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02 October 2011

Praise: President Obama at the Human Rights Commission last night

Last night, President Obama spoke at the Human Rights Commission.  The video begins with a speech by outgoing head of the HRC Joe Solmonese.  Mr. Obama begins to speak at about 9:55 into the video.

Here are a few lines that caught my ear:

Every single American:  gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.  It's a pretty simple proposition.

The President is, of course, correct.  Equality is called for in the Founding Documents of the United States of America.  It is a simple concept, but will not be a simple achievement.

The President went on to enumerate his important achievements on that path to full equality

  • The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Law
  • Executive Order that hospitals that accept Medicare must allow same gender partners as visitors
  • Lifting of the HIV travel ban
  • Comprehensive National Strategy to fight HIV/AIDS
  • Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)
He then cited the biggest legislation that needs to be done next, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  As the President said, DOMA is in clear violation of the Constitution (both Article 4 and the 14th Amendment).  He has stopped defending its constitutionality in court, which has many Republicans upset.

Mr. Obama went on to speak against state efforts to further limit equality and against bullying.

We're not about restricting rights and restricting opportunity.  We're about opening up rights and opening up opportunity.  And treating each other generously and with love and respect.  And together we also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they are gay or transgender, that may be getting picked on or pushed around because they are different.  We've got to make sure that they know that there are adults that they can talk to.  That they are never alone.  That there is a whole world waiting for them, filled with possibility.  That's why we held a summit at the White House on bullying.  That's why we are going to continue to focus on this issue.  This isn't just kids being kids.  It's wrong.  It's destructive.  It's never acceptable.  And I want all those kids to know that the President and the First Lady are standing right by them every inch of the way.  I want them to know that we love them and care about them and they are not by themselves.  That's what I want them to know.

Mr. Obama spoke about his pending jobs legislation.  He then spoke about the bigger picture of current politics.

Now ultimately these debates we're having are about more than just politics.  They're about more than the polls and the pundits, and who is up and who is down.  This is a contest of values.  That's what at stake here.  This is a fundamental debate about who we are as a nation.  I don't believe, we don't believe in a small America, where we let our roads crumble, where we let our schools fall apart, where we stand by while teachers are laid off, while science labs are shut down, kids are dropping out.  We believe in a big America.  An America that invests in the future.  It invests in schools and highways and research and technology, the things that have helped make our economy the envy of the world.  We don't believe in a small America where we meet our fiscal responsibilities by abdicating every other responsibility we have, and where we just divvy up the government as tax breaks for those who need them the least, where we abandon the commitment we made to seniors through medicare and social security, and we say to somebody looking for work or a student who needs a college loan or a middle class family with a child who's disabled that you're on your own; that's not who we are.  We believe in a big America.  An America where everybody's got a fair shot and everyone pays their fair share.  An America where we value success, and the idea that anyone can make it in this country.  But also an America in which everyone does their part, including the wealthiest Americans, including the biggest corporations, to deal with the deficits that threaten our future.  

We don't believe in a small America.  We don't believe in the kind of smallness that says it's okay for a stage full of political leaders, one of whom could end up being the President of the United States, being silent when an American soldier is booed.  We don't believe in that.  We don't believe in standing silent when that happens.  We don't believe in them being silent since.  You want to be Commander in Chief?  You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it is not politically convenient.  We don't believe in a small America.  We believe in a big America, a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America, that values the service of every Patriot.  We believe in an America where we are all in it together and we see the good in one another.  And we live up to a creed that is as old as our founding, E Pluribus Unum, out of many one, and that includes everybody.  That's what we believe.  That's what we are going to be fighting for.  I am confident that's what the American people believe in.  I'm confident because of the changes we've achieved these past two and a half years, the progress that some folks said was impossible.  And I'm hopeful.  I am hopeful <cheers> I'm fired up, too.  <pause>  I am hopeful.  I am hopeful.  I am still hopeful.  Because of a deeper shift that we are seeing.  A transformation not only written into our laws but woven into the fabric of our society.  It's progress led, not by Washington but, by ordinary citizens.  

The speech continued.  I'm impressed by the rhetoric of the "We don't believe in a small America.  We believe in a big America."  I think that the old President Obama, the one with fire in his belly who can inspire millions, may finally be back.

Mr. Obama has accomplished a lot in the last several years, but mostly quietly.  He has allowed the Republicans to tell a number of big lies without adequately countering them.  We saw this early on when people complained about "Death Panels".  Republicans complain that government is bad, but this has not been adequately countered.  Republicans complain that we can't spend money that we don't have, but the economics of borrowing has not be used to explain how this Republican simplification is simply wrong.

The speech at the Human Rights Commission is not a major venue.  It is before a group who are already friendly to the Democrats and to President Obama.  As in the election of 2008, this type of fiery speech needs to be everywhere.  The economics of the United States and the fairness of the United States will be seriously hurt if one of Mr. Obama's competitors wins in 2012.