Leadership 101: Grade Obama


Gay Pride March celebrates new Same Sex Marriage law

A debate has been underway on the left about Barack Obama’s leadership on gay rights issues.  Generally everyone, on the right and on the left, believes that Obama is sympathetic. But should he be doing more, as New York Governor Mario Cuomo did more when he got same sex marriage passed by the New York state legislature.

On the one hand, there are those who don’t think that Obama is assertive enough. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, for instance, thinks that he wants to be liked by everyone and therefore equivocates:

He should draw inspiration from the gay community: one thing gays have to do, after all, is declare who they are at all costs.

On some of the most important issues facing this nation, it is time for the president to come out of the closet.

Long-time gay rights activist Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Dish, on the other hand, has come around to supportingObama’s community-organizer lead-from-behind style.  He says it gets more results that mere speeches, and he credits the president’s tactics for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The president can be effective, however, only with our help:

But when we [activists] have done our job – the education, the debate, the grass roots work, the intellectual framework – he will not stand in our way. He is to the gay rights movement where JFK was with the civil rights movement: waiting to be dragged to endorse us with the clarity we deserve.

Obama and no president should ever be regarded as a savior. In America, we save ourselves.

Dowd’s concern and Sullivan’s perspective got me thinking about a Lucille Clifton call-to-action following the assassination of Martin Luther King:

the meeting after the savior gone

what we decided is
you save your own self.
everybody so quiet
not so much sorry as
we was going to try and save you but
now i guess you got to save yourselves
(even if you don’t know
who you are
where you been
where you headed

Obama hasn’t died but a number have become disillusioned because he hasn’t fulfilled all the hopes and dreams that he inspired. Then again, a fair number of people, feeling that change wasn’t happening fast enough, had become disillusioned with Martin Luther King by 1968.  Both men would have liked to have saved us but now I guess we have to save ourselves.

And that’s the way it should be.  Charismatic leaders are all very fine.  But a leader can’t move mountains if we’re not helping him or her. If we figure out who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are headed, we allow our leaders to step into their strengths. The decades long push for same sex marriage did this necessary groundwork, with Friday’s legislation the result.


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  1. Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    One of the main complaints I have with President Obama is he appears (note, this is my perception of him) that he is much more comfortable / happy being Head of State rather than Chief Executive. However, our form of government combines the two office (three if you throw in Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces), unlike most European nations, e.g., England with the Queen as Head of State and Prime Minister as Chief Executive.

    His ‘lead from behind’ on nearly all legislative issues lead to no budgets for 2 years (and recall, the year of PPACA, the budget was ‘deemed as passed’, not actually passed), PPACA being written in such a way that we had to pass it to know what was in it, total incoherence on immigration, marriage, tax, and budget policies and legislation.

    And the Republican takeover of the House can only be blamed for the last 9 or so months, as the election was held in November (but I’ll give them a pass on the two months prior to election for campaigning chaos preventing anything useful being done in the House). Prior to that President Obama’s party had large, and at times Republican proof, majorities in both the House and the Senate.

    That last point is probably the source of much of the angst. It feels like squandered riches.

  2. Robin Bates
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    You of course know that I’ll see it a different way, Kristian. I believe that the Democrats had a veto-proof Congress for a few weeks. It took a while for Al Franken to be seated from Minnesota and, shortly after he was, Scott Brown was elected in Massachusetts. Here’s my version of what occurred: for better or worse, Obama tried to compromise with a party that was more interested in his failure than in saving America from the ruinous tax policies, deregulation measures, and wars of the Bush administration. He moved to the center (or what used to be the center) on a number of issues, including Obamneycare (to quote Tim Pawlenty), cap and trade to regulate emissions (once a Republican idea), conditions for immigrant amnesty (once a McCain idea), and so forth. Without negotiating, the Republicans were able to get passed a number of measures they once supported–so they stopped negotiating. The leftist critique of Obama is that, by trying to be bipartisan and bring the country together, he gave away the store. Whereas if he’s played hardball, he would have gotten genuine give-and-take negotiation. I’m not so critical–I think anyone who has gotten comprehensive health care passed has accomplished a lot. (And surely you believe that people should not be denied health care because of pre-existing conditions or unemployment.)

    Now candidates like Romney are trying to rewrite history and refuse to acknowledge just how bad the economy was in 2008 and how much worse it would be now if we hadn’t had the stimulus, TARP (started under Bush), the bail out of the car companies (started under Bush). Notice how I give Bush some credit on TARP and the car companies. Most Keynesean economists feel that the stimulus should have been bigger but Obama couldn’t get a bigger stimulus through a Senate that had only 59 Democrats, and we’re paying the price for that this year. Could Obama have won over some moderate Republicans? It seems any Republican who agrees to work with Obama at all is promptly punished by Tea Party Republicans, so the Republicans are walking lockstep in opposition to anything he suggests. Do you really think the deficit can be brought under control (a deficit, remember, set in motion by Bush tax cuts, 2 wars, and a prescription drug program, all paid for by cheap loans from China) without tax hikes as well as spending? Of course, Republicans under the Bush administration claimed that deficits didn’t matter.

    I see Obama as a pragmatist rather than an ideologue trying to fix problems. I see the Republicans in the grip of ideologues in a way similar to how the Democrats were in such a grip in the 1970’s. I think there are some cynics who feel that, if the country goes down, it will be good for Republicans. And maybe they’re right. But if the Congress doesn’t extend the debt ceiling by August, a lot of us are going to feel the hit in our retirement plans once again. And all for the sake of what? President Romney?

    I say, let’s do away with all ideological no-tax pledges and playing chicken with the economy and figure out a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases and entitlement reforms so that we can all benefit. I see Obama as more than ready to enter into such a dialogue. He’s a community organizer and give-and-take is what community organizers do. Saying “no” to all tax increases and the ending of subsidies, as Cantor and Kyl did as they walked away from the negotiating table, is not give and take.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Keeping the Civil Rights Dream Alive on August 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

    […] I shared this poem in a post two years ago to argue that those who were counting on Barack Obama to save them needed to get real and step up […]

  2. By “we have never hated black” on January 19, 2015 at 1:00 am

    […] I’ve written earlier on “the meeting after the savior gone,” which she wrote about King’s assassination. In it she acknowledges the confusion of many African Americans. After  declaring, “now i guess you got to save yourselves,” the poem concludes with a parenthesis: […]


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