Phil Reese

John Aravosis' "Don't Ask/Don't Give" has the wrong focus

Filed By Phil Reese | November 14, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Blue Dog Democrats, DCCC, Democrats, DNC, DNC boycott, Don't Ask Don't Give, dscc, John Aravosis

Let me preface this by reminding everyone that my first Bilerico post ever was a critique of the President's LGBT record. 2129631317_e3d3660f2a.jpgThat was this past Spring. We are now getting on into Winter, and I still believe the President has not acted correctly on an Executive Order lifting the military gay ban, or ending the misguided practice of not accepting gay blood donors.

But John Aravosis is going to throw the game by singling out the President in his point-by-point Democratic donation "pause" manifesto. This is a mistake with gigantic implications.

What's Right

John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay are right on when they encourage gays and lesbians to stop blindly pouring money into the DNC. I don't have to join this boycott: I am this boycott.

I've never donated to the party, and probably never will. I've always advocated for choosing to spend your money wisely by cherry-picking individual candidates who you believe in, and not letting your dollars get spread around to everyone, whether or not they stand up for you.

John and Joe are full on correct in calling the LGBT community out on this. We need delivery, and the party just can't do that. We should put our money to much better use by focusing all of our assets on getting elected true allies.

What's Not

The Americablog non-boycott boycott, however, spends too much time attacking the President, making this an obviously personal matter. This same President that has already done more for the LGBT community in his first year than any previous president in four or eight years ever has. I do love President Clinton, but his eight years in office where by no means a queer carnival. The law was changed more positively in our favor in one swoop during the Bush Administration (Lawrence V. Texas) than in all eight Clinton years. Our President may be a flaky friend, but he's a friend nonetheless.

John Aravosis is the reason I'm a gay activist today, and he very generously posted my video last week (with some very flattering description) for which I am very grateful. Though I was already a progressive issues activist, I never thought I'd be a queer rights activist until I began receiving John's emails almost ten years ago now. Now, the top priority in my life is serving our queer community. But I've not always agreed with John--especially when it comes to transgender issues--and this is another instance where I must speak up.

The idea here is superb, John, but the message is lost in this personal vendetta against the President. I think John and Joe need to reevaluate their message and refocus this boycott so it targets who it really needs to target: the DNC, the DCCC and the DSCC.

I see the merits of targeting the President; as the sitting President is traditionally the leader of his party, and tends to have a lot of clout to get Congress in line. But we don't have a traditional set-up this year. Enter the "Blue Dogs." The blue dogs see no problem openly defying the President and the party's agenda. Why? When they caucus, they give the Democrats the majority they need to hold the gavel. So the party will keep funding them.

But they vote with the Republicans. Its a hostage situation. Look at the "Stupak amendment." This dirty trick may have gotten health care reform passed in the House, but at what cost? The Democrats threw the women of America--especially the poor women--under the bus to appease these Republicans in Democrat clothing. Republicans who voted for the amendment didn't vote for Health Care Reform--it was all a red herring. The President was powerless to step in and stop this from happening.

We need to help secure those 'Blue Dog' districts so that we don't need those fools for the majority anymore. But this is a goal that we can concentrate on in the future. For now, let's try to make our focus really precise. We need to give the DNC some ammo to finally get these blue dogs in line, especially when it comes to LGBT rights. We need to target these rogues.

A More Precise Strategy

Forget the President for now. Forget everything else. We have a list of 37 "Blue Dogs" that are refusing to commit on ENDA.

All of you that are able need to call up their offices today and say "If you have not cosponsored ENDA by the end of this week, I'm writing a $1,000 check to your primary opponent.

Ten or twelve of those phone calls are going to get them sweating. Call one or call all 37 and let them know their opponent is getting a big boost in one week if they don't sign on to ENDA and come out strong. This is really urgent as rumors are abounding the House is getting cold feet on ENDA.

The President does not dictate the law. We just got rid of a dictator. Remember him? We don't want another one. We want the President (who, by the way, cosponsored Illinois' ENDA) to sign these laws. He has repeatedly vowed he will, but we have to get them to his desk, first. If we want him to sign ENDA, we have to get tough on these blue dogs who want to play coward.

