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War, chaos = EXACTLY the time to fight for gay rights!

My erratic schedule (not to be confused with my erratic behavior) means I belatedly respond to some things, like this op-ed from last Friday in the Daily News by Christine M. Flowers. The headline led me to think that we'd finally wooed the conservative Democrat over to the progressive side, as it echoed what you might see on Daily Kos these days: "Gays and Obama: The thrill is gone."

Except that for Flowers, that's a good thing. Her basic argument is that who could possibly care about gay rights at a time like this:

Apparently, being able to be open about your sexuality in the barracks is just as important as making sure North Korea doesn't engage in war games, so gays and lesbians are miffed at the man who hasn't fulfilled their hopes on that and many other scores.

And even though Obama has now extended some domestic benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers, they're still mad. Honestly, cut the guy a break. He's got a world to run.

He'll get back to you later.

That's a little ridiculous on several grounds. The time-management issue is silly -- whatever you think of Obama's actual policies so far, clearly the man is capable of taking on multiple issues at the same time. It would take five minutes to make a phone call to take down the lawyers arguing for the Defense of Marriage Act, a half-hour to make a speech asking Congress to get rid of the outdated and unpopular "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Beyond that is the argument that a crazy rogue dictator in North Korea and a host of other hot spots (as always) around the world means that fighting for basic human rights is too much of a distraction. How wrong! Fighting for the rights of all citizens is what makes America what it is, or at least what it could be -- to ease down on that front makes our calls for freedom elsewhere ring hollow.

If there was ever a time when America was too stressed out to deal with civil rights here at home, it would have been the 1950s and 1960s, when the Kremlim was aiming missiles at my hometown and yours and when young Americans were dying in Vietnam at an unfathomable rate. Yet enough people were smart enough to understand that the Cold War was exactly the time for America to provide more liberty on the home front, as this recent book points out.

By considering the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement together, Dudziak argues that race was a national security issue, central to ideological conflicts over American democracy. Her argument helps explain a seeming contradiction. Why did the federal government begin to support civil rights within a largely hostile environment? After all, southerners held considerable power in Congress and white southern voters could make or break a presidential election. Turning our focus toward the international arena, Dudziak argues that the problem of race attracted so much foreign attention in the early Cold War that it threatened to undermine U.S. claims to the superiority of democracy over communism. Organized around the civil rights conflicts that provoked the most international uproar such as Little Rock and Birmingham, the book vividly shows why race refused to disappear from any presidential agenda from Truman to Johnson.

Once again, America finds itself urging foreign governments to honor essential liberties like free speech and freedom of assembly -- this time in Iran. I can't think of a better time to ask whether we've done anything possible to make sure that our own house is in order, this time for gay Americans.