Chess

by David Link on May 9, 2012

The sound you hear is Jay Carney breathing the world’s deepest sigh of relief.

For him, the squirming and hedging and sweating are over.  The President is on record supporting same-sex marriage.  There is an answer now to the question.

Yes, it’s Obama’s personal view, and yes, he’s said he supported same-sex marriage before, and then wandered afield.  But when you’re in any other political office, you can take positions that might play out differently when you’re being asked about the question in the presidential arena.  Ask Mitt Romney about health care.  Or anything.

Of course I think Obama did the right thing morally.  But for those of us who enjoy the chess of politics, I also think it was exquisite strategy.  First, after the loss in North Carolina, Obama’s campaign had a convention to worry about.  In that place and with that political context, any fudging on the bottom line would have been unacceptable to a lot of conventioneers at best, and could have led to some very ugly protests inside and/or outside the convention hall.

That’s taken care of now.  The only possible protests left will come from the motley, disgruntled religious types, who aren’t part of Obama’s base, and don’t figure into a winning electoral strategy for him.  Those protests, if they happen, now come under the heading of So What?

And that leads to the bigger point.  This is fine politics because it boxes Romney in with the worst part of his party.  Karl Rove poisoned the well on this issue, and now Obama is making Romney drink, and drink deeply.

Which Romney promptly did, and from a bigger cup than Obama could have hoped for.  Romney said he is not only opposed to same-sex marriage, but to any legal recognition of same-sex couples that approaches marriage equality — just what the worst part of North Carolina gave a big thumbs-up to.

How can Romney now appeal to the 2/3 of Americans who can no longer abide the complete exclusion of same-sex couples and their families from the law?  What he is stuck with are the politically tone-deaf, like the American Family Association and the Catholic League, who are so blinded by full marriage equality that they can’t see. . . um, straight.  Their hysteria increases in direct proportion to the growing support for full marriage equality, and for the middle ground of civil unions.  They are now 2/3 of the way to Spinal Tap’s famous eleven.

There are, of course, a lot of other issues, and an eternity until the election; lots of things are possible.  But on this issue, Obama just made his life a whole lot easier, and Romney’s a lot more difficult.  Obama has made it clear that he wants no part of the religious right’s intolerance on sexual orientation.  That’s a political strategy, and it’s a defensible moral stance.  But most of all, it’s got to be nice not to have to pretend you need the kind of votes that Bryan Fischer and the sadly devolved offspring of Billy Graham have to offer.

{ 7 comments }

Tom Scharbach May 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm

The President’s statement was a political earthquake, shifting the landscape in the national debate on this issue.

I think that your analysis of the short-term implications is excellent, and I agree with it.

Long term, I’m still trying to think it through.

I found Mayor Bloomberg’s observation interesting in that respect: “No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people – and I have no doubt that this will be no exception.

I think that’s right, too, and we are now over the hump. The struggle will still be long and hard, but there is no longer any question where the Democratic Party stands, and there is no going back.

It has been a fascinating 24 hours for me.

The LGBT Caucus has been working for a year to lay the groundwork for an explicit marriage equality plank in the Wisconsin and national platforms.

Between last night’s selection of Tom Barrett, a supporter of marriage equality, as the DPW’s candidate for Governor in our June 5 recall election and the President’s statement this afternoon, the potential roadblocks were cleared away on both scores. What looked like a fight now looks like a celebration in the making.

All the years of work and effort on the part of so many within the Democratic Party have born fruit, and I’m grateful.

Houndentenor May 9, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Romney’s reaction is rather surprising. Bush was against gay marriage but at least he paid lip service to the idea of civil unions. Cheney’s position wasn’t really different from Obama’s. Now Romney has moved to the right of W. As I said earlier, he had to. The religious right base of the GOP trusted Bush. They don’t trust Romney and they never will. This is just the beginning of Romney’s pandering to the likes of Maggie Gallagher and Brian Whatshisname. There’ll be plenty more between now and November. I realize the Democrats aren’t perfect, but how the hell can any self-respecting gay person stay in the GOP?

Carl May 10, 2012 at 1:09 am

The answer you will likely hear is that Democrats don’t care about gay marriage either, and that the important issues for gays who vote Republican are fiscal or foreign policy.

Romney is very lucky , as, thanks to the media coverage over the years, he will always be seen by many as a moderate. That means, when he takes a hard line against gay rights (or even gay people working for him), then many will just say, “Oh, he’s only saying that to get elected.” I don’t believe that. I think these truly are his views. Aside from a handful of statements in 1994 and 2002, he’s never supported any type of gay rights. So he just becomes more and more open about his views on these issues, and the media praises him for “consistency,” and the public shrugs.

We now have a much more vocally anti-gay version of George W. Bush, and someone who has fought, and will continue to fight, much more strongly against gay rights than Bush ever did. This is today’s GOP. And no one will care, because they will convince themselves that deep down he’s Moderate Mitt, everyone’s favorite kindly dad.

Carl May 10, 2012 at 1:56 am

It’s great that Obama supports gay marriage, but I don’t see this brilliant political strategy. This happened after a very embarrassing rollout where he had to undercut key members of his administration who support gay marriage. Now he suddenly says he supports it. This looks like damage control, not a genuine feeling.

I also don’t believe that this is some brilliant attempt to box Romney in. Romney has always been anti-gay, aside from a few campaign jargons in 1994 and 2002. Republicans can hate gays as much as they want, the press will always give them cover, and many voters simply do not care. Romney has made it clear that he opposes every major gay rights initiative and he did not even have a good word to say about the gay man working in his campaign until the man walked out the door. He hasn’t suffered any loss in polls because of this.

This may gain Obama some more campaign cash, but will likely lose him votes. Romney will gain more votes, and more money.

Obama did Romney a huge favor . And Romney will now use this to scapegoat gay people all the way to the White House.

Carlos May 10, 2012 at 5:50 am

The religious folk will now open their coffers and hold back on nothing as we saw in prop 8. If there was ever a time for folks who support Obama’s evolution, now is the time to dig deep into your pockets to support him as he will need it. The battle has just begun and is far from over. We may stand on principal and morality but money buys the votes and is what does the loudest talking in our society…

Gus May 10, 2012 at 7:06 am

Romney fumbles every time he can’t say the election is ONLY about the economy and taxes. Even when answering in this area that should be his strong point, he comes off like the guy who fired your brother-in-law.

Lori Heine May 10, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Long ago, the we-must-appease-the-reactionaries strategy may have made sense. But it has long since ceased to. Most of the people who say they don’t vote Republican cite the GOP’s fealty to Talibangelicals as the reason why. And many of those people are not young; a number of them are senior citizens.

The crybabies and tantrum-throwers on the reactionary Right have become a liability instead of an asset. But do Ken-Doll Romney and his handlers get this? Of course not.

I won’t vote for Obama again. I’m a Libertarian, and I’m backing Gary Johnson. But an Obama rout in November may be what it takes to finally convince the grownups in the GOP to flush hard enough to get rid of the Santorum element once and for all.

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