Saturday, May 12, 2012

I wasn't sure that Rand Paul could get any stupider


Sen. Rand Paul on Friday brushed off Barack Obama's recent reversal on same-sex marriage by saying he didn't think the president's views "could get any gayer."

The remarks from the Republican senator from Kentucky scored laughs among those attending an event held by Iowa's Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Of course they did. Anti-gay bigotry is hilarious to these right-wing assholes.

And while Rand likes to talk up what a devout libertarian he is, what he really is is a right-wing libertarian, and what we know about many right-wing libertarians is that they're only libertarian within certain biased, and specifically bigoted, parameters, like libertarianism for rich white people but government intervention for everyone else, and that they tend to mix their self-interestedly selective libertarianism with elements of social conservatism (e.g., they tend to be anti-abortion and generally dismissive of women and minorities and anyone else deemed to be "different"), often of the vicious variety, like, for example, Rand's father's, that would be Ron Paul's, expressions of racism and flirtations, to put it nicely, with white supremacists.

Rand obviously meant "gayer" in a bad way, a very bad way, and that's because it's still okay, more than okay, in conservative circles to hate gays and target them with all the venom you can muster.

Can you imagine him saying he didn't think Obama's views could get any... blacker?

Well... yes. But that wouldn't be quite as acceptable, would it, even on the right.


I admit, the title of this post isn't quite accurate. It's not so much stupidity that's driving Rand as it is bigotry.

And, I further admit, I actually was pretty sure he could get stupider, or rather that his bigotry could prove to be even worse that we already knew it was.

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Things about political polling that occur to me

By Richard K. Barry

I'm no expert on political polling. I'm very interested in it, but there is a science to it that I don't know a lot about. Polling results are reported widely in the media. They are examined and discussed constantly. I pay attention.

In a common sense sort of way, there are a few things to know about polls. In no particular order, and certainly not meant to be comprehensive, here are a few random thoughts: 

