Government as Lagging Indicator and Obama’s Invocation of Gay History

7d42ObamaInaug Government as Lagging Indicator and Obama’s Invocation of Gay History

President Barack Obama
mentioned that gay people existed in his inauguration speech on
Monday and tossed out a reference to Stonewall (a gay bar in
Manhattan that become a historical flashpoint in the late ‘60s when
riots followed a police raid) in the same breath as Seneca Falls
and Selma. He mentioned support for gay marriage recognition, a
position he “evolved” into all of
last summer:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters
are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly
created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must
be equal as well. 
It turns out this is the first time a president has acknowledged
gay people in an inaugural speech, so it caused a bit of a stir
among the
pundits and gay
blogosphere.I have an extremely strong bias against inaugural spectacles. I
really, truly cannot stand them. Yes, Obama’s inauguration appeared
to be a coronation, but they always do. This one wasn’t
really any different. Folks I’ve noticed who obsess over the
spectacle of the inauguration are inevitably also the same folks
who obsess over any ostentatious British display involving their
royal family. I managed to endure the president’s speech, Kelly
Clarkson’s horrible rendition of “My Country Tis of Thee,” and then
zoned out during openly gay Latino poet Richard Blanco’s reading
not long after he made a reference to wind power in his poem. I
turned the whole thing off around the time Chuck Schumer was
describing the bipartisan committee that arranged their stupid
lunch.So anyway, my point – and I do have one – is that my immediate
response to the president actually mentioning gay people was to
barely notice it. It was a political “shout-out,” the equivalent of
a singer name-checking the city he or she is in during a tour.To the extent that the president’s inclusion is a pioneering
moment, it’s a cultural achievement by just about everybody
but Obama, and a stellar example of how government
ultimately doesn’t lead – it follows. Obama’s comments are safe now
– his position is disputed, but can no longer be considered
controversial. Andrew Sullivan makes some important
observations to that effect (while at the same time engaging in
his typical worship of the man):
Obama included these references rightly in the context of other
struggles. This is not about identity politics but human and civic
equality that goes far beyond the gay experience. But sometimes you
have to remember how far we have come, with this man pushed
relentlessly forward by our pressure and by our conversations with
each other.
I’m not so sure it’s not about identity politics. People have
responded emotionally, viscerally when the president mentioned
their particular identity-based problems. Yet Obama did not give
any sort of indication his administration will actually engage in
any sort of behavior to resolve this inequality he fully observes.
His speech certainly wasn’t about any substantive policy measures.
Ask an immigrant how he or she feels about Obama talking about
their struggles given his administration’s
actual treatment of them for the past four years.In any event, Obama’s poll-endorsed support of the gay marriage
issue makes the
lazy collectivism in his speech all the more annoying. There
was no “collective action” on improving the lot of gays and
lesbians in America any more than there was for blacks or women. It
was a long slog where the citizens often had to fight their own
government in order to achieve any sort of advancement in
liberty. The government has almost always been the barrier, and it
was inevitably the collective will of the majority who rigged the
system against others. The advancement of liberty in the United
States is ultimately about a minority convincing the majority to
convince the government to stop doing something awful to the
minority, not a fantasy of a unified people working together.

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Government as Lagging Indicator and Obama’s Invocation of Gay History

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