On Social Issues, WaPo Says Obama Displays 'Centrist Instincts'

The Washington Post printed a front-page story headlined "President Obama Wades Into Gay Issues" on Thursday, but Scott Wilson’s story displayed the usual double standard, calling the religious right "conservative" and describing the gay left with no ideological label at all. Is this really a cultural clash between the conservatives and the supposedly non-ideological sexual revolutionaries? Worse yet, Wilson suggested Barack Obama’s been displaying "centrist instincts" on the social issues:

The gay political agenda has proved to be a challenge for Obama, who since taking office has tried to drain the ideological fervor from the most divisive foreign and domestic policy debates. That agenda comprises a set of social and economic issues that at times pit Obama's religious beliefs and centrist instincts against the demands of a well-organized constituency important to his future electoral prospects.

Caution and centrism are not synonyms. Caution is a tactic, and centrism is something resembling a belief system. Wilson began by even avoiding the word "base" to describe Obama's liberal base. They were constituencies: "President Obama moved yesterday to reset his relations with a gay and lesbian constituency that supported him by wide margins in the last election and whose leaders have been disappointed ever since."

But his order to expand federal domestic-partner parameters did have ideological opponents: "Some conservative groups said the order -- which administration officials said now guarantees benefits that had previously been left up to a supervisor's discretion -- violates the law."

Later in the story, Obama has disappointed the Left on many issues, apparently, but absolutely none of them will be described as liberal or on the left:

Obama's memorandum, designed to be both incremental and pragmatic, typifies the cautious way he has approached gay issues since taking office five months ago. Although he has appointed gays to prominent positions in his administration -- including John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management -- the memorandum marked his first official foray into the issue as president, a delay that has angered gay supporters.

A number of other constituencies have likewise been disappointed by Obama's pace in addressing their issues, as he has focused much of his attention on the economic crisis and foreign policy initiatives. Hispanic groups have expressed frustration that he has yet to take up comprehensive immigration reform, for example, and human rights and civil liberties organizations have criticized his opposition to the release of detainee abuse photos and his adherence to other aspects of the Bush administration's national security policies.

Wilson quoted "Leslie Gabel-Brett, the director of education and public affairs for the advocacy group Lambda Legal," and "Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign," neither with a label. Solmonese also didn't draw a label in the caption under his picture on page A4. But when a conservative was awarded a quote at the very end of the Wilson story, it came with a label:

In a statement yesterday, the conservative Family Research Council said Obama's memorandum "uses taxpayer money to placate an angry portion of his base at the expense of the rule of law."

"Ironically, Mr. Obama has pursued an aggressive pro-homosexual agenda -- but his actions to date are, apparently, insufficient for the radical homosexuals pushing their extreme demands," Tony Perkins, the group's president, said in the statement. "...However, beyond the potential legal violations, it's troubling that the President would act in response to homosexual groups which are threatening to withdraw from an upcoming fundraiser."

At least Perkins described the gay activists as "radical."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis