The politics of doing the right thing

There’s been a lot of pontificating punditry in the aftermath of the President’s admitting the obvious: that he supports marriage equality. The trend of administration policy on DADT, DOMA and all sorts of things have made this this the most pro-gay rights administration in history.

Some of my brothers and sisters on the left think this was done grudgingly but the mere fact that it was done at all is remarkable. Bill Clinton is the guy who signed DOMA into law when he was triangulating like a crazy monkey. And DADT was the bastard offspring of Clinton’s attempt to end the ban on gays in the military in 1993 without laying the groundwork for success. He assumed that Colin Powell, an African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would support an anti-discrimination measure. He was wrong. That is one of the reasons President Obama has moved so cautiously on this issue.

I’m not certain how this will play out in the fall election and anyone who tells you otherwise is making shit up. Anti-marriage equality fever contributed to John Kerry’s loss to Bush in 2004 but there have been substantial advances in public attitudes toward LGBT folks since then. My hunch is that most of the people who will vote against Obama based on this decision would never have voted for him in the first place. Hell, the teanuts think he’s a Marxist who’s gonna take their guns away so they undoubtedly thought he was pro-gay marriage already.

The positives of the announcement are obvious: it will energize a somewhat ennervated Democratic base; especially younger voters. The President, however, will have to muster his formidable rhetorical skills to convince Latin and Black voters that this is something they should embrace and not oppose.As Linda Hirshman argued at Slate:

Where are the 48 percent ofnonwhite voters who oppose gay marriage? Where are almost all nonwhite voters? In the Democratic Party. Even if every single black Republican is anti-gay, there simply aren’t enough of them to account for all the black anti-gay voters. Therein lies the danger for a Democratic candidate supporting gay marriage: that voters otherwise disposed to him will not support him because of his stance on gay marriage.

And here is where Obama is different. If the black community doesn’t flood the polls, Obama will lose in November. But he’s the first black president of the United States. Black voters are sticky with Barack Obama in a way no white president could dream of. For whites, a white president is the natural order of things. For blacks, it was the miracle of Grant Park. Once the Iowa caucus happened, even Hillary Clinton, the wife of the “first black president,” could not stem the tide. As black houses went into foreclosure after 2008 and the unemployment rate went through the roof, Obama’s support among blacks stayed amazingly firm. As the election approaches, his support is at the same level as in 2008.

A simple thought experiment reveals the issue: Try to imagine Don King in black churches exhorting congregations to vote against Barack Obama over gay marriage. Not going to happen. In this way, the president was uniquely suited among Democratic politicians to advance the issue (just as Powell could have done in 1993).

Couldn’t have said it better myself, hence the long quote. As I said earlier, I’m not sure how this will play out but Obama has a secret weapon in 2012: Mitt Romney who is one of the worst Presidential candidates I have ever seen. He makes John Forbes Kerry look like another JFK as a campaigner and makes Al Gore look warm and fuzzy. As much as we would prefer otherwise, Presidential campaigns are largely about personality and this time Obama has the edge in that department. I’m just glad that the President gave skeptical lefties another reason to be *for* him and not just against Romney.

That’s all I got for you except for this marginally relevant musical selection from the Jayhawks:

7 thoughts on “The politics of doing the right thing

  1. Saying you think something should happen and working to make it happen are two very different things. Will the Democratic Party add a committment to same-sex marriage to the party platform this year? Or will they, like the famous kid who re-posts a Kony video, sit on their asses and congratulate themselves for this historic moment?

  2. Though I think one point isn’t made in that quote. Will Obama’s support affect blacks who have been anti-gay? Does this open the door a crack for thought and discussion and perhaps movement towards acceptance? Hopefully so…

  3. Will the Democratic Party add a committment to same-sex marriage to the party platform this year?
    I believe it will.
    Adrastos, this is one of the most well-reasoned analyses I’ve read on the topic. Bravo.

  4. The platform doesn’t matter as much as this announcement. Who remembers say the 2000 Democratic or GOP platforma.
    Thanks, Kevin.

  5. The platform matters. The 2008 platform clearly states that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is wrongheaded and must be repealed. And the President followed through.
    If it’s not in the platform, then I don’t really believe it will happen. It’s just yammering for the 24-hour TV news machine.
    So far, all President Obama did was say, “I think it should be legal.” That’s a far, far cry from, “I am going to do everything I can to protect equality and basic human rights for all.”
    I am not impressed with this announcement.

  6. @Tim: the big difference is that DADT was a federal issue and marriage laws are not absent a constitutional amendment, which could never pass.

  7. Another possible effect is to show how bizarre Romney’s grasp of reality is.
    Read what I thought was the strangest comment compilation from Romney yet.
    Romney apologizes for high school ‘teasing’
    Includes that Romney didn’t remember the 2 instances reported in the WaPo. He was at a private prep school where he said said other student’s sexual orientation was “the furthest thing from our minds in the 1960s.”
    WaPo source apparently also said that Romney often referred to actions by a closeted gay student as “atta girl”. “Although Romney said he didn’t remember that, he added the term is often used at a boy’s school. ”
    HNice to know that we can sleep safely at night knowing that Romney didn’t take part in hurtful actions, for that matter doesn’t know what is hurtful and what isn’t, and did all this at a private prep school.

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