Well, since today was a slow news day, I thought I’d follow up on the post that made me one of the world’s leading experts on Fuzz Balls, at least according to Google. Of course, I seem to be slipping in the search results.
Oh, wait. Something did happen today, didn’t it?
It should not surprise anyone that I fully support equal rights for the LGBT community, including the right to marry the person of one’s choice. The one explicit line that I would draw would be that religious organizations not be compelled by the government to accept behavior that they believe is wrong.
So what did happen today? Well, it would seem that President Obama’s evolution on the question of marriage equality is complete and that he was planning to make a statement in support of it sometime this summer before the convention. DC does get a bit boring in August, after all, Of course, that was before Vice President Biden went on a Sunday talk show and voiced his support for marriage equality. Naturally, ears began perking up all over Washington. Was this a patented Biden gaffe, or was it a trial balloon? (It turns out it was the former, as far as I can tell.) Then, Education Secretary Duncan voiced his support, and Obama’s progressive base, the base that engages in a vigorous debate (often so vigorous as to result in a circular firing squad) as to whether Obama has done enough for LGBT rights, smelled blood in the water. Obama, wisely, decided to accelerate his announcement, resulting in today’s interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts.
So what does it mean? Well, on one hand, not a whole lot. Obama voiced a personal opinion with no direct policy implications attached to it. It’s an opinion that pretty much everyone thinks he has had for a long time, and that he was withholding it for fear of the political consequences. Personally, I was in the school of thought that he was going to make such a statement after he won reelection. That would be the safe approach, keeping a divisive(?) social issue out of the fall campaign against a Republican in Romney whose appeal to the GOP’s social conservative base is tepid at best.
Well, Obama did not take the safe approach. Interestingly, he made this announcement the day after North Carolina, a state that he carried in 2008 and that will host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, voted to ammend their constitution to make a monogamous, heterosexual marriage the only form of civil union recognized by the state. I’m honestly not certain what that timing means. Was it a coincidence after the Biden statement? Was it to console depressed LGBT supporters? I don’t know.
So, the question remains, what does this mean for November? Well, this is perhaps one of the riskier political moves I’ve seen Obama make. Politically speaking, it demonstrates a boldness on par with tough foreign policy calls like the Bin Laden raid and the rescue of the container ship captain off Somalia. Like those events, Obama’s statement today could lead to triumph or disaster.
There is no doubt that the liberal base is fired up by today’s events, and that’s a very good thing. Between [unfounded] disappointment over the moderation Obama has displayed and an inability to take the GOP field seriously, the base has displayed a lackluster level of enthusiasm that would could be hard pressed under a barrage of super PAC ads and vote suppression laws. This announcement should take that problem off the table.
The problem is that Obama’s base is not the only one that is energized. If evangelicals were planning to sit this election out because the GOP standard bearer is a moderate Mormon, they’re going to be fired up now. It’s actually possible that this will interfere with Romney’s attempt to tack back to the center after the primaries. Will it make the GOP convention a hate-fest reminiscent of 1992? How will it affect the vice-presidential selection? I think Rubio’s stock just went up a bit with the GOP hoping he can use marriage equality to siphon votes from the Latino community.
I have no doubt that Obama has enraged the religious right. He must know this, so his calculation must be that the new found enthusiasm on the left will be a sufficient counter or that the right will be so enraged that they will damage themselves in the eyes of moderates. If he’s right, this will go down as a brilliant move. If he’s wrong, than it will go down as a horrible blunder with consequences all up and down ballots nation-wide. Just as an example, Washington tends to be reliably liberal, but we’ve got a referendum on marriage equality and a competitive gubernatorial race.
I can’t deny that this was a bold move, nor would I want to. I’m glad he did it, even if it is only symbolic at the moment. The fact is that words matter. Symbols matter. And to a marginalized, vilified minority, well, I couldn’t begin to imagine how it must feel for them to have the President of the United States stand up and declare his support on this critical issue.