Ben Finzel

Question: What Did We Expect? Answer: More Than This.

Filed By Ben Finzel | July 06, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics

Barack Obama has been criticized for what he has not done as President on the myriad LGBTQ issues that he addressed during the campaign. I don't have much to add to the "what," but I have a thought about the "why."

For me, this is an issue of expectations. Put simply, when you expect fast food and go to a fast food restaurant, you're not disappointed. When you expect fine dining and get table scraps, you are disappointed. That's what's happening here.

Candidate Obama made a lot of positive statements about LGBTQ equality during the campaign, promising action on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, hate crimes, employment non-discrimination and other issues. His strong oratory and willingness to directly raise issues such as homophobia in front of diverse audiences (including churches) raised our expectations and led many of us to believe that President Obama would be the "fierce advocate" that he promised us.

We didn't just think we'd have a place at the table, we also thought we'd be served five-star cuisine.

We all know what happened next.

If I may totally overwork this analogy, we've found that our place is at the "kiddie table" in the kitchen and we're being served only table scraps - when they decide to serve us at all.

Why are so many of us angry, disappointed or upset? Because we expected so much more. If we hadn't been promised so much, we wouldn't be so upset now. It's all about expectations.

Candidate Obama's campaign rhetoric was so inspiring and inclusive that many of us were carried away. Perhaps if he hadn't been so persuasive, it would not have been such a dramatic fall from grace.

One of the lessons is this: when you switch from campaigning to governing, the challenge is to under-promise and over-deliver.

As a DC resident and gay man, I'm accustomed to promises from the federal government without much, if any, follow-through. On DC voting rights issues, for example, I have pretty low expectations. After campaigning with our mayor on voting rights, President Obama can't even be bothered to put the "taxation without representation" license plates on the presidential limousine.

But I had high hopes for action by Obama on gay issues. And I count myself among the disappointed.

So, what's next? President Obama needs to hit "reset" on LGBTQ issues and start again.

He should frankly and fully address what he intends to do - and when - and move beyond the platitudes and promises to a specific list of actions (and no, last week's White House event did not accomplish that).

He should be straightforward about what he actually intends to do, not what he thinks we want to hear. And he should remember that raising expectations means you accept the responsibility to fulfil the promises you make.

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