There seems to be much ado about President Barack Obama being the first “gay President. Newsweek and the New Yorker magazines devoted their latest covers to this cause du jour. I get it but I’m not comfortable with it. This kind of hyperbole was used when then-President Bill Clinton was declared America’s first “black” president.
I’m sorry, but Bill Clinton isn’t “black.” And President Barack Obama isn’t “gay.” And while both did and continue to do great things during and after their presidencies to advance equal rights, I take exception to this notion that just because someone advocates for something, they become it.
If we in the press are going to use this standard, then I’d suggest we reach back and declare the late-President Lyndon Johnson to be the first “black” president. After all, he exhibited leadership by sending civil rights legislation up to the Congress and then bullying it through as only he could have past racist southern Democrats and reluctant northern Republicans. Johnson even declared the same day he physically signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that by doing so, he would deliver “the South to the Republican party for a long time to come.”
Actually, let’s go back even further and declare President Abraham Lincoln the first “black” president. That neat little document known as the Emancipation Proclamation certainly entitles him to that honor right? But wait. He then followed that up by ushering through the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring slavery to be illegal throughout the entire United States.
See, that’s leadership.
I voted for President Barack Obama. Chances are, I will again. He brought this country back from the brink of economic ruin and has been a calm and steady hand in the White House, something I greatly appreciate. His efforts so far in the arena of equal gay rights are, yes, unparalleled. Maybe I’m selfish, maybe I want more than just a declaration of support. Maybe I want the President to do more than just tell me he thinks I should be able to marry the man I love (who doesn’t exist but I keep the faith!). Maybe I want him to stand in Lincoln’s shoes or LBJ’s shoes and actually send legislation up to the Congress and dare them to be against me. I know he’s “with me” but frankly that’s just a step above the wink and nod the Republicans have been giving gay people for years.
Speaking of the Republicans, let me be clear: I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my civil rights aren’t even remotely a part of their agenda, an agenda controlled by rightwing extremists. This isn’t the same Republican party that was led in the Senate by the likes of Everett Dirksen (IL) in the 1960’s. The Senate of 2012 is a shadow of what it was just 50 years ago. Back in the “good ole days,” Senators actually debated bills. Back then, they actually knew each other; their families knew each other. Filibusters were few and far between and when bills were filibustered, Senators actually stood up on the Floor and owned their dilatory tactics. Hell, some of them even read cookbooks and used religion to deny blacks equal rights. Most of that was done by southern Democrats by the way. But more than a handful of Republicans stood out and used their positions of power to empower the downtrodden and those who were being discriminated against. Can you imagine the Senate Republican Leader today, taking to the Senate Floor in favor of my equal rights? That’s the shame of the current state of politics. That’s one reason why the public currently gives Congress a 13% approval rating. It’s actually pathetic.
I’m sure I’ll take a rash of hell for writing that Obama isn’t the first gay POTUS. Many on the left already think I don’t “defend” the President enough. And frankly many on the right think I defend him too often. Perhaps that’s a good thing, that I hold both sides of the political aisle to task for not doing enough. After all, it takes acts of courage for me to stand up and take notice. I want this President to succeed more than any Commander-in-Chief in my lifetime. Calling him the first gay president, however, isn’t to me up to snuff.
I’ll end by asking this question: what will we in the press do when America DOES elect its first openly gay President? Therein lies the rub. After all, we will have already given that title away to someone whom isn’t gay. And then will we have lessened the historic nature of it all?