The New Republic’s Obama disappointments


The current print edition of The New Republic opens and closes with expressions of disappointment over President Obama’s perceived dropping of the ball on civil rights/human rights.

Up front, the editors criticize Obama on several fronts regarding gay rights — most notably, his failure to follow through on his pledge to repeal the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy:

… In all of this, nothing is more infuriating than Obama’s refusal to act on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It is true that the issue affects a relatively small number of gays and lesbians. But discrimination in our armed forces carries a potent symbolism: It tells an entire class of people that the country is not interested in their service. And it would be an easy problem to fix. As Nathaniel Frank argued at tnr Online last month, Obama may need Congress’s approval to officially repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but he has the legal authority to tell the Pentagon to stop enforcing the policy via executive order. He could do it tomorrow. As for the political risks: Obama should look at some polls. Unlike same-sex marriage, the question of whether gays should serve openly in the military is no longer a particularly controversial issue. According to Gallup, 69 percent of Americans believe gays should be able to serve openly. To put that number in perspective, it is 25 points higher than the percentage of Americans who endorse Obama’s handling of health care, 19 points higher than the percentage who currently support the war in Afghanistan, and 18 points higher than the percentage who approve of the administration’s economic policies. Obama is not afraid to push health care reform, send more troops to Afghanistan, or stand by his stimulus program–nor should he be. But why, when it comes to the far less controversial cause of gays serving in the military, is he apparently willing to punt? …

Then in the back Leon Wieseltier sides with those who say Obama should have come out stronger on the side of those taking to the streets in Iran:

… With their defense of Obama’s dilatoriness about the revolt in Tehran, American liberals compromised themselves. They succumbed to the Council on Foreign Relations view of the world. So it is important to be clear that the strong articulation of American principles by the American president when those principles are being bravely upheld by a people in revolt against a dictator–this is not only a statement of emotion, it is also an element of strategy. It emboldens the right side. It allies the United States with peoples against regimes, which is almost always the surest foundation for the American position. (I am not an Iran expert, unlike almost everyone I meet, but I find it hard to imagine that the young men and women suffering the blows of the Basij would not welcome our support, that they are in the streets with angry thoughts of Mossadegh. If these events have shown anything, it is that their enemy and our enemy are the same.) There is nothing more sweepingly in the interest of the United States in the Middle East than the withering away of the theocracy in Iran. Every blow struck against the structure of state power in Iran is a blow struck against Hezbollah and Hamas; and a blow has at last been struck. This is one of those instances in which our planners may have some use for our principles. I understand the urgency of the nuclear issue, of course. I doubt that those centrifuges will be negotiated away; but if there is any hope for diplomacy, it lies in a political transformation in Tehran. …

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