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    December 17, 2006

    The Obama boomlet goes thud?

    Posted by: Chris

    Obama Watching politicians when you feel like your civil rights depend on it can feel like an exercise in courting frustration.  Just like the lonely single always expecting happiness from the next date, the would-be courtier almost inevitably disappoints.  But since the "prize" is so important, you keep your eyes on it, and the next suitor in waiting.  Along the way, you try to walk the line between hopeful skeptic and jaded and bitter.

    That's how I felt reading all the positive press about Barack Obama's triumphant appearance in the belly of the beast, winning a standing ovation from the conservative congregation at Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., home to anti-gay, pro-life evangelist Rick "Purpose-Driven Life" Warren.  "Pastor Rick" cheerfully withshood a mini-rebellion from other conservatives for even inviting pro-gay, pro-choice Obama to speak at a special World AIDS Day service. 

    Obama delivered with an address that interwove the Illinois senator's religious conviction in a natural way that the John Kerrys and Howard Deans — much less the Hillary Clintons — can only dream of.  Liberal pundits cheered and the Obama "boomlet" sounded again.  So why did I hear a bit of a thud?

    In many ways, Obama's address at Saddleback hit all the right notes, expanding the idea of religious activism beyond legislating conservative theological positions, Taliban-style.  His stories about AIDS in Africa were poignant and his call to action effective.  But below the surface… we Chandler-Seinfelds of the gay political world saw signs that Obama might be another Bill in Clinton's clothing — the man from a place called Hope, who promised we didn't have a person to waste, whose view of America included us, and who went on to sign the two worst pieces of anti-gay legislation in U.S. history: Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

    Many of those signals in Obama's address were in the tone, especially in how every time he referred to sex in relation to AIDS, whether in Africa or in the U.S., he referred to the relationship between "men and women":

    • For some, the only way to prevent the disease is for men and women to change their sexual behavior…
    • I don't think we can deny that there is a moral and spiritual component to prevention — that in too many places all over the world where AIDS is prevalent — including our own country, by the way - the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down, and needs to be repaired.
    • [In Africa], I heard stories of men and women contracting HIV because sex was no longer part of a sacred covenant.
    • I also believe that we cannot ignore that abstinence and fidelity may too often be the ideal and not the reality — that we are dealing with flesh and blood men and women and not abstractions.

    It wasn't that Obama was off the mark in the substance of what he was saying in any of those snippets, or generally, and he was speaking about AIDS in Africa on World AIDS Day — both of which generally concern a virus transmitted heterosexually.  But like a scorned spinster trying to stay hopeful on a date going south, I found myself bracing a bit more each time, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And then, with a thud, it it did:

    Like no other illness, AIDS tests our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes — to empathize with the plight of our fellow man. While most would agree that the AIDS orphan or the transfusion victim or the wronged wife contracted the disease through no fault of their own, it has too often been easy for some to point to the unfaithful husband or the promiscuous youth or the gay man and say "This is your fault. You have sinned."  I don't think that's a satisfactory response. My faith reminds me that we all are sinners.

    Ouch.  There we are, down there in the muck with the unfaithful husband and the promiscuous youth.  And our man Obama is there for us, reminding everyone that they sin as well.  Of course, they generally don't organize a civil rights movement asking for legal recognition of their sins, or hold annual festivals to celebrate their pride in being sinners. 

    Sp what to do with Obama, who has a strong gay rights record, if not one that shows much leadership, though like almost all serious possible Democratic contenders for the White House in '08, he opposes gay marriage?  We keep an eye on him, and on the prize, and hope he doesn't follow Dean and other Dems in some quixotic quest to woo the right.  For once, we should insist to dance with the ones we help bring.



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    1. Tim C on Dec 18, 2006 8:37:33 AM:

      I don't put any stock in Obama at all until he can prove he can actually be elected to anything other than the Illinois state senate. The Democrats could have run a corpse in '04 and won the race. Let him successfully defend his Senate seat, and I'll think about him for President. John Edwards falls into this camp as well. His total political record consists of a single partial term. The Democrats need to stop being afraid of running candidates with records. It seems as though they want to find a blank slate and let the voters imprint themselves on to it.

    1. Alan on Dec 18, 2006 10:54:19 AM:

      The problem with Democrats running people with records is that they are too well known, too liberal and stale. Where I will agree that experience is a wonderful thing, we Democrats have been running and losing on it for way too long (e.g. the "competence" of Dukakis). Remember the only Democratic presidents in the last 30 years were Clinton and Carter - neither of which had significant political time served prior to election.

    1. Tim on Dec 18, 2006 11:24:08 PM:

      blah trusting in democratic ideals when your a minority is always a loosing battle, I'd rather take my chances on the next generation, as defeatist as that sounds, if you count the votes it's just not there. Nor is the courage to make the stand.

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