CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" is the question hanging over the Democratic National Convention. But when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked the question to a packed room at the LGBT Caucus here today, she was drowned out by standing applause before she could answer, "You bet!" Someone even screamed, "Yeah baby!"
Indeed, if there's one group in the Democratic coalition that can definitely say the past four years have improved its lot, it's LGBT voters, whose mood was triumphant at the start of the convention. Beyond the affirmation of marriage equality, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Obama White House has made a host of executive changes on everything from providing benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees to lifting the travel and immigration ban for people with HIV.
"I remember us being good Democrats … and the party telling us, not yet. Right?" Randi Weingarten, the openly gay president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the crowd as they murmured in agreement. "Well, 'yet' has come!" she said to roaring applause.
It was on that administrative progress that Sebelius made a hard sell to LGBT activists here in a sharply negative tone that has become typical of this campaign. "A lot of what you've heard about today is not the law of the land. It really is administrative rules and regs that are in place, which can be whipped out in a heartbeat," she said.
"With a change in the White House, much of the litany of what you've just heard about is gone. It's done. It's over. And it won't take six months or a year. It will be gone in 30 days. It will be as if a big tide came in and those footprints will be gone for a long time, perhaps for a generation," Sebelius added.
Last week, gay rights issues were almost completely absent from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, with marriage getting only a single line in GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's speech. But Sebelius' comments suggest that the Democrats and the Obama campaign plan to hang the anti-gay agenda on Romney whether he wants to take up the issue or not.