President Obama covered a lot of ground on gay and lesbian rights in the middle of the four o’clock hour on Thursday. In the end, he wound up saying one thing and doing another.
In a cleverly worded statement, he vowed that “don’t ask, don’t tell” will end on his watch. He did not mean that he will end it. He passed the buck to Congress. (Obama’s statement was so muddied that the Washington Post had to, understandably, rewrite its headline to try to reflect what he and his administration were doing.)
Here’s how the hazy, foggy, blurry hour of misdirection went down:
At 4:19 p.m., Politico sent out an email news alert that “the Obama administration has asked for an emergency stay of a judge’s order banning worldwide enforcement of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law banning gays in the military.” The alert went on to say: “The Justice Department vows to appeal the ruling and argues that President Barack Obama favors an ‘orderly’ legislative repeal of the 1993 law.”
Only nine minutes later, at 4:28, Politico reported that the president told a young crowd on MTV, “We don’t make determinations about who we love. And that’s why I think that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.”
Obama’s remark came in response to a question on Twitter that asked whether he thought being gay or transsexual was a choice. In front of throngs of young people, he said, “I don’t think it’s a choice. I think people are born with a certain makeup, and we’re all children of God.” Nice words, backed up by a call for tolerance. And he promised that “don’t ask, don’t tell” will end on his watch.
Meanwhile, back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, his administration was announcing its plan to beg the higher courts to allow discrimination to actively continue.
Perhaps no one told the president before he walked into the lion cubs’ den that the White House would announce this plan while he was on MTV saying the opposite.