THE BLOG

POTUS' part-time principles

08/18/2010 04:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last week, President Obama stood on principle. At an Iftar dinner at the White House celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the President announced of his belief in the right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan because of the constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Politico described it like this:

Taking a political risk in the interest of the pluralistic vision that has always been central to his political identity, President Obama will take a strong stand in favor of a mosque near Ground Zero in remarks at the White House Iftar Dinner tonight.

Obama, echoing Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and spurning national polls, virtually all Republican leaders, and many members of his own party, cast the controversy as a test of tolerance.

Those who believe in basic constitutional rights welcome this development. We should commend the President for standing on principle and honoring his oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

Mike Allen later reported in Playbook the process that lead to the President's announcement at the dinner (emphasis added):

EXCLUSIVE: A White House official says an aide raised the "Ground Zero" mosque with President Obama during a meeting on other topics last week and Obama said: "This isn't one the president of the United States can duck." The official recalled: "There wasn't a lot of debate because he made it clear that he WAS going to take it on." 



--A top official tells us the White House knew the polls were decisively against the mosque: "We had no illusions about this. He didn't take this on as a political strategy. He took it on because it was a matter of fundamental principle. One of the reasons we work for him is that he doesn't sit there with a political calculator on these big, tough issues that come along. There was never any hesitation about the decision, and he has absolutely no regrets about it. He understands the emotions swirling around it and the horrific events that occurred there. But he doesn't believe shifting from our moorings as a country on questions like religious freedom -- treating one faith differently than another -- is the right answer. It would be a betrayal of who we are.

This sounds like the Obama who campaigned on change and gave us something to hope for. Something here really irks me, though. President Obama is standing on part-time principles. Only sometimes will he make a solid argument for the undeniable rights of a minority.

As a state Senate candidate in 1996, Barack Obama said on a signed questionnaire for a gay and lesbian newspaper in Chicago:

I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.

Back in 1996, Barack Obama took a principled stand on marriage equality. In 2010, he has regressed and abandoned that position. That's part-time principles.

Since the President has taken office, we've seen some amazing developments in the fight to win marriage equality: the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that denying civil marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples was unconstitutional; New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine each passed legislation providing for equal marriage rights; the freedom to marry suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the polls in Maine; and recently Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional by a Federal judge.

These developments have provided ample opportunity for the White House to, at a minimum, acknowledge the deep emotional highs and lows being experienced by the LGBT community as we fight to win civil equality. However, the WH has offered very little, sometimes making a cursory statement and other times being stunningly silent. Sometimes the silence is the worst; other times cursory statements are worse.

Increasingly, courts are affirming marriage for gays and lesbians as an undeniable constitutional right. The President is backing himself into a corner in which he will no longer be able to play coy on the issue of marriage quality or defer to staff to twist his position into something more than it is. He didn't campaign on part-time change or part-time hope and we don't need a President with part-time principles.