Tim McCarthy: Obama Has Spent Almost No Political Capital on the Gay Community
Timothy Patrick McCarthy is a Lecturer on History and Literature, Adjunct Lecturer on Public Policy, and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He also teaches in the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
A historian of social movements, Dr. McCarthy graduated with honors from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, where he completed his dissertation under the direction of Eric Foner. Dr. McCarthy's research agenda focuses on the relationship between human rights and social movements in three main areas: race relations and civil rights; LGBT politics, policy, and advocacy; and modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
McCarthy has published two books, The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition (New Press, 2003) and Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New Press, 2006), and his third book, Protest Nation: The Radical Roots of Modern America, is forthcoming from the New Press in 2010.
An outspoken and respected leader in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Dr. McCarthy was a founding member of Barack Obama's National LGBT Leadership Council, serves on the Board of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, and, in 2009, delivered Harvard's prestigious Nicholas Papadopoulos Lecture, entitled "Stonewall's Children: Life, Loss, and Love after Liberation." He lectures widely on topics ranging from history and literature to politics and human rights.
Question: Why hasn’t Obama overturned DADT?
Tim McCarthy: Well I think that he has not signed an executive order to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell because he wants to do all these legislatively. I think the right is beating them. The conservatives and the folks who used to dominate the republican or the Republican Party itself is beaten down and there’s all sorts of internal discussions going on right now about how to bring back the Republican Party. Who was the leader of the Republican Party? Will the Republican Party bounce back in time for the next midterm elections or the next presidential elections and, you know, that’s a conversation they could have. I’m not particularly interested in helping them figure that out.
But you know at the end of the day the one thing we can be sure will bring them back from their sickness or their death or whatever you want to say about them is an executive order for President Obama getting rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell or an executive order over, you know, over ruling DOMA, right? If President Obama can be tagged as an activist chief executive, right, like the activist judges in Massachusetts who gave me the right to marry my partner in the common law, right, if he can be tagged that way a narrative of activism and of homosexual agenda can be pinned to him and it can help resuscitate the right. That’s not something the LBGT movement needs right now, that’s not something Obama administration needs right now. That the only people that need that right now are the Republican Party and the right wing pro-family folks who hate homosexuals and that’s not a gift I’m interested in giving them and so I admire the president even though I too an impatient and I too am frustrated and I wish that he would say things publicly that he doesn’t seem willing to say.
He has spent almost no political capital on our community since he took office. I know he has a lot to do and I respect that. I want him to get to doing all those things that need to be done, ending wars, resuscitating the economy and getting universal health care. All those things are important to me too and all those things are important to me than gay marriage honestly. If you were to tell me right now that you would take away my right to get married in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but you would end both Iraq war and the Afghanistan War and bring universal health care to the United States, I would give up my right to marry yesterday and, you know, I shouldn’t have to make that choice right?
If the president can spend his political capital wisely and get the Senate and the House of Representative to legislatively get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell with the blessing of the senior brass in the military during the time of war and he can make a national security argument as well as the civil rights argument to do that and he can do the same thing for Defense of Marriage Act and get that repealed legislatively then we have much more political capital as a community if we can wait for that. I don’t want us to wait indefinitely and I don’t think that we should necessarily have patience if we were in the movement, we should continue to push him to be more vocal to get Congress to move on these things because he can do that, right? He got Congress to move on climate change last week he could get Congress to move on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It seems to me that what he is trying to do is he is trying to lay a strong foundation and a strong groundwork with a whole range of groups including Congress and what Don't Ask, Don't Tell with the senior brass of the military to be able to do this legislatively so it has more weight and it has more capital and it doesn’t you know kick the hornet’s nest again with an executive order that is seen as advancing this gay agenda against, you know, all those people in America really love traditional families.
Recorded on: July 1, 2009
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