The XX Factor

The Obama Straddle, in Three Acts

As riveting images and stories pour out of Iran, the Obama administration’s lack of moral clarity today is getting to me. As in:

The State Department asked Twitter to defer maintenance so that Iranians could keep using the site to organize and inform, but Obama could only bring himself to say that he found the violence “deeply troubling,” a muted response in the circumstances, as my colleague John Dickerson pointed out .

The administration will announce some benefits for the partners of gay federal employees today, but not full health insurance, and last week Obama lawyers filed a brief arguing for the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama the candidate spoke out against. Gay rights advocates are furious, and rightfully so. The suit the administration responded to-a challenge in federal court to California’s bar against same-sex marriage–i s premature and a mistake . But the administration didn’t have to go this far in batting it away. The NYT reports that “a White House spokesman said that it was standard practice for the administration to back laws that are challenged in court-even those it does not agree with.” Maybe, but when a president really objects to a law, he makes an exception.

In a 2003 speech that Charlie Savage reports on , Judge Sonia Sotomayor doubted the legality of expansive wiretapping under the Patriot Act, but she also said “one can certainly justify” the secret detention of enemy combatants, and the curtailing of their legal rights compared to regular criminals, “under precedents and current law.” Actually there was scant Supreme Court precedent on that question at the time, and Sotomayor could have easily pointed out that the law was unsettled. I know all the straddling is consistent with Obama’s famed pragmatism. I know that’s what we bought when we elected him. But today, it feels lame and tedious.