  • Reputable polling companies have a vested interest in getting it right. There is nothing more important to a polling company than accurately predicting a race's outcome, nothing more embarrassing than getting it really wrong. 
  • Some polling companies are in some sense "aligned" with political parties. Sometimes this just means that the principals in the company have had prior affiliations. Sometimes it means that the company does a lot of paid work for one party or the other. Sometimes it's more unseemly. This doesn't necessarily mean that their results can't be trusted, only that if you start to notice that certain results are not consistent with what other polls are finding, you might ask yourself why that is. 
  • On the previous point, while it is important for polling companies to get it right, if they do happen to favour one party over another, there are all sorts or ways to intentionally get it wrong in the short-term if that helps the candidate they favour. Good reasons to "find" that a candidate is doing better than "expected" might be that it raises their profile, and helps them generate momentum in their campaign. 
  • As to how results in polls can be manipulated, exactly how a question is asked in a survey and what kinds of questions are asked prior to the main question gauging support for the candidate can be very important. For example, if you ask a person how important experience in running a business is to running the economy, then ask whether Romney or Obama would be better at managing the economy, you might get a skewed reply. If you ask how important it is that a president be able to empathize with the struggling middle class as a leading-in question, you might get a different answer. That is simplistic, but you get the point. 
  • If a polling company did want to skew data to help one side or the other, they would likely do that earlier in the race, well before election day. If they are reputable at all, they are going to want to get the final results right just like everyone else. In great part, future business might depend on it. 
  • Sample size is important in a poll. The more people who are surveyed, the more likely the results are to be correct. This lowers what is called the margin of error (MoE).
  • Precisely who was polled is key. If you are polling people who say they are very likely to vote, that is important. If they are registered voters, this is also important information. People can say whatever they like, if they don't vote, it doesn't matter. 
  • Something called "cross tabs" are important. I loved the Wiki definition of this: "Cross tabulation is the process of creating a contingency from the multivariate frequency distribution of statistical variables." Okay. In essence, this refers to a process of mixing and matching discrete variable in a survey, for example, how are younger voters in the south likely to vote, or, how are women with lower incomes, who live in swing states likely to vote? A problem with this is to make sure you have a statistically significant number of respondents for this kind of analysis, but it is key information for campaign managers. 
  • It's always good to know when a survey was taken, as opposed to when the results were published. Sometimes results are driven by key events, like a bad jobs report or an important presidential announcement. Some of these events may be important over time. Some will fade in significance fairly quickly. 
  • The phenomenon of an "outlier" poll is interesting. As scientific as pollsters like to claim their work is, sometimes a poll comes out that is completely at odds with what everyone else is finding. It happens. These are called outliers. It's also called getting it wrong. It's always better if available polling results confirm each other. 
  • There is something called a tracking poll, which generally uses a smaller sample size. It's not so much about capturing a snapshot of how a given candidate is doing at any given moment with a high degree of statistical accuracy, but about identifying trends. If I speak to 500 different people every night for months, I can learn something about how things are trending, but no particular night's results may be very accurate. 
  • The whole question of polling methodology is really the technical side of things. How do pollsters decide who to call, how do they generate a random sample? Do they used pre-organized panels of respondents? Some pollsters have staff who speak to live bodies. Some use automated systems that ask you to press "1" for a given reply. Some analysts say that certain groups can be underrepresented in a polling sample for very simple reasons. For example, more and more people are using cell phones as their primary phone. Younger people tend to do this. If the pollster is not using cell numbers, are his results going to be skewed? Very likely. Some people are just harder to survey, for many different reasons. Then there is the point about fewer and fewer people wanting to answer surveys and the ones who do maybe having a certain profile, i.e, perhaps more engaged. How does all this effect the results of a poll? Experts spend a lot of time discussing and worrying about these kinds of things. 
  • There is something called "push-polling," which isn't really polling at all, but campaigning by other means. If you get a call claiming to be a political survey and you are asked a question that sounds something like, "If you knew that Candidate X thought it was okay to provide free heroin to pre-schoolers, would that make you more or less likely to vote for him?" The caller never said that this is what Candidate X is proposing, but the impact on the prospective voter is clear.
  • I should also say that polls can only reflect what people are actually thinking. Early in a contest when voters are still making up their minds, it's common to see a lot of volatility in polling results. As we get closer to election day, polls begin to settle because voters are starting to make up their minds. When we say it's early days in a race, that's because you can't capture what isn't there.
  • Bottom line is that numbers are always interesting, as long as you give some thought to what you are looking at. 
As I say, this is not meant to be comprehensive, only stuff you might think about when you see polling numbers reported in the press. It's just meant as a bit of a primer on things to be aware of. If I got anything wrong or incomplete, let me know. 

By the way, I was driven to do this because I was looking at the aggregated polling data at RealClearPolitics for Obama vs. Romney. You can find that here. Nothing that I said above is intended to reflect on any of the polls listed there. I don't know enough about it.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


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Darin Mastroianni in Major League Baseball

By Richard K. Barry

Since last year, I have been having some fun following the baseball career of Darin Mastroianni, here and here. My interest stems from the fact that I knew Darin's dad, Paul, when we grew up together just north of New York City. We were great pals in school when we were very young, literally grade school. We never stayed close after that, but Paul was always one of the good guys, and I was very happy for him when I found out his son was having success playing ball. Paul and I exchanged brief Facebook messages when I heard about it.

What made it more interesting for me is that Darin played much of his minor league career in the Toronto Blue Jays system. I moved to Toronto many years ago and thought it might be great to see him at the Rogers Centre should he make it that far.

As it turned out, Darin made it up to the Major League Blue Jays club for just one game last year and was subsequently dealt to the Minnesota Twins before the regular season began this year. He started in their minor league system as well but was called up a few days ago. And, because baseball is like that, he started his Major League career with the Twins in a game against the Jays.

