Politics

05.09.12

Is Obama Completing His Evolution Tonight?

This morning, reports Firedoglake.com, in the wake of yesterday's anti-same-sex marriage vote in North Carolina, the people at Change.org started a petition to move the Democratic convention out of the state. In two hours, 14,000 signatures were collected. That sounds like a lot.

It's probably a little late for that. Hotel rooms in the host city are blocked off a year in advance. But it will be interesting to track whether this effort turns out to be spasmodic or whether they end up getting 200,000 signatures or some such.

Meanwhile, Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post, generally liberal in her views but not what you'd call a fire-breather, argues that Obama ought to just throw in the towel and announce his support for same-sex marriage. It's a good column, but I'm still not persuaded.

I'd like everyone who agrees with Marcus to ask this question. We pundit people tend to think of this only in terms of whether it will help Obama—what swing voters will think, how black voters will react, etc. But try this question on for size, ignored but very important: what would it accomplish for the cause if Obama made such an announcement in a campaign context?

I say it would be better for the cause if Obama waited. Here's why. There are lots of conservatives in the establishment who support gay marriage—the David Brookses and Ted Olsons, my colleague David Frum, so many others. If Obama appears to those folks to be using support for same-sex marriage as an electoral ploy to help him defeat a candidate whom all of those people are (presumably) voting for, then they won't applaud his decision. Politics will be in the way.

But if he does it postelection, next year sometime (this assumes that he wins, which is the risk), all these people will embrace the move, and same-sex marriage will enjoy broad bipartisan support among the intelligentsia.

I know that many of you are going to write "Who cares what David Brooks thinks?" but you should care for two reasons. First of all, I mean Brooks and the other two I name above as stand-ins for dozens of Republicans and conservatives who wouldn't be fighting him—and who would be opposing their own people in Congress. Second, when America looks and sees that there is genuine bipartisan support for something, people will be more likely to get behind the program.

But maybe all this is moot now. Obama is giving an interview to Robin Roberts on ABC tonight to talk about this issue. It seems unlikely the White House would do this unless he's going to say something big. And there's only one Big Thing to say. So I guess we're going to find out how this will work in an election year.

Worth noting: about one in six of Obama's big money bundlers is gay. That would certainly be a factor here. But let's not put it all down to money. This would certainly be courageous of Obama—I would argue maybe more courageous than Lyndon Johnson was to support civil rights in an election year. LBJ had not only a majority of public opinion with him, but he also had two thirds of the Senate and a big majority in the House backing him on that position. Obama has neither of those last two. Indeed, he has a fair number of solons from his own party who aren't there yet (what will Joe Manchin shoot in his next ad?!). So it would be gutsy. I think a little too gutsy. But nobody made me president. Good luck to him.