I was overwhelmed by kids and pals and motorcycles and beer over the weekend—more or less in that order, which is good—so I was only getting snatches of public commentary about President Obama's speech on gay issues at the Human Rights Dinner Saturday night.
So I experienced the thing like most Americans, I guess.
Yet, I had a family member in D.C. rallying over the weekend and I have a pretty big circle of other friends and family to whom these issues have real, day to day consequences. (I did play on a women's football team, you'll recall.)
So I was really interested to hear the reaction to the speech, which I had allowed myself to hope would be a landmark event, like Obama's tremendously substantive and wise speech on race, back in 2008.
All I was hearing in the wake of the speech, though, were pundits' perspectives on strongly Obama or didn't promise to end "don't-ask, don't tell." The speech itself was being thrown out; only the underlying policy was being considered.
So I figured: The speech must have been pretty lame. Reading it this morning, though, I came across some pretty strong passages:
It's not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience for African Americans petitioning for equal rights a half century ago.
My expectation is that when you look back on these years, you will see a time in which we put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians—whether in the office or on the battlefield. You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men and two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman. You will see a nation that's valuing and cherishing these families as we build a more perfect union—a union in which gay Americans are an important part. I am committed to these goals. And my administration will continue fighting to achieve them.
Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let's say a young man, will struggle and fail to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he's held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us—on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.
I believe the future is bright for that person For while there will be setbacks and bumps along the road, the truth is that our common ideals are far stronger than any division that some might sow. These ideals, when voiced by generations of citizens, are what made it possible for me to stand here today. These ideals are what made it possible for the people in this room to live freely and openly when for most of history that would have been inconceivable. … That's the promise we're called to fulfill. Day by day, law by law, changing mind by mind, that is the promise we are fulfilling.
That's a pretty good speech. And, contrary to the claims of Obama haters, giving good speeches that say the right things to domestic and international audiences is a huge portion of a president's job. (For instance, we don't know much about Reagan's back-channel negotiations with Gorbachev, we remember and give credit to his words, "evil empire," and "tear down this wall.")
But if this speech didn't move even its allies to say any more than, "We'll just have to fuckin' see when he repeals 'don't ask don't tell,'" then we really are entering a new phase in the arch of this national Obama phenomenon that began in 2004.
A master communicator like Obama must sense it as surely as we do: Some rubber, one of these days soon, must meet some road.