The DC orgs are sure that we'll get three or more of these uncommitted to support ENDA for the majority, but I'm not so sure. A "yes" vote on a law is a lot more politically risky than coming out and supporting it without being on record on the floor, or cosponsoring it. If we can't make them say yes now, I don't want to bank on any of them voting yes when the heat is on. These Conservacrats have proven already that the party can't count on them. We need to get them in line, and use the only thing that works on them. Not Presidential pressure: financial.

They don't want a difficult primary. If there's any chance that they can avoid gushes of money going to their primary challengers by supporting one bill, it could happen.

Forget the President for now, and lets focus on what's important. This isn't about who's pissed us off, its about getting this done, and getting it done right. I hope you all join me in making those phone calls right now. Joe and John, I hope you join me as well, because I truly believe you're on the right track. Let's just focus all of our strength in the right direction.

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Well, that was a well written critique of the DADG move but I think Phil, much like Alex's blaming of the messenger post yesterday, is a symptom of the problem not an alternative to Avarosis's movement.

We are perceived as being powerless so we are. No one in Washington is afraid to cross the LGBT community because leaders like Phil will always come up with reasons to critique any hard hitting activist stance. They will say that "now is not the time to be angry" they will say "I know your angry but we have to focus on (insert more of the same)" then they will say "Lets not make this a personal attack on (insert Catholics, Mormons, Assorted Politicians and now a President)" In short Phil and Alex and Co. will go out of their way to either talk us out of action or in Alex's case thrash the person with the idea.

I really do not argue with the critique, but so what? Isn't it about time for some visibility and some respect. I always liked the saying "If you don't respect me at least you will fear me" Let the DNC fear the drop in funds. Let politicians know we are not afraid to get pissed even at a very popular President. We have nothing to loose as it appears we are sold out for the forseeable future, DOMA and DADT are at least a year or two away at best. Plenty of time to get a reputation for having a spine rather than keeping one for being such a bunch of wimpy ATM's

Focusing on Obama is not a mistake. But it shouldn’t be done, as Avarosis suggests, simply on the basis that he’s hostile to us or that he personally wrecked our chances to retain same sex marriage in California with a little help from Warren, McCain and Yes on 8.

It’s not a question of personalities, however wrong headed and motivated by greed. It’s a question of politics so it can be focused on him as the leader of a party composed almost entirely of bigots and those who cater to bigots. The Democrats are not timid allies, most of the time they’re our enemies.

In 2008 Democrats like Howard Dean, Leah Daughtry and Josh Dubois set out to steal the bigot vote from Republicans. They largely succeeded by wooing scum like McClurkin and Warren and using them to set up a national web of ‘faith’, read bigoted, Obama support groups.

People like Avarosis and others should have called for a boycott of Obama and the Democrats before November 4, 2008. It’s a bit late. The coyotes are in the chicken coop and the wolves are in the barn. We’re doomed to four or more years of Clinton and Bush – wars, economic failure and pandering to bigots.

Its fine to boycott the Democrats but what we really should be doing is writing our declaration of independence from these bigots and their apologists.

(Dean is gone, replaced by anti-choice, pro-war and rabidly anti-LGBT Tim Kaine. Leah Daughtry and Josh Dubois, both ordained pentecostal bigots were well rewarded for their efforts. Dubois runs the faith based bribery scheme and Daughtry continues to build the Democrats bigot base.)

I'm unsure of the logic behind your suggestion that we should have been boycotting Obama before he was even elected.

People who can put aside partisanship and act for the GLBT movement should have begun boycotting the Democrats as a whole prior to the election. Some people are too invested in the Democrat Party to do that.

After Democrats won Congress in 2006 they obviously decided that the way to victory in 2008 was to turn the tables on Bush and grab his bigot base. The DNC discussed that long before the election. They distanced themselves from us as much as possible to do that.

• They gutted and dropped ENDA.

• They broke their promise to even try end the Clinton-Bush wars.

