Obama's Tiresome Rhetorical Trick

The president tells LGBT people not to be patient, then chooses the least likely to succeed strategy on ENDA

We all have our rhetorical tics and tricks. For example, mine include the excessive use of clauses such as ”however,” ”actually” and ”for example.” I also tend to spend the first couple paragraphs of any column making jokes and references that are only tangentially related to the subject I’m writing about.

However, that’s no guarantee the jokes will be funny.

President Obama speaks at LGBT Pride reception

President Obama speaks at LGBT Pride reception

(Photo by Todd Franson/Metro Weekly)

I was reminded of this last week when President Obama spoke at the White House’s annual LGBT Pride reception. The president’s verbal tics are as well known as old Saturday Night Live catchphrases — every time he says ”Let me be clear,” someone might as well call out, ”More cowbell!”

But Obama’s particular rhetorical trick with the LGBT community is his repeated urging for us not to be patient, followed by declaring that he won’t do the thing we’ve been impatiently asking him to do — in this case, to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to have nondiscrimination policies that include LGBT employees. This is not a big ask for our community. The president clearly has the authority. He has explicitly said that executive action is an important and necessary part of advancing LGBT and other civil rights issues. He promised to do so when he was running for his first term.

Yet here were are in 2013 and he simply refuses to do it.

The official White House line is that he wants to pursue a legislative strategy, which is why Obama mentioned the legislative repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” back at the end of 2010. Of course, that molasses-paced legislative process resulted in a lame-duck nail-biter that barely squeaked through before Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) got enough votes to recklessly abuse the filibuster.

The idea that we should be putting our sole hope in a legislative strategy for a transgender-inclusive ENDA – in a Senate that threatened to scuttle immigration reform that even Republicans admit is crucial to their long-term survival as a political party over the inclusion of gay couples – is simply ludicrous. And that’s even before we get to the Republican mad dog caucus in the House.

There is a two-pronged approach to take here: an executive order that reinforces and grows protections for thousands of LGBT employees across the nation, while helping to build increased support for ENDA by demonstrating the positive effect (or lack of negative effect) in the many, many congressional districts that represent federal contractors.

Yet the president insists on pursuing a one-pronged approach, even as that one-prong is the least likely to succeed given the Republican recalcitrance and control on the Hill. It really makes no sense. If there is a logical reason for Obama to not sign an executive order that he previously promised to sign and that fits within his own stated approach to civil rights, someone at the White House needs to explain it. Brushing off inquiries by referring to the ”hypothetical executive order,” as spokesmen have done, doesn’t cut it. Jay Carney rotely repeating that the president believes in pursuing a legislative strategy on ENDA has become insulting.

And President Obama standing before a roomful of LGBT people, telling them not to be patient and then citing DADT repeal as a model for ENDA is, frankly, a finger in the eye.

For a president who has undeniably done so much for LGBT equality, these rhetorical tics and tricks are maddening, and the political strategy on ENDA indecipherable. He needs to explain why he’s chosen only one option when he can pursue two. Or he needs to bite the bullet and sign the executive order.

Actually, I’m getting awfully damn impatient.

Sean Bugg is the co-publisher of Metro Weekly. He can be reached at sbugg@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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