Obama Comes Out For Gay Marriage
One thing that’s been conspicuously absent from the news media is any reporting on how Obama is fairing in the various Democratic primaries. It makes some sense: Obama is almost certainly going to win each one handily. There are no even somewhat notable protest candidates, but it would be interesting to see the number of protest votes that are cast against the incumbent. Well, drowned out amidst the noise of the noxious victory for the anti-gay marriage amendment in North Carolina was the interesting news that Obama almost lost the West Virginia Democratic Primary. Obama has never been very popular in West Virginia: he lost big to Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and the Democratic establishment of the state has been reticent to publicly support Obama. One of their Senators, Joe Manchin, has said that he’s unsure of who he’s voting for. What makes the West Virginia result interesting is that the man who won 40% and 10 counties, Keith Judd, is a federal inmate in Texas. Judd is something of a whack job: his Project Vote Smart biography lists among his special talents ESP: the ability to predict the future. Certainly the vote in West Virginia was no big endorsement of the Judd platform, but more of a reminder that Obama remains deeply unpopular among some more conservative Democrats. In North Carolina, a state Obama narrowly won in 2008, 20% of the Democratic electorate voted for “uncommitted” yesterday. It’s within this context that Obama’s somewhat covert support for gay marriage made some sense.
There had been a rising chorus urging President Obama to come out forcefully in support of gay marriage, as Vice President Biden did over the weekend. For his part, Obama claimed that his views on the issue are “evolving.” A number of high profile Democrats, including Ex-DNC chairman Ed Rendell had urged Obama to “man up,” and publicly support gay marriage. Obama’s support for gay marriage seemed to be something of an open secret, his administration had ended “don’t ask don’t tell” and he’d pledged to support a bill pushed by Sen. Diane Feinstein that would end the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama’s hesitance raised some interesting points, the first being that there was basically no upside for him to do it. Gay rights supporters, as a constituency, are already behind the president in big numbers, and his public support will alienate some voters in key states. The second point is that maybe Obama didn’t believe in gay marriage. There has been a tendency amongst progressives to assume that Obama is ideologically “one of them” and his capitulations and failures in their eyes have been caused by the political environment. People equate his skin color and personal narrative with progressive values despite the fact that he’s consistently acted like a centrist Democrat. Obama is being interviewed on ABC tonight, and the speculation was that he was going to “come out” with his support for gay marriage. And indeed he did
ABC released a report that Obama had come out in support of gay marriage. It’s a good thing too, being anti gay marriage is indistinguishable from homophobia and let’s not pretend that it isn’t. Fundamentally however, Obama’s endorsement makes little difference: gay marriage is a states issue and I don’t think there were many people that didn’t think Obama supported it.
As I said previously, gay rights supporters are fully behind Obama and probably would have been regardless of today’s announcement. Say what you want about conservative or tea-party Republicans, but they don’t take ideological impurity. They are unafraid to run challengers against incumbents to force the incumbent to move rightward or get voted out of office. The effect has been a highly partisan GOP, but that’s what their supporters want. Democrats have been more willing to allow variance in political belief, and it’s made them a “big tent” but it’s also made them an unfocused and disappointing political party in many ways. My own feelings about this are somewhat unclear: is it better to get a bad Democrat into office or to force the debate leftward and risk alienating moderates?
What’s interesting is how Obama reacted to the collective pressure of activists and his fellow politicians. If only Democrats had the same courage to mobilize around something that Obama could tangibly affect like the justice department’s ridiculous raids on medical marijuana dispensaries or the McCain-Levin act, which allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens.
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