Obama should learn from Lady Gaga

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!

  1. #1 by renaissanceguy on September 23, 2010 - 20:58

    There might be reasons for repealing the policy, but I had to stop myself from laughing aloud to read your comparison of Lady Gaga to Susan B. Anthony. Hint #1: Her name. Hint #2: Her profession. Hint #3: Her lack of education. Hint #4: Her lack of military experience. Need I go on?

    I have not seen the video. Nothing that a person named Lady Gaga says could be of any interest to me. She holds no public office, has no expertise in the matter. On top of that she makes semi-pornographic music videos. I know, I know, ad hominem.

    In this case I stand by it, since she (and you) are asking people to consider a reliable source of information on an extremely important and sensitive topic.

    Fortunately for America, her audience tends to be people in their late teens and early twenties.


    Now I will make one substantive point. It is not necessarily bigotry to say that homosexual men and women do not belong openly in the military as things now stand. If the military can solve the problem of living arrangements, then I would see no reason to keep them out. They can change the policy, but they cannot change the thinking of the men and women who would not be comfortable sharing sleeping quarters and shower facilities with people who are sexually attracted to them.

    Then again, the demand to change the policy is looking at the military all wrong. It was not set up as a laboratory for social experiments. It is meant to defend the country. Let’s hold it to that purpose.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on September 23, 2010 - 21:11

      When I was co-teaching a course with an Art History and Music History professor in Germany/Austria this May, they were appalled that I did not know more about Lady Gaga. They told me she really was a substantive artist and socially relevant, not just a pop phenom. Of course, artists have historically been active in politics, from the dada movement, Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring” and the like. Moreover, I think art and politics do often compliment each other, the artist may have more to contribute than the educated elite. Oh – and in her speech she gave her full name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

      Many militaries, including the Israeli military (which is no slouch) allow gays to serve: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3362505,00.html
      It’s not a social experiment, it’s been proven to work and be effective. Not allowing all citizens to serve weakens rather than strengthens the military (such as when they got rid of gay Arabic translators — which hurt them in Iraq). So the evidence does not seem to indicate that there is any military reason for the policy.

    • #3 by John H on September 25, 2010 - 00:37

      A social experiment like letting blacks and whites serve together? Like letting men and women serve together?
      I hear these arguments all the time about how we civilians don’t understand the military. Quite frankly, that’s bullshit. Are we really to believe that our soldiers are so mentally fragile that they can’t handle gays serving next to them?
      Letting the military continue to practice discrimination is indefensible.

  2. #4 by Spencer Hodge on September 24, 2010 - 15:14

    I think that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would have been removed if the new law had its own bill. In the bill turned down by congress included a few other controversial issues like the Dream Act and abortion, which are very controversial in the eye of the republican.

    • #5 by John H on September 25, 2010 - 00:34

      Spencer, GAYS are controversial in the eyes of Republicans. I don’t care how you present the vote, this Senate wouldn’t have passed it. Susan Collins would have found another excuse.

  3. #6 by renaissanceguy on September 25, 2010 - 15:46

    John H, skin color has nothing to do with it. Skin color is a superficial trait that has no bearing on one’s personal interactions with other people.

    I don’t think one has to be mentally fragile to worry about undressing in front of a person who could potentially be sexually attracted to you. It’s a bit weird, no matter how mentally strong you are. Otherwise, the women would not have separate facilities from the men.

    As I said, if they can solve the problem of being in such close and personal contact, then I have no problem with it.

  4. #7 by Scott Erb on September 26, 2010 - 01:39

    The Israeli military and many others have apparently solved (or never really had) that alleged “problem.” I’d say study the military forces that do have gays serving openly, see if there are any problems, and if so how they handle them. I would argue the problems should be rather significant if we’re going to deny a large segment of the population equality. We have real data and examples, so we don’t have to rely on our imagination of how it might feel.

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