Last night, I got a chance to watch him play, at least on television, for the very first time. I really enjoyed it. Conflicted though I was, as a Jays fan, I watched as Darin went 2 for 4, and drove in 3 runs to help beat Toronto 7-6. This was Darin's first Major League hit, by the way. My wife, also a long-time Jays fan, said it was okay to root for Darin on a personal level but that it was not okay that the Jays lost. What can I say?

The Twins have put Mastroianni in right field as part of their new look to shake things up. They are, sad to say, currently the worst team in baseball. Darin had been batting .346 at Triple-A Rochester, so I am sure the Twins are hoping he can help. He's a not a power guy, but he's fast and exciting so let's see where this goes.

One press report had this to say about Mastroianni's performance:

Mastroianni clapped his hands and yelled to himself after both of his hits. It was a rare display of excitement and jubilation in what has been a miserable season for the Twins, baseball's worst team so far.

"Just to be in the books that you got a hit in the big leagues, for it to be such an important one is something I can't imagine," said Mastroianni, who played one game with Toronto last season. "The second one was just as big as the first one."

I always think about that scene in Bull Durham when Crash Davis is trying to teach "Nuke" LaLoosh how to talk to the press when he gets to the big team. "We gotta play 'em one game at a time. I just wanna give it my best shot. Good Lord willin,' things'll work out."

That's just great. I cannot imagine how excited Darin must be and how excited his family must be for him. Professional sports are "just a game," but they also involve a lot of people's lives, personal stories, hopes, aspirations and all that stuff.

It was good to see young Mastroianni in the "bigs." I'm sure his father, Paul, is very proud.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost,)

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Bad news for the GOP, more signs of economic recovery

By Richard K. Barry

L.S. Lowry: "Going to Work"

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the U.S. auto sector is looking strong:
U.S. auto sales are on pace for the best showing since 2007 and a third straight year of at least 10 percent gains, only the fourth such streak since the Great Depression, as more-confident buyers return to showrooms.

They add that "automakers are adding overnight shifts and cutting workers' vacations to meet demand."

Pent-up demand, an improving economy and loosening credit has spurred the better-than-estimated auto sales and helped General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler Group LLC to first quarter profits that beat analysts’ forecasts even while deliveries fell in Europe.

On a related note, CNBC reports that consumer sentiment is at a four year high in early May as "Americans remained upbeat about the job market."
The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary May reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment improved to 77.8 from 76.4 in April, topping forecasts for 76.2. It was the highest level since January 2008.
Despite the recent slowdown in job growth, nearly twice as many consumers reported hearing about new job gains than said they had heard about recent job losses, the survey said.

In fairness, the survey director, Richard Curtis, suggests that either we will see more positive numbers on the labour market or people are getting too excited too soon. Hedging his bets, Curtis adds that the truth will probably be somewhere in the middle.

I don't want to oversell signs of a recovery, we have a long way to go, but good news is good news and deserves to be mentioned. I realize this will not make the Republicans happy, although some of these geniuses have actually suggested that any improvement should be chalked up to the expectation among voters that the Obama Administration is coming to an end. Nice try, guys.

I recognize that many people think the fall election will a referendum on the state of the economy, at least the GOP hopes so. I suppose if things really go in a bad direction, that will be bad for the Dems. But, if trends continue, it's getting very hard to see how Romney gets any traction at all.

Keep that good economic news rolling in.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Porcupine Tree: "Russia on Ice"

I've blogged about Porcupine Tree twice before: in December 2007 (on "Fear of a Blank Planet," from the album of the same (2007)) and in March 2011 (on "Time Flies," from its most recent album, The Incident (2009)).

While these last two albums are both very good, my favourite Porcupine Tree period is the transitionary one between the early psychedelia / progressive rock (as on Up the Downstair (1993) and The Sky Moves Sideways (1995) and the later metal / alternative rock (as on In Absentia (2002) and Deadwing (2005) -- the period that includes Signify (1996), Stupid Dream (1999), and Lightbulb Sun (2000), the period, in my view, in which it all came together for this great band, with music that was accessible in pop-rock terms without losing its progressive edge, music that was more commercial than what had come before but without the band retaining its integrity and distinctiveness.

