidential memorandum -- scheduled for signing tomorrow at 5:45 p.m., may in the short term, give Joe Biden something positive to say at a June 25 fundraiser that has seen prominent guests drop out, a host sharply attack the administration, and which is expected to be marked by protests.

Awesome! Except...

However, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from extending health and retirement benefits to same-sex couples, so the benefits are more likely to be marginal -- like relocation assistance.

So while the move sucks as far as actual substance goes, it shows that they are feeling the heat, so much so that they were compelled to react (albeit with a fairly meaningless executive order).

There are two schools of thought in the progressive movement right now on the best way to achieve our goals during a Democratic Administration. One side believes that the best way to do this is to create political pressure on the issue, such as the actions surrounding this fundraiser, and "make him do it" as FDR once said. The other school of thought is to "clap louder" as Chris Bowers put it, and not criticize Obama, hoping that he will do the right thing at the end of the day.

There are often gray areas to these debates and times when people can agree to disagree. This is not one of them. The overwhelming majority of the time, the first method works and the second one does not. There will be rare occasions when politicians act out of the goodness of their heart and "do what's right", but believing that will occur with any regularity is to live in a fantasyland.

Real change gets made when people start to feel the pressure, and the Obama administration feels it on this issue. The progressive movement needs to wrap their minds around the fact that this is how politics works, and learn how to adapt their tactics on other issues that are in need of progressive pressure.

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