I begin to understand the Obama strategy on coming out for gay marriage just before the election. It may or may not yield an increase in November votes for the Democrats; that remains uncertain at this point. I’m not endorsing Tony Perkins’s statement on CNN that “I think the president this week took six or seven states he carried in 2008 and put them in play with this one ill-conceived position” by any means. But it’s not obvious to me that this was a great play on the offensive end of the political court.
True, even one of their own pollsters is telling Republicans to get with the program on gay marriage, a position the public is clearly moving toward. And it’s also true that Obama probably didn’t lose many votes by his declaration, since (1) it doesn’t actually mean anything in any practical sense, and (2) almost all the folks for whom gay marriage is an activating issue were already against him. And he may have convinced a few skeptics that he is capable of making a brave and principled move.
I remain unconvinced on that, given his history as mentioned by Gary Younge but originally described by Ryan Lizza in the famous New Yorker issue with the controversial cartoon on its cover. The furor over the cover helped to distract from the content of the article.
This leaves me looking for a motive for Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage. I strongly doubt Biden was over his skies, as the President apparently said; more likely it was a trial balloon. In any case, reading TPM today led me to a new understanding: instead of an offensive play, this is a defensive one.
Consider: the Republican party is now split. There’s the Tony Perkins purist camp that conceives of the issue as the defense of the family; imagine what you might be willing to do if you thought your family and the whole concept of family was under attack. Then there’s the Mitch McConnell realist camp that unabashedly represents the super-rich and the big corporations, which needs by whatever means necessary to be close enough to the levers of public power to prevent their use. Being that close requires a minimum number of votes, and the realist camp realizes that gay marriage has become a losing issue for the party. The purist camp consists mostly of Right-Wing Authoritarians in Bob Altemeyer’s terminology, while Social Dominators constitute much of the realist cohort.
Republicans have begun whining about Obama’s declaration being political and intended to divide America. This, from people who for years have propounded hateful and divisive doctrines of exclusion, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, militarism, and general disregard of the sanctity of any life after the moment of birth, favoring instead the central importance of private property. Chomsky readers will have no trouble decoding this sort of speech.
Non-Republicans might be excused for a bit of a chortle over their discomfiture in this matter. If they can’t follow Mayor Quimby’s strategy (“Very well, if that is the way the winds are blowing, let no one say I don’t also blow.”), how can the realist wing hope to prevent Americans from using their government to rein in the excesses of capitalism? By the same token, if they are forced to make a U-turn on gay marriage rights, the so-called social conservatives will be admitting defeat, as a result of which movement leaders will lose influence, prestige, and money. How can they afford to reverse course?
It seems the Obama strategists have got the Republicans in a pretty pickle.