Obama confronted that sentiment in his remarks.
"Now I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come
fast enough, and I understand that. It's not for me to tell you to be
paitent any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African
Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago,"
"But I say this: we have made progress, and we will make more. And I
want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not
by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration
keeps," he said, drawing applause.
"We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this
administration is over, I think you guys'll have pretty good feelings
about the Obama adminsitration," the president said.
He was certainly right about some of that: gay leaders don't think
change has come quickly enough, and every day that goes by without
advancements of gay rights they see as an affront.
Obama then got into some points on the gay rights agenda, making
promises or signaling progress on each item. He touted the extension of
benefits to LGBT partners and families of federal employees and the
advancement of hate crimes legislation through the House.
He sought to justify the Justice Dept.'s defense of DOMA: "We have a
duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that
does not exascerbate old divides, and fulfilling this duty and
upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this
law," he said, later calling again on Congress to reverse it.
He credited the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the lack of progress
on Don't Ask, Don't Tell: "Someday, I'm confident, we'll look back at
this transition and ask why it generated such angst. But as commander
in chief, in a time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this
change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the
long term," Obama said, giving a nod to the continued dismissals of
openly gay servicemen and women and the "deep disappointment" they've
caused those who've been dismissed.
All of the policy talk got less applause than the opening; but it got
mild, and sometimes raucous (on the hate crimes bill), applause
As one gay rights leader noted this morning, people are generally
excited to go to the White House, and despite the skepticism, attendees
would be in a good mood regardless of the content of the event, though
they'd be hoping to feel good about things as they left.
It's also worth pointing out that not all 250-300 of those in
attendance were the hard-nosed lobbyist/presidents of gay rights
lobbying groups, and I suspect many of them don't have the acerbic
political instincts that go with that territory.
When asked why the crowd cheered Obama despite so much skepticism, one source who was in attendance retorted, "His finance committee was there," an observation I did not take literally, nor did I confirm.