Today my first year seminar on “The Future of America” was set to discuss the values of equality and justice, the next chapters in the book The Idea that is America by Anne Marie Slaughter. As I was about to start class, students chimed in saying we should watch a Lady Gaga video. Thinking it was an effort to simply inject pop culture into the class, I resisted, until they made clear: a) it addressed the topic; and b) it was a speech delivered Monday in Portland, Maine. I hooked up a student’s computer to the projector and we watched this:
Wow. I found the speech moving and powerful, alongside the great speeches of the civil rights and women’s suffrage movement. Not only is “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” discriminatory, but it’s clearly completely contrary to the values of this country. Lady Gaga is among the likes of Susan B. Anthony and many others who spoke out in a movement to help the US get closer to our founding values.
The Senate, however, did not heed Lady Gaga’s admonition. The effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” failed. More importantly, though, is the absence of the Obama administration from this fight.
President Obama should be leading the fight to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell.” He should be talking about American values and noting that homophobia is not an excuse for discrimination. At this point in our cultural development, there is no excuse for lingering bigotry against gays. Instead, the White House, as seems so often the case, shies away from political controversy and tries to play it safe, issuing proclamations of disappointment that it lost a fight it never even really joined.
President Obama, you’re in a position few people get a chance to enjoy. You can push for your ideals and control the “bully pulpit” for at least the next two years. Don’t play it safe. Learn from Lady Gaga, put principle ahead of pragmatism. Yeah, the polls say the GOP is on the upswing — that’s unavoidable with an economy doing poorly. Don’t let that cause you to shy way from controversy. Do the right thing.
So for now, I’m disappointed with the President, but very impressed with Lady Gaga — and my students for demanding I play that video in class!