• They refused to even try to repeal DADT and DOMA.

• They passed hate crimes legislation and then quietly let it die.

Obama's campaign keyed in on grabbing the bigot vote and did very well.

• They cut every mention of us from their platform, they organized a nationwide 'faith' based (read bigot) base.

• They went out of their way to identify Obama’s campaign with hateful scum like Warren and McClurkin and refused to denounce them.

• Obama personally called out the bigots to pass Prop 8 and never denounced Yes on 8s use of “gawd’s in the mix” although he could easily have done so. He same the same inversion in the polls we did and did nothing. The loss in California is his responsibility.

• They used DNC donations to fund anti-choice and anti-GLBT bigots in the Democrat party.

There was no need to call in a panel of rocket scientists to figure out where things were going before November 4th. People who voted for Obama projecting their own emotions or ideas on him or believing him blundered. Badly.

I agree Phil. By singling out the President, it has become personal. And possibly racial.

I'm all for calling out President Obama (that "god in the mix" statement was poltically lethal rhetoric) but The Democratic Party (esp. the Blue Dogs) must be called out too. A historical perspective is really needed here; as you stated, the Clinton Administration was no picnic for the GLBT community either.

Criticizing any leader when they screw up is a good thing--it makes them better leaders. However, in this case, with the boycott, I think its distracting. I believe this boycott could actually have a huge impact, but I think that by singling the President out, the message is getting to garbled.

That, and you're absolutely right, Kev, constant criticism of President Obama with seemingly no chance for the man to do right doesn't pass the smell test. I know FIRST HAND that when you step out and publicly criticize the president, the racist lunatics see it as a secret handshake, and say "He must be one of us!" And then they proceed to ruin an otherwise perfectly good dinner at Subway trying to convince you that the Center on Halstead has ruined Boystown by bringing in "the wrong element (AKA black people)."

President Obama and Speaker Pelosi are both having a LOT of trouble wrangling those Blue Dogs--look at the Stupak Amendment. We can't blame him every time they get cocky and break with the party (which is all of the time), if we're not also willing to be pressuring them every single day.

How many of you have made those calls to the 37 Blue Dogs?

We kissed their asses in 2006 and 2008 and now they think their shit doesn't stink. They're not listening to Obama--especially not here on this issue.

Don't Ask/Don't Give is a great idea, but making it about the President instead of these vulnerable Blue Dogs does nothing but renders our efforts fruitless.

"I would, on a normal basis, donate a grand to you, but I'm going to give it to your Primary opponent instead. So now you're two grand behind." Boom. No amount of suggestions from the President--a president they don't even respect--can undercut a big financial threat in a Primary! That'll get their attention.

Why don't we at least try it? We've been bitching about the President (who is on the record for these bills) for a year. Maybe we could at least TRY to threaten the real problem (BA-LUE, DA-OGS, WHO HAVE BEEN AVOIDING ENDA, HELLOOOOO!!!) before going back to Scape Goat One?


Deep breath please and then tell me that if DADT is asking us not to give to the Democratic Party and encouraging us to give to progressive candidates, if Obama himself has told us to our faces to "hold him accountable", how exactly are we bordering on the obscene by engaging in this action?

The thing I LIKE about this effort is that it is about the WHOLE Democratic Party organization. It is not saying:Don't give to Obama's reelection, it says: Don't give to a Party that sells you out.

You are conflating issues and I am beginning to smell a rank fear of being called a racist more than a reasoned argument for why we should not hold people accountable.

Note: I am not trying to be confrontational, I really do want to know how you reconcile these issues.

Paulo, I went back and checked every items in that list of particulars. Every item pointed to President Obama's actions (and inactions) specifically.

Yes, the President is the head of the Democratic Party. But nothing about the Blue Dogs.

Again, it seems to be a politics of a cult of personality, as Bill Perdue suggests. It should be about action or inaction on policies, referenda, and whatnot. There's plenty of blame to spread all around the party (Barney Frank, anyone?)

Hi Phil.

