December 18, 2013

The Post reports: “The White House announced Tuesday that President Obama, Vice President Biden and the first lady will not attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February, a pointed snub by an administration that is feuding with Russian leaders on a range of foreign policy and human rights issues. The U.S. delegation will be led by a former Cabinet secretary and a deputy secretary of state, and will include two openly gay athletes — tennis legend Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow — in an apparent bid to highlight opposition to Russia’s anti-gay laws.” Well — and you don’t read this often around here — bravo, Mr. President.

Tennis champion Billie Jean King along with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul will represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympics next year in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Tennis champion Billie Jean King will be among those representing the United States at the Sochi Winter Olympics. (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

I’ve argued for just such a snub for some time, so it pleases me no end that Obama has finally stepped up to the plate on even a small, symbolic issue of human rights. Did we wait too long, letting Europeans take the lead? Sure, but this is Obama we’re talking about, not Ronald Reagan. Did he only see the light when the human rights cause became a favorite cause of the left (gay rights)? You bet. He praised Putin’s stolen election, has been silent about kangaroo court trials and has nary a word to say about the female punk rock band thrown in jail. But you have to start somewhere.

In addition to the gay athletes, Obama might consider sending some democracy advocates and private citizens who labored for the Magnitsky law to punish human rights offenders. That would make it clear our concern for human rights doesn’t stop with gay Russians.

There is a school of thought that keeps people away from religious services. “I don’t believe,” they say, “So I’d be a hypocrite to go.” There is another viewpoint: Once you start practicing habits of faith you may develop some actual faith. I’m a believer in the second — actions foster habits, which in turn change how we think. And even if we don’t entirely change our thinking, what difference does it make if you do some good along the way or adopt some socially redeeming behaviors?

I hope this will be the case with the president we will have for the next three years. I don’t care if his heart is in the right place on human rights so long as, for whatever reason, he begins to act in defense of them. Once he does, maybe he’ll like the acclaim he gets and he’ll do more of it. Maybe he’ll branch out from support for gay rights to religious freedom and from there to robust support for ethnic minorities and women.

It is entirely fitting that Obama made his announcement on the day Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the House’s most ardent defender of human rights, announced his retirement. Obama is no Frank Wolf, but Obama’s announcement is a fitting, if unintended, compliment to the Republican representative whose heart is and was always with the oppressed and whose actions were consistently on the side of the persecuted.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.