Interestingly, I came to this middle period only after the other two. I'd heard of Porcupine Tree before, a prog rock band reportedly in the tradition of my beloved Pink Floyd, but it was Blank Planet that first really got me into the band, an album that captured my attention with its conceptual focus on individual alienation in our hyper-technological age, and from there I went back to the early stuff, and specifically to Sky Moves Sideways, perhaps the album closest to Floyd (though band leader Steven Wilson is right to dispute superficial comparisons, even if he himself was deeply influenced by Dark Side). More recently, I got into the band's remarkable live album Warszawa (2004), and from there I finally discovered those three middle albums. (I realize I'm oversimplifying things by dividing the band's history into three parts, but it's a useful way of looking at its complex development over almost two decades.) And in so doing I went from being something of a fan to being a huge fan, from thinking Porcupine Tree was a really good band to thinking it was -- and is -- a truly great one.

And at the very peak, I think, is the song "Russia on Ice" on Lightbulb Sun -- my favourite Porcupine Tree song on my favourite Porcupine Tree album. (It's one of "at least four or five songs on that record which I call the divorce songs, the relationship songs, which are all about various stages of the splitting up a relationship, of dissolving a relationship," as Wilson explained.)

It's an exceptionally brilliant and epic song, clocking in at just over 13 minutes. I haven't been able to find a clip of a full live performance, and there's obviously no video, but here it is -- just the audio. I highly recommend giving it a listen. And preferably many listens. It gets better and better as you pick up more and more, it holds up extremely well, and it stays with you. Enjoy.


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Friday, May 11, 2012

Why did Obama go to L.A.? That's where the money is

Don't know if everyone remembers the old joke about Willie Sutton, famous bank robber of the early-mid 20th century in America. He was once asked why he robbed banks and replied, "That's where the money is."

Thursday night in Los Angeles Barack Obama got together with his bestest buddy George Clooney to raise a few dollars for the president's reelection campaign. Well, actually, those in attendance paid $40,000 per person to support the president's cause, according to The New York Times.

Filmmaker Jeffrey Katzenberg, credited by George Clooney for organizing the event, said the dinner raised nearly $15 million, which sets a record for a presidential election fundraiser:

Roughly half came from the donors; the rest came from an Obama campaign sweepstakes online for small contributors, two of whom were picked to attend the event.

Financial support of any kind is always welcome, but the entertainment industry's largesse is particularly important given that Obama has lost much support on Wall Street and donors with really deep pockets are not that easy to find.

And just because I have always aspired to be an entertainment reporter, I'm happy to let you know that:

Among the roughly 150 people in a large tent erected on Mr. Clooney's outdoor basketball court were actors and entertainers including Jack Black, Robert Donwey Jr., Selma Hayek, Toby Maguire, Barbra Streisand and her husband, James Brolin, and the designers Diane von Fursternberg and Trina Turk.

There, I can almost feel my own oneness with the beautiful people.

I suppose if anything counts as news from the event, aside from the huge haul, it might be this:

Mr. Obama has said that he intended to announce his support for same-sex marriage before the election, and has acknowledged that his timetable was moved up after Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. last Sunday endorsed such unions in a television interview. The president, by announcing his own endorsement on Wednesday in an interview on ABC, avoided the awkwardness of coming here seemingly at odds with Mr. Biden on the issue.

But back to the glamour. The Times reported this exchange between Obama and George Clooney:

When Mr. Obama went through his stump-speech recitation of his work on the economy, energy policy, education, banking regulations and health care, and made his usual cracks about his new wrinkles and gray hair, on this night he added, "George doesn't have to go through these things."

"Look at me!" Mr. Clooney shouted from his table in the audience.

"I like that in you, brother," Mr. Obama said.

