Commentary Magazine


Topic: Second Inaugural

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on Obama’s Gay Marriage “Evolution”

One of the most memorable moments for many liberal activists from Monday’s inauguration came with President Obama’s remarks on gay rights. Obama made two references to gay rights during his speech; the first mention (Stonewall) came juxtaposed with mention of Seneca Falls and Selma, locations famous for advances in women’s rights and civil rights, respectively. Obama’s second mention was far more overt:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Quietly yesterday, however, Obama press secretary Jay Carney tempered those remarks. The Washington Examiner reports:

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One of the most memorable moments for many liberal activists from Monday’s inauguration came with President Obama’s remarks on gay rights. Obama made two references to gay rights during his speech; the first mention (Stonewall) came juxtaposed with mention of Seneca Falls and Selma, locations famous for advances in women’s rights and civil rights, respectively. Obama’s second mention was far more overt:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Quietly yesterday, however, Obama press secretary Jay Carney tempered those remarks. The Washington Examiner reports:

The White House reaffirmed the president’s position that the issue should be decided by the states, rather than the federal government.

“The president believes that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the States,” Carney asserted at the White House Press Briefing today when asked by a reporter about the issue.

Before the election (and before Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage became complete) I expressed doubts about the depth of Obama’s dedication to the cause off of which he has fundraised heavily. As the situation for gays across the world in Egypt, Iran, and Libya (to name a few) continues to deteriorate, President Obama’s dedication to the cause of gay rights seems to only extend to giving lip service to vague promises of “equality” in the U.S. without any tangible policy advancements or proposals attached to them. While it may cost Obama too much political capital to move gay marriage to the forefront of his agenda, if Obama were truly dedicated to the cause of gay rights, perhaps his focus, even if it’s just in the form of talk, should extend to the human rights abuses suffered by gays worldwide.

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Obama’s Two Dangerous Sentences

Bill Kristol considers the most dangerous sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address to be the one endorsing the “lesson” that we are heirs to “those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends …” (emphasis added):

Surely President Obama should have said this: “we are also heirs to those who won the peace as well as the war…” But he didn’t say that. The formulation Obama chose—”and not just the war”—suggests that Obama believes that it’s no big deal to win a war, and the greater achievement is winning the peace. With respect to World War II, this view is ludicrous. With respect to today’s world, this view is dangerous.

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Bill Kristol considers the most dangerous sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address to be the one endorsing the “lesson” that we are heirs to “those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends …” (emphasis added):

Surely President Obama should have said this: “we are also heirs to those who won the peace as well as the war…” But he didn’t say that. The formulation Obama chose—”and not just the war”—suggests that Obama believes that it’s no big deal to win a war, and the greater achievement is winning the peace. With respect to World War II, this view is ludicrous. With respect to today’s world, this view is dangerous.

We used to end wars responsibly by winning them, and we won the subsequent peace not so much by offering friendship as by occupying defeated foes and transforming their system of government. That is the way those in World War II, to whom we are heirs, did it. But these days we don’t win wars; we leave them behind and announce our pursuit of “peace in our time” by other means. A few sentences after the one cited by Kristol, Obama used what Mannie Sherberg at Boker tov, Boulder! calls “the most infamous, the most ignominious, the most shameful four-word phrase in all of modern history,” in the following paragraph in the inaugural address:

“America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad … We will support democracy … And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice … because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.” [Emphasis added]. 

Sherberg also notes Obama’s “utter failure to mention the cardinal fact of our time: that America is at war with a worldwide totalitarian ideology … and that we must therefore, before anything else, make sure we win that war.” Perhaps that is too much to ask from an administration that officially removed the word “jihad” from its vocabulary and changed “terrorism” to “man-caused disasters,” but one wonders what Iran and Israel make of Obama’s use of the phrase “peace in our time” and his failure to state — in his paragraph covering America’s role in the world–that America is prepared to use force, if necessary, against “unacceptable” threats.

It reminds one of Obama’s unfortunate definition in 2009 of the phrase “never again,” which for him has only an aspirational rather than an operational significance–rendering it in his 2009 speech simply a kind of hope for an idyllic time in the future, like “peace in our time.” 

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