By Jamie Klatell - 10/02/11 01:52 AM EDT
President Obama spoke to one of the country's largest gay rights groups Saturday night seeking to solidify his position with a core liberal constituency and to paint stark contrasts with the Republicans vying for his job.
The president began his speech at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner by reminding the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group about the changes his administration has made that would benefit its members.
He checked off a list of accomplishments that his administration had overseen: a hate crimes bill named for Matthew Shepard; an executive order giving gay partners the same rights as straight partners in hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid; and ending the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
"I also took a trip out to California last week, where I held some productive bilateral talks with your leader, Lady Gaga," Obama joked about meeting the pop star and gay icon at a fundraiser. "She was wearing 16-inch heels. She was eight feet tall. It was a little intimidating."
As he heads into a reelection battle, the president needs to tend to the progressive base that swept him into office in 2008, parts of which are disenchanted with his willingness to compromise with Republicans. Obama has found that some of those same supporters are now among his most vocal critics.
Obama also took some shots at the Republicans running against him. The president said that he would have reacted differently if an audience booed an openly gay soldier, as one did during a Republican presidential debate last month.
None of the Republican candidates objected to the debate crowd's jeers as the soldier asked if they would reverse the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"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," Obama said.
"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."