Yeah, George, look at you. Wish I had an extra 40 large I didn't need. Sounds like it would have been fun.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Sharpening distinctions

By Infidel753

One of the few remaining Republican giants of the old school, Senator Richard Lugar, was teabagged into political oblivion this week. The Nutty faction of Republicans, no longer able to stomach Lugar's record of compromise with Democrats and concessions to reality, demanded a properly insane ideologue instead -- and they appear to have gotten one, in the person of new Republican candidate Richard Mourdock.

This was a sharpening of distinctions, the presentation of a starker choice, one which more realistically reflects the contrast between the parties today.  Moderates and centrists who felt comfortable voting for Lugar will feel much less so about Mourdock. Can the Democrats now pick up this seat? It's far from a sure thing -- Indiana's a pretty red state, and Mourdock isn't as obviously out in orbit around Pluto as, say, Christine O'Donnell was. But our chances have surely improved.

An even greater sharpening of distinctions took place this week around another hot-button issue -- gay marriage. North Carolina's already-infamous Amendment One passed, not only affirming the ban on gay marriage but also obliterating all intermediate rights such as civil unions and domestic-partner benefits (it has been claimed that many North Carolina voters favored such concessions and would not have voted for Amendment One if they had realized it prohibited them -- if so, let's hope buyer's remorse is settling in). Within days of this triumph for the Godhatesfagsian theocratic right, the President of the United States personally endorsed gay marriage. Again, a stark contrast, highlighting the real differences between the parties.

Some have argued that Obama was pushed into this move by Biden's recent remarks about gay marriage (the latter branded as a "gaffe"); others consider the administration too savvy to have let itself be put in such a position, and insist the whole thing was orchestrated. To me it seems just as likely that Obama had "evolved" to his newly-stated position some time ago, and felt it appropriate to make a public statement now in order to reassure a reliable but embattled constituency in the wake of the North Carolina vote.

Was it risky? I question how many extra knuckle-dragger votes the Republicans will really gain from Obama's announcement. Those who believe him to be a Muslim communist Nazi Kenyan America-hater have no doubt long been convinced that he's pro-gay-marriage whether he explicitly said so or not; their votes were in the bag for the Republicans all along. It's the less-motivated part of the left, the naïve both-parties-are-the-same cynics, the ones who aren't paying attention, who are more likely to be reachable here.

I myself, for example, have been somewhat relieved at the victory of the Sane faction of Republicans in nominating Romney -- while Obama is far better, and is guaranteed my vote, at least we don't need to worry about Bachmann or Perry becoming president. A site I regularly read to follow thinking among the Sane faction is the pro-Romney Race42012, far removed from the ravings of RedState or Hot Air. Yet even there, when Obama's announcement hit the news, the same old dehumanizing clichés and knee-jerk bigotries ambled forth (see comment thread here), knuckles dragging, to remind us that these people, whether Sane or Nutty, are The Enemy. (For the Nutty faction, there was this.)  One would have to be an impossibly naïve cynic to look at all this and still claim there is no meaningful difference between the parties.

Remember, getting people fired up is good for us. When turnout is high (2008), we win. When turnout is low (2010), they win.

As Mourdock himself recently said, "We are at that point where one side or the other has to win this argument. One side or the other will dominate." If that's what they want, I'm up for it. Let's make sure it's our side.

(Cross-posted at Infidel753.)

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The right wing doesn't seem to want the marriage equality fight

By Richard K. Barry

Ever since President Obama decided to come out forcefully for marriage equality, the response by opponents of his move has been fascinating. I get the sense that they were not only not expecting it, but are somewhat conflicted about how to deal with it.

Although there has been some criticism of the president as a matter of policy or morality, i.e., that it is simply wrong, most of what has been said from the right has been to criticize Obama for taking a cynical position, clearly politically motivated, or that he "flip-flopped" from positions he had held earlier.

