Q ... do you think that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional?That's exactly what I would ask him. You may remember my dissecting his MTV townhall last week and showing you how evasive he was about that.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s not a simple yes or no question, because I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court. And I’ve got to be careful, as President of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head.See? Infuriating. He's the President. He took an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" — "to the best of [his] ability." He won the Presidency in part because of his high achievement at Harvard Law School. He accepted responsibility for the U.S. military. His administration is fighting to defend DADT in courts. This issue didn't pop up yesterday, so his answer couldn't possibly be "just off the top of [his] head. He sure as hell better have an answer to the question. This preamble to his answer is therefore either a lie or an outrage.
I think that -- but here’s what I can say.Thanks for revealing that you know you are withholding what you really think.
I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is wrong. I think it doesn’t serve our national security, which is why I want it overturned. I think that the best way to overturn it is for Congress to act. In theory, we should be able to get 60 votes out of the Senate. The House has already passed it. And I’ve gotten the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say that they think this policy needs to be overturned -- something that’s unprecedented.That's his canned answer, which was also served up at the MTV townhall. It's completely nonresponsive to the question.
And so my hope and expectation is, is that we get this law passed. It is not just harmful to the brave men and women who are serving, and in some cases have been discharged unjustly, but it doesn’t serve our interests -- and I speak as Commander-in-Chief on that issue.If you really believe it is that harmful and unjust, then how do you resist the conclusion, under the case law, that it is unconstitutional? Even at the level of minimal scrutiny, what is the rational basis for this law? You are saying — in so many words — that there is no rational basis, so why do you not conclude that it is unconstitutional? Are you lying when you intone your criticism of DADT, or are you lying when you purport to adhere to the sort of constitutional analysis that is done by the kind of people you nominate to be on the Supreme Court?
Are you trying to say you'd have joined Justice Scalia's dissent in Lawrence v. Texas? Here's Scalia: "What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new 'constitutional right' by a Court that is impatient of democratic change. It is indeed true that 'later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,'; and when that happens, later generations can repeal those laws. But it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best." Hello? That's what Obama is saying about Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Back to the transcript:
Let me go to the larger issue, though, Joe, about disillusionment and disappointment.Oh, yes! The larger issue is how people feel about Barack Obama. Constitutional rights just aren't that large compared to the grand question of Me. And apparently Joe doesn't have the nerve to stop the President and point out that there has been no answer to the question. The President has called him by name and wants to talk about his feelings.
I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history....But no other President directly inspired the hopes of gay people and won big support with promises like you did. You're not even saying that you're better than all those other Presidents, only that none of them were any better. Your support for "the LGBT community" is as good as George Washington's. Thanks a lot.
On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I have been as systematic and methodical in trying to move that agenda forward as I could be given my legal constraints, given that Congress had explicitly passed a law designed to tie my hands on the issue.Admit it: You love having your hands tied like that. Because you're fighting against a legal decision that deemed DADT unconstitutional! The rope of legislation was untied, and here you are begging for other judges to tie you back up again. Don't ask me to believe you don't love the bondage.
And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.I'll be honest with you... Speaking of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's a "tell." He's lying. "I’ll be honest with you" means I'm about to lie to you.
Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.Speaking of time, he's really trying to run the clock out on this interview. He's also, I imagine, ashamed of what he finds himself needing to say. He wants to identify with King, but he knows he's on the wrong side of King when he asks gay people to wait longer. Obama sounds like an old man rifling through his memories for something relevant to say. He calls “Letter from Birmingham Jail" "[o]ne of my favorite pieces of literature" — as if it's all about him and people who are waiting for their rights to be recognized are fascinated by what pleasure reading he enjoys. Under the circumstances of this conversation, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is or should be nagging at his conscience. ("Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of ... injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.")
So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing...Begrudge! That he would even think of that word suggests these people are annoying him!
... but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.The short answer to Sudbay's original answer was: Don't Ask.
Q So I have another gay question. (Laughter.)I am resisting typing curse words here. Look at Sudbay abasing himself. Now these rights he must care about are reduced to jocose "gay questions." Something to laugh at. There indeed was a time, and it was not too long ago, that the idea of gay rights itself seemed funny to people. And Sudbay allows himself to get pushed back toward that place. The President treats the remark as if it were an apology. He says "It's okay, man." Man. See? He's a cool guy. He's taming Sudbay.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s okay, man. (Laughter.)
Q And this one is on the issue of marriage. Since you’ve become President, a lot has changed. More states have passed marriage equality laws. This summer a federal judge declared DOMA unconstitutional in two different cases. A judge in San Francisco declared Prop 8 was unconstitutional. And I know during the campaign you often said you thought marriage was the union between a man and a woman, and there -- like I said, when you look at public opinion polling, it’s heading in the right direction. We’ve actually got Republicans like Ted Olson and even Ken Mehlman on our side now. So I just really want to know what is your position on same-sex marriage?Another good question. Sudbay came prepared. Let's see if he lets Obama push him back again.
THE PRESIDENT: Joe, I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are. (Laughter.) But I’ll say this --
Q I just want to say, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you this question.Oh, don't beg, Joe. Don't apologize.
THE PRESIDENT: Of course.
Q People in our community are really desperate to know.
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a fair question to ask.That's big of him.
I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.Check out those weird plurals: understandings of the traditional definitions. That's another tell. He is lying, I presume. His opposition to same-sex marriage is, quite simply and obviously, politically expedient. It is impossible for me to believe that Obama, coming from his academic background, is hung-up on the traditional definition — or "definitions" — of marriage. He's posing as a seeker of truth, slowly coming round.
But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine.Attitudes? I thought he was into traditional definitions.
And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.So is he saying that previously he had an attitude that was antagonistic to gay people and by extensive social contact with gay people, he came around to perceiving them as fully human? I just don't believe that. And if I did, I would think less of him.
And I care about them deeply.You know, your position on the rights of others should not depend on whether they are your friends. That's not the way law works. People have rights whether you care about them or not. And rights don't spring into existence because you care about the people who want them.
And so while I’m not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about. That’s probably the best you’ll do out of me today. (Laughter.)Laughter. Oh, it's so lovely sitting with the President in the Roosevelt Room. Something that I think a lot about. Men have thought more clearly in jail.
Later, the conversation comes back to DADT, and the President intimates that he will try to push its repeal during the lame duck session of Congress. He makes an effort to shift the blame to the Republicans, especially John McCain, and he indicates that it will be a problem getting the votes for cloture. (He loves that problem, I'll bet. It's so helpful to appear to want to act and have your hands tied.)
He wonders why the Log Cabin Republican are pursuing their court case, when they could instead try to get a few Republican Senators to vote for repeal. He says he doesn't "understand the logic of" using the courts when you could go to Congress, but of course he does. People conceive of their equality in terms of their individual rights — which don't depend on the support of political majorities and supermajorities. As a Harvard-trained lawyer and sometime law professor, he knows that. He knows why people go to courts. I don't buy his understanding of the logic. Or should I say his understandings of the logics?