I agree with those who are arguing today that this was a bad move by the White House:
A surprising new rift opened between the White House and the gay rights movement after White House officials revealed Wednesday that President Obama would not sign an executive order sought by activists to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Pressed on this at the White House briefing, spokesman Jay Carney insisted that Obama had decided against the executive order in order to build support for a more comprehensive solution — the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit all employer descrimination against LGBT employees. But as reporters increduously asked Carney today, if that’s the goal, why not start with this step?
Joe Sudbay reports that while gay rights advocates are happy that Obama is pursuing the broader solution, they still feel angry and betrayed by the White House punt on this executive order, which had been a priority for them. Meanwhile, social conservative groups are applauding the White House decision.
Some have suggested that the White House move was a political move to fend off criticism from right-wingers who will never support him anyway. I won’t go that far. But it does seem clear that the White House needs to figure out how it’s going to handle these issues — Obama and his advisers are coming across as too cute by half here.
There’s no denying that Obama and his advisers have a very good overall record on gay rights. But on this issue, and on gay marriage — two hugely important topics to the gay community — there’s too little clarity and too much of a whiff of excuse-making and political calculation.
Obama is trapped in a difficult dynamic that is in some ways the product of having done the right thing in other areas involving gay rights. Because of his real accomplishments in those areas, gay advocates are fully convinced he really believes in full equality for gay and lesbian Americans — and only grow angrier and more impatient when he hedges or equivocates on key issues. I can see why White House advisers would find this dynamic frustrating, but the simple truth is that it isn’t going away until he stops doing it.