Obama's Amazing Ability to Rile Up the Left While Gaining Nothing from the Right

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The Administration's characteristic political ineptitude was on display with its decision to overrule the FDA and keep Plan B behind a prescription wall

Barack Obama - Haraz N Ghanbari AP - banner.jpg

Yesterday, in a speech hailed by many as the boldest piece of political rhetoric in the three years of the Obama Administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the worlds' diplomats to recognize the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In making her argument, Secretary Clinton used a common rhetorical device. She invoked the presumably incontestable rights of another group: women.

"In many places," she reminded her audience, which included numerous representatives of nations with harrowingly antigay laws and practices, "legal and social practices that relegated women to second-class status have been abolished."

"Like being a woman..." she concluded, "being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." It follows perfectly from the progress of women, does it not?

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today that it had rejected the unanimous recommendation of the experts at the Food and Drug Administration to let young teenage girls buy the morning-after pill Plan B, like the condoms boys use, directly off drugstore and supermarket shelves without a prescription.

Secretary Clinton, phone home. All the high minded principles you lectured the world on yesterday are to the Obama Administration, well, so yesterday.

"It is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay," Secretary Clinton said one day before contraceptives that could save young teen girls from having one instance of inattention steal the rest of their lives were kept behind a prescription barrier for no medical reason at all.

"It is a violation of human rights when ... equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay," Secretary Clinton intoned one day before equal access to control of their reproductive lives was denied to girls whose boyfriends can pick up a rubber from an open shelf.

It is a violation of human rights when "public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay" Secretary Clinton lectured the international community one day before the public drugstore was put out of bounds to millions of teenage girls seeking means to manage their reproductive futures.

Set against the background of yesterday's rhetoric, today's decision -- and the risible explanation that girls can't be trusted to take a single pill on their own -- is almost a parody of unprincipled political calculation. Worse, it's vastly more costly politically than allowing the FDA to make the call would have been. Indeed, if there were an Oscar for a perfect political screw-up, surely today's winner would be President Obama.

Yesterday, in Kansas, he invoked the shade of Theodore Roosevelt and inveighed against the economic inequality of the present.

Today, this.

Liberals, who had been high-fiving over the sighting of the hope and change guy, are fuming again. Conservatives, who were unprecedentedly hysterical, even for conservatives, over the possibility of gay human rights outlined by Clinton, are not visibly mollified by the sellout of young American females.

As in his prior entry in the political screw-up awards, inviting fundamentalist preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration, Obama has managed damage the enthusiasm and energy of his base supporters without gaining a thing from the other side. Only this time it's with an election just coming up, instead of one having just passed. And with a message that hits around 60 percent of Democratic presidential election voters -- are women -- not less than six percent (the percent of the Democratic presidential electorate gays most likely comprise).

The question is not will the real Barack Obama please stand up. After three solid years of the devilish combination of alienating the left and then alienating the right, the real Barack Obama is clearly in view: predictably strategic and regrettably ineffective.

What remains to be seen is whether Democratic women, for a change, are willing to extract a price from the Democratic standard-bearer, for his perfidy to their interests. After the Rick Warren debacle, Obama received a hosing from gay activists like the blogger John Aravosis and gays in positions of power like Rachel Maddow. Although his administration was hardly the model of a fierce advocate for gay interests until yesterday, gay politicos made themselves hot enough so that his administration had to take them seriously. Women, whose support was essential to Obama's victory over his female primary opponent, have done nothing to put his feet to the fire. Indeed, in a feat of political optics, the administration used a woman, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, as the vehicle for delivering the bad news to all those American women who thought they were entitled equal justice. After all, isn't that a basic human right?

Image credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

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Linda Hirshman is the author of Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution.

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