First of all you’re swimming against the tide and this one is very powerful. Proud and very angry UAW workers at Ford are resisting Obama’s union busting and taking a strike vote. The LGBT communities are starting to treat rotten politicians like we treat rotten Miss USA titlists – we’re gonna Bork ‘em (or should that be Prejean ‘em) and all the kings men and all the kings horses can’t do squat about it.

I’m glad you opened the Blue Doggies can of worms. It eats holes in your perspective of somehow reforming or using the Democrats to advance our agenda.

You blame Obama's right wing drift - by now a veritable stampede - on those 'right of right center' Blue Doggies. They’re political descendents of Dixiecrats like the Clintons, Strom Thurmond and Sam Nunn. Shades of George Wallace, the Dixiecrats long ago split into the DLC Democrat wing and some morphed effortlessly into Republicans. They changed their name because ‘Dixiecrat’ was closely linked with the KKK/southern baptist axis and homohaters like Rick Warren and racist preachers like Falwell and Robertson.

Here’s your problem Phil. ‘Liberals’ and 'progressives' have been in the same party as Dixiecrats/Blue Doggies for decades and have steadily lost ground to them. (Under threat of revolution they finally passed some necessary civil rights bills in the 60’s and ‘70’s but they didn’t begin to go far enough.) The coalition of Republicans, Dixiecrats, Blue Doggies and the DLC fought for and passed DOMA and DADT, fought for and passed deregulation of S&Ls under Carter Reagan and banks under Clinton and NAFTA under Clinton. They and most liberals vote for racist oil wars and support for zionist ethnic cleansing and apartheid under Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton and now Obama.

That right coalition fought for and passed TARP under amazing and unprecedented circumstances. In the last few days before TARP became law Congress was deluged with anti-TARP phone calls, faxes and emails. People aren't idiots and they recognized that TARP was grand theft on a scale never before seen in history. Then things got interesting. Inbound phone, fax and email lines were shut down while Obama and Bush tag teamed Congress, promising, lying, twisting elbows and doing what it took. TARP passed.

The rightist coalition rules the country, irrespective of party and who sits in the White House and it’s had the same politics since Truman’s time and been far more successful than not.

On paper Obama and the Democrats swept the states, Congress and the White House last fall and are as powerful as FDR and the Democrats in the '30's.

• So why are they busting unions.

• Why do they steal from the poor and give to the rich.

• Why do they prosecute racist wars for resources, murdering GI's and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, including thousands of GLBT folks singled out by their jihadist collaborators.

• Why won’ t Obama and Hillary Clinton declare open amnesty for GLBT victims of the killer ayatollahs and mullahs in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

• If they have the votes where is single payer or socialized medicine?

• Where is the Manhattan Project to end the HIV/AIDs plague?

• Why are DOMA and DADT on the books?

• Why haven’t they forgiven debt and ended foreclosure fraud, auto repos and credit card interest?

• Why are 15 million collecting unemployment compensation and why have millions more no longer eligible for unemployment compensation or working two trashy jobs to make do? Why are those figures growing by leaps and bounds instead of declining?

• Why did Biden, then the Senator from Bank of America ram his bank-friendly consumer-victimizing bankruptcy law through Congress and why haven’t they repealed it?

• Why are the rich getting incredibly rich and working people getting poorer and poorer?

Etc. (Make you own list.)

The answer to all those question is that the silly idea that the Democrats are anything but a rightwing party moving right is a myth. The Democrat Party is owned by the rich and does what they’re told to do and it’s beyond naive to think otherwise. Working in the Democrat party is self defeating. Boycotting them is fine, but what we really have to do is replace them.

I think DADG is an important catalyst for our movement. Like the National Equality March, it's taking a bolder stance than before. All such moves will make some feel uneasy.

It's not just that Obama is the leader of his party. It's the fact that he CHAMPIONED our causes. Have we already forgotten how proud we were that he was first to accept HRC's invitation for the forum on LGBT issues back in the summer of 08? He boasted speaking about our issues in unpopular venues. He called himself a fierce advocate, and we were depending upon him to maintain that leadership AS the leader of the party.

