10.11.09

Breaking the Ice

Obama knew he had an uphill battle in winning over major gay activists Saturday night. He gives good speech. It was a start.

A hallmark of being a great orator is knowing how to break the tension in a room by telling a joke. It's a high-low sort of thing, the kind President Obama is good at, and so that's how he opened Saturday night when he spoke to the large crowd at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, where the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner was taking place.

“It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady Gaga,” Obama began, and from there he was more or less home free.

The president spoke, the people in the room clapped, the president spoke some more, they roared.

At the very least, on Saturday night, the “gay community” got a guy who talked about being committed to our equality, who spoke eloquently about “hardworking Americans” that get tossed out of their jobs because of a “relationship” at home.

Eventually, everyone in attendance seemed to be on their feet, which was probably to be expected even if gay activists like Andrew Sullivan had been fuming all week that Obama had done about as much for them to be the guest-of-honor at the HRC dinner as he's done to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

"If Obama wants to support gay equality, he knows what to do," Sullivan wrote on his blog. "If HRC believes in gay equality, they also know what to do. So spare us the schmoozing and the sweet-talking and do it. Until then, Mr. President, why don't you have a nice steaming cup of shut-the-fuck-up?"

Or not. As we all know, Obama doesn't shut the fuck up. He talks and people listen, the press becomes largely forgiving, and the base shrugs and says "give the guy a little more time. He's got a lot on his plate."

If nothing else, Obama is an ameliorator-in-chief.

Plus, what are these fancy Washington gays going to do, anyway? Join the Republican Party?

Meghan McCain: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Makes America UnsafeAt the very least, on Saturday night, the "gay community" (an amorphous term, if there ever was one) got a guy who talked about being committed to our equality, who spoke eloquently about "hardworking Americans" that get tossed out of their jobs because of a "relationship" at home. He vowed to end Don't Ask, Don't tell, and said he would be calling on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

We got a president who spoke beautifully about kids who toss and turn in bed at night, fighting a "secret" that will soon have to be confronted.

We got a president who spoke of visiting with Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was murdered in a gay-bashing 11 years ago. "I promised her the passage of a hate-crimes bill," he said, then noted that said bill was finally passed this week after years of foot-dragging on Capitol Hill.

All that and he paid homage to the Gaga. If you are a straight male politician making a peace offering to a room filled with gays, you can do much worse than this.

Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Prior to joining The Beast, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine, where he worked for the past four and a half years. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.