I went into this panel with equal parts disgust and eager anticipation. My friend’s had dubbed this the “Poutrage Caucus” since it featured mightily vocal, supposedly left leaning Obama critics Jane Hamsher, John Aravosis & Lt Dan Choi. Rounding out the panel were Felipe Matos someone who I had learned was also quite angry at Obama during a morning session and Joan McCarter, front page editor for Daily Kos and the only reasonable voice on the panel. She was acting as the moderator and I am convinced that her sane, logical presence influenced the rest of the panel to tone things down. The title was “What to do if Obama is just not that into you.”
I’m not going to go into all the ins and outs of each panelist and why they are angry. If you are reading this, you probably already have some outside knowledge of them. My focus is going to be on Lt Dan Choi. He befuddles me so! Up until a few months ago I cheered his every move. He came out as gay on air, and in uniform on Rachel Maddow’s show and of course discharge proceedings began that week. DADT was still the law of the land and was being actively enforced. He, along with a few recently discharged military personnel became the face of the movement to repeal the discriminatory law. Candidate and President Obama had promised to see through repeal of it. Again, you probably all know the story of how that unfolded. It was slow, painful, and messy and required the support of more than a few Republicans in the Senate to get it done and an aggressive lame duck session after mid-term elections, BUT, it was signed. The military was given 6 months to put the proper process in place to stop discharges. Technically though, discharges can still happen. It takes more effort. More senior officers have to approve it and they have slowed it down tremendously. When a soldier was discharged recently under the law it was under-reported, but still a FACT, that said soldier outed himself and REQUESTED discharge under DADT. Think Corporal Klinger wearing a dress on M*A*S*H J Like I said though – under-reported and never emphasized. Lt Choi chose to send out a tweet to an article about the dismissal with the spin “OBAMA still discharging soldiers!!” This is a new tactic of his that is souring me to his activism. He has made it personal. It’s “OBAMA is prosecuting me for illegal demonstration!” (When he chained himself to the White House fence last summer). Or “Hillary Clinton is refusing to help!” (When he chose to go to Moscow to illegally march in a gay pride parade knowing full well he and his Russian activist friends would be arrested.) It’s one thing to demonstrate and even get arrested to draw attention to a cause, but it is quite another to somewhat hysterically call out political officials who don’t stop everything they are doing to help out.
Then there are my personal encounters with Dan. I met him last year in Las Vegas at NN10. It was a quiet moment on the first morning and we both were walking down to get our credentials for the weekend. He was in shorts and a t-shirt (from a gay bar in Vegas no less!) and was on the phone. I had stopped to wait for someone and charge my own phone. I didn’t even realize who I sat next to on the hallway sofa until I heard him speaking. When he got off the phone he looked at me wide eyed and said “Well, that’s interesting. The Army sent my formal discharge papers this week. To my parents. I’m officially a civilian now.” He seemed truly shell shocked & really irritated that the letter was sent to his parent’s house. We chatted for a second, I introduced myself showing him my badge with my name on it and he said “Hey, I know you from twitter, right?” Knock me over with a feather!! Anyhow, given the news he had just received and the kind of inappropriate attire he was wearing, we agreed to meet up another time that weekend so he could take a photo with me. He was warm and gracious. Of course, later that weekend we had the famously symbolic event when he rose to salute Senator Harry Reid during a question and answer session and then turned over his West Point ring to the Senator stating that he didn’t need it anymore since the Army didn’t consider him fit to serve. Reid agreed to hold the ring and to hold to his own personal promise to Lt Choi to see through the repeal of DADT. Which he did. Part of the publicity after it was signed was Lt Choi returning to DC to receive the ring back. I went to NN11 with the intention of getting that photo with Dan and specifically to have it with his ring back on his finger. I did get that picture and a couple more as well which reinforced my one on one, I like him personally opinion.
BUT….(there’s always a but eh?) Something odd happened at the end of the panel. Their speeches had all been pretty tame considering how shrill they have all been in hurling insults & anger at Obama in recent months. They even largely gave in to the fact that yes, you should vote, and yes, you probably need to re-elect him. Their main point seemed to be though, that Obama needs to work to regain their full financial and activist support. They wont donate, they wont knock on doors or get out the vote in 2012. OK…. So the floor is opened to questions and the first thing that happens is a young kid (maybe 20?) jumps up and approaches the stage. You knew something was up right there since everyone just asks their questions from their seats typically. He runs up stating that he is “from OFA” (Obama for America, the 2012 reelection campaign). At this point most of don’t believe that for a second. Then he says he has flyers to give to Choi & Aravosis and as he gets up there and they take the literature he mumbles something about believing that “you don’t NEED marriage rights because civil unions are OK and…..” Choi then stood up and said “What did you say? You don’t believe in MY equality?!” quite loudly of course and then he dramatically ripped up the flyers. The kid then turned around and walked back towards his seat grinning the whole time and then fist bumped with his seat mate when he returned.
It was SO WEIRD! He was clearly a plant of some kind, but WHY? Just to make Dan react? Well, that worked, but again…the point? Make Dan look bad, or good? Make him look volatile or passionate? I just don’t know. When I spoke with Dan after I did ask. He seemed sincere in saying it was weird to him too and a few who were up closer to the panel said they all looked pretty shocked at the whole thing. If he was in on it, then sure, it was yet another publicity stunt that I know he does pull. If he wasn’t, then what was the kid’s point?
Thanks to Stormy, I finally get it now. Dan staged this so that he could make the loud, visual point that the OFA – as stand in for Obama – does NOT support full marriage equality and therefore does NOT get his support. The kid was doing something Dan asked him to do. Yet another NN planned stunt, but this one not nearly as effective as last year’s ring exchange. SIGH.
When I stopped Dan to talk to him and get my picture, I told him that he needed to understand why many of us are not as personally angry as him and might cringe a bit at what he does. I equated it with long distance racing – some are sprinters like him and some of us pace ourselves. Often, it is the slow and steady tactic that wins. However, we need sprinters like him to pull us along and keep us moving – just be careful not to burn out. It’s teamwork and he should be mindful of alienating the distance runners from his sprint team. He responded positively and agreed with me at that moment, but then I heard he went on The Last Word and got pretty damn personal with Obama again. Sigh…….conflicted. I remain..conflicted. Personally he scored some points with me. Publicly he burned bridges.