More than anybody, he is the accountability for our lack of momentum. I think John and Joe have done a good job at presenting not just his lack of progress but the missteps he's taken as well. He has a duty to be the role model for the party, and if he is unwilling or even hesitant to follow through, as he has been, then we have every right to hold him accountable.

DOMA is NOT going to be repealed in Obama's first term. (period, full stop) No matter what he might say or do, the votes are not there now, and will be fewer in both the House and Senate after the 2010 elections. So those who 'sign the pledge' are either fooling themselves, or they are going to help elect a new President in 2012 - and insure that DOMA stays around for at least 4 more years after that.

I am not expecting DOMA to get repealed this year, but that just means we put even more effort on ENDA and DADT, and if we can get DOMA too--gravy. We're going to lose ENDA AGAIN, though if we don't PUT THE PRESSURE ON!


Not a bad piece, per se? But as I withold money from the DNC (and I will - for the first time in 30 yrs) it is not Obama I am targeting; it is the whole fam damily of those politicians who 'say one thing and do another'. I'm an old, crabby gay man and if I want to shoot myself in the foot; I'll do so with a bit of glee. I can't believe that I'm entirely alone in my thinking that anarchy - or withdrawal - is a more pro-active state of being than a stalled car in a ditch?

Curtis Fitzgerald | November 15, 2009 11:11 AM

I'm still open to giving money to a few individual democrats who stand out from the system but overall I don't think the democratic party is all that different from the republican party. They both sell out to corporate america, the rich, and the religious right. They both support the war - you can't fight a war without money and they approve the money. I'm supporting the Green Party or the Socialist Party. DADT needs to go but I have to ask why any member of the LGBT community would want to fight an unjust war or, more importantly, fight for a country that treats them as 2nd class citizens.

Let me add this.

By singling out specific actions of the Obama presidential campaign and the Obama Administration (and "god in the mix" wasn't even on the list) that makes it appear that the motivation is racial.

That may or may nor be true. But it can be interpreted in that way. And much of politics is all about interpretation and appearences.

This is a ridiculous premise. It gives this president free license to do as he pleases because he becomes unassailable. And because it makes him unassailable, it suggests that the very worst thing we could have done was to vote for him.

I absolutely agree with you on all of your points Tom K. other than the fact that the worse thing that we could have done was to vote for him.

Just because the premise is ridiculous doesn't mean that the opposition wouldn't stoop to using it. Politics is a dirty game and it always has been that way.

Phil I'm not even a registered Democrat and I'm less than thrilled with the idea of calling President Obama out for his actions on gay rights so far.He's signed the hate crimes legislation and has agreed to everything short of gay marriage yeah it's disapointing but it's a hell of a lot better than the last 8 years.I like your idea but I think I have a good one to offer up as well.Political capitol is important and we need more.The President has been critized for attacking fox communications I support him on this.The conservatives love to spout off about what great family values they have and how they know whats best for kids but they embrace fox as their own.Fox broadcasts many shows with questionable content just watch what they air on Sunday evening during prime family viewing hours and thru the rest of the week.Conservatives regularly complain about the other stations to the FCC and they suffer heavy fines.Will and Grace was targeted on NBC when it was on the air.I say if it's good enough for the gander it's good enough for the goose(Little transsexual twist).Let's sit down and watch Fox for the President and everytime they break a rule or broadcast questionable content call the FCC.Instead of calling for a boycott we call for sit in and call.Doesn't take much money but earns capital and helps spank your blue dogs and the conservatives.


I think it actually helps empower Fox by giving them higher ratings and more expensive ad buys. Don't mistake my lack of enthusiasm for anti-Obama language to be unequivocal support for every one of the President's actions. However, he's not been an enemy to us--save in the DOJ pursuit of defending anti-gay laws--he's done all he could in one year to be twice the pro-gay President Clinton ever was in eight.

Does he need to move on DADT now? Yes. Does he need to tell the DOJ to immediately stop defending anti-gay laws? Yes. Does that make him our enemy? No.

But what do I know, right commenters? ;-)