Spin Cycle

05.15.12

Obama Caught Practicing Politics!

New poll shows majority believe gay marriage decision influenced by politics (duh)


Two-thirds of Americans now believe President Obama was mostly motivated by politics in deciding to back same-sex marriage.


Wow—what a shocker!

Imagine, a president running for reelection who considers the impact of his decisions on whether he can keep his job.

Of course Obama was motivated by politics, at least in part. The majority who said so in the New York Times/CBS poll out Tuesday are right. But why was that deemed dramatic enough to become the NYT's lead?

The White House naturally had to consider the impact on gay voters, an important Democratic constituency, as well as gay donors. The 24 percent who said he made the decision on marriage mostly because he thinks it is right also have a point--I have little doubt that Obama also believes gays should be able to marry.  

Had Obama come out against same-sex marriage—which would have cost him that multicolored halo on Newsweek’s cover—that also would have been a political decision. Politics may be a dirty word these days, but that’s how these kinds of questions get resolved in a democracy. If Obama didn’t take the politics into account—that is, can he garner support for his position—he would be guilty of malpractice. (Yes, he is leaving the matter up to the states, but surely he has transformed the debate by weighing in.)

Was George W. Bush being political, and trying to rouse his base, when he campaigned for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? Of course—just like he was being political by using 9/11 footage and the war on terror to win a second term.

Was Bill Clinton being political when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, months before facing the voters for the last time? Clinton now says he regrets the law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman—which the Obama Justice Department says in unconstitutional—but he succumbed to the politics of the moment.

The worst indictment of an officeholder is that he did something he didn’t believe in for reasons of political expedience. I don’t think Obama can be accused of that, although he sure took his time evolving.  

Footnote: The Obama camp is pushing back against the poll's overall finding, that Mitt Romney leads the president 46 to 43 percent. Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told MSNBC that the survey is based on a "biased" sample.