At the HRC dinner Saturday night, President Obama called out the GOP Presidential hopefuls who stood by silently last week while members of their debate audience booed a uniformed United States soldier serving in Iraq:
"We don't believe in the kind of smallness that says it's okay for a stage full of political leaders -- one of whom could end up being the president of the United States -- being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don't believe in that," said Obama to loud cheers and a standing ovation.
"We don't believe in standing silent when that happens. We don't believe in them being silent since. You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it's not politically convenient. We don't believe in a small America. We believe in a big America -- a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America -- that values the service of every patriot."
Seeing an audience of Americans booing a uniformed American soldier on active duty in a war zone made me ill. My Dad and both of my grandfathers served in the military. (I cannot begin to imagine what my Dad would have thought of that spectacle -- and he was a Republican.) Members of my family have served in every conflict since the Revolutionary War. I was so horrified and sickened to hear Americans booing that brave soldier. And shame on that pack of jackals running for the GOP nomination for not saying anything. Shame. I am so grateful to our President for speaking out about this tonight.
The whole speech:
Selections from the transcript:
Now, I don’t have to tell you that we have a ways to go in that struggle. I don’t have to tell you how many are still denied their basic rights — Americans who are still made to feel like second-class citizens, who have to live a lie to keep their jobs, or who are afraid to walk the street, or down the hall at school. Many of you have devoted your lives to the cause of equality. So you know what we have to do; we’ve got more work ahead of us.
But we can also be proud of the progress we’ve made these past two and a half years.
Two years ago, I stood at this podium, in this room, before many of you, and I made a pledge. I said I would never counsel patience; that it wasn’t right to tell you to be patient any more than it was right for others to tell African Americans to be patient in the fight for equal rights a half century ago. (Applause.) But what I also said, that while it might take time –- more time than anyone would like -– we are going to make progress; we are going to succeed; we are going to build a more perfect union.
I met with Judy Shepard. I promised her we would pass a hate crimes bill named for her son, Matthew. And with the help of my dear friend Ted Kennedy we got it done. Because it should never be dangerous — (applause) — you should never have to look over your shoulder — to be gay in the United States of America. That’s why we got it done. (Applause.)
I met with Janice Langbehn, who was barred from the bedside of the woman she loved as she lay dying. And I told her that we were going to put a stop to this discrimination. And you know what? We got it done. I issued an order so that any hospital in America that accepts Medicare or Medicaid -– and that means just about every hospital -– has to treat gay partners just as they do straight partners. Because nobody should have to produce a legal contract to hold the hand of the person that they love. We got that done. (Applause.)
Many questioned whether we’d succeed in repealing "don’t ask, don’t tell." And, yes, it took two years to get the repeal through Congress. (Applause.) We had to hold a coalition together. We had to keep up the pressure. We took some flak along the way. (Applause.) But with the help of HRC, we got it done. And "don’t ask, don’t tell" is history. (Applause.)
No one has to live a lie to serve the country they love.
I vowed to keep up the fight against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. There’s a bill to repeal this discriminatory law in Congress, and I want to see that passed. But until we reach that day, my administration is no longer defending DOMA in the courts. I believe the law runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all.
And together, we also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they’re gay or transgender — who may be getting picked on or pushed around because they’re different. We’ve got to make sure they know that there are adults they can talk to; that they are never alone; that there is a whole world waiting for them filled with possibility.
Now, ultimately, these debates we’re having are about more than just politics; they’re more about — they’re about more than the polls and the pundits, and who’s up and who’s down. This is a contest of values. That’s what’s at stake here. This is a fundamental debate about who we are as a nation.
I don’t believe — we don’t believe — in a small America, where we let our roads crumble, we let our schools fall apart, where we stand by while teachers are laid off and science labs are shut down, and kids are dropping out.
We believe in a big America, an America that invests in the future — that invests in schools and highways and research and technology — the things that have helped make our economy the envy of the world.
We don’t believe in a small America, where we meet our fiscal responsibilities by abdicating every other responsibility we have, and where we just divvy up the government as tax breaks for those who need them the least, where we abandon the commitment we’ve made to seniors though Medicare and Social Security, and we say to somebody looking for work, or a student who needs a college loan, or a middle-class family with a child who’s disabled, that “You’re on your own.” That’s not who we are.
We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the President of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed. (Applause.) We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. (Applause.) We don’t believe in them being silent since. (Applause.) You want to be Commander-in-Chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient. (Applause.)
We don’t believe in a small America. We believe in a big America — a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America — that values the service of every patriot. (Applause.)
I am confident that’s what the American people believe in. (Applause.) I’m confident because of the changes we’ve achieved these past two and a half years -– the progress that some folks said was impossible. (Applause.) And I’m hopeful — I am hopeful –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Fired up!
THE PRESIDENT: I’m fired up, too. (Laughter.)
I am hopeful — (applause) — I am hopeful — I am still hopeful, because of a deeper shift that we’re seeing; a transformation not only written into our laws, but woven into the fabric of our society.
It’s progress led not by Washington but by ordinary citizens, who are propelled not just by politics but by love and friendship and a sense of mutual regard. (Applause.) It’s playing out in legislatures like New York, and courtrooms and in the ballot box. But it’s also happening around water coolers and at the Thanksgiving table, and on Facebook and Twitter, and at PTA meetings and potluck dinners, and church socials and VFW Halls.
It happens when a father realizes he doesn’t just love his daughter, but also her wife. (Applause.) It happens when a soldier tells his unit that he’s gay, and they tell him they knew it all along and they didn’t care, because he was the toughest guy in the unit. (Applause.) It happens when a video sparks a movement to let every single young person know they’re not alone, and things will get better. It happens when people look past their ultimately minor differences to see themselves in the hopes and struggles of their fellow human beings. That’s where change is happening. (Applause.)
And that’s not just the story of the gay rights movement. That’s the story of America — (applause) — the slow, inexorable march towards a more perfect union. (Applause.) You are contributing to that story, and I’m confident we can continue to write another chapter together.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)
(h/t We Won for link to the transcript)