There were a few comments to the effect that this was an attack on religion or on the family, but mostly the right has stayed away from that. Even Obama's presumptive opponent in the fall has almost wearily restated his position that marriage is between one man and one woman, and then moved as quickly as he could to a discussion about the economy.

Perhaps the most common approach from right-wing pundits has been to claim that Obama did what he did to distract people from the still weak economy. Some have tried to suggest that Obama's statement was not even a very big deal and concerns about the economy are really what should be our focus.

I don't know what I think about whether or not Vice-President Biden's earlier supportive statements in favour of marriage equality were calculated, as they used to say, to "fly the flag to see who salutes." Of course, Obama's team will deny that and I have no inside knowledge. So far, judging from the conservative response, the president has made a shrewd move, however it came about. The other guys seem to want no part of this debate on its merits, and that should tell us a lot.

This doesn't mean that there are no risks to what the president did. It's been said that this will not sit well with segments of the African American community, though I don't think they will abandon Barack Obama or vote for Romney. For some people who may also have opinions on the matter that are evolving, perhaps they are not ready to be fully supportive. But, I don't see a lot of people who would be in Obama's potential "voter universe," as the pros say, who are going to be put off by this. Independents, for example, tend to be supportive of marriage equality.

If I had to guess, most people not strongly motivated by the marriage equality issue one way or the other are just as likely to take a "live and let live" attitude. In a way, support for marriage equality has become the less contentious perspective, and people, fundamentally, don't like conflict.

My original point, though, is, I think, quite interesting. The right wing doesn't seem to want this battle and that tells me they don't think they can win it.

Common sense in politics should tell us that when one side complains that the other side did something that was politically motivated and cynical in order to get an electoral advantage, it means that the thing done did, or will do, what it is supposed to do. It worked.

One other point, Romney has one card to play to get to the White House and that is that he would better manage the economic recovery than Obama. If you put a social conservative issue like gay marriage in the mix, you invite all kinds of other radical so-con issues into the debate. Romney would end up having to stand with all sorts of people who make independent voters very nervous. Simply put, he doesn't want that.

Sometimes you can't know precisely where the country stands on a given issue unless you have a clear way of putting the thing in front of the entire nation in an unequivocal way. Having the president pronounce on a matter, a contentious matter, is certainly one way to do that. Sometimes, the response can be surprising. As I say, Mitt Romney and his party seem to be okay just walking away from this fight. I don't know if I can say I predicted that this would have been their response, but that is what we are seeing.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Women, gays, and Barack Obama's ears

The big news yesterday -- no, the HUGE news -- was President Obama's interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, set up specifically so that he could air his own personal views about gay people being able to marry their same-sex partners: After much soul-searching and a couple of decades of "evolving," he was finally ready to say out loud that he's all for it.

He did go on to say that it should be left to the states to decide their own policies concerning the legalities of such unions, but the die was cast, the mold was formed: a sitting president took a positive public stand, albeit a personal one, on the issue of gay marriage.

As might have been expected, the fundie leaders in the Right Wing Religiousphere took it hard. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was all over the airwaves protesting the president's comments. (Kudos to CNN's Soledad O'Brien, the product of mixed-race parents who married when most states outlawed such marriages, for turning an interview into a real debate, thus punching bloody holes in Perkins' many lame arguments:

Small-government advocate and current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came forward like the good soldier he is and said, no ifs, ands, or buts (for now) -- no, no, no to gay marriage, or even civil unions, or anything else that might require Big Government (that would be him if he wins) to step in and make more rules disregarding civil rights.

Leaders of states that probably weren't going to go Obama's way in November anyway jumped in to remind him that he was committing political suicide over this.

Some black church leaders voiced their opposition to Obama's views, sending a message that might possibly still resonate in November.

So, yes, even though his comments to Robin Roberts won't amount to a hill of beans in the legal world and won't change a thing in the states that are rabid about banning gay marriage (two days ago, North Carolina became the 30th state to ban same-sex unions), Obama's admission of his own personal feelings is the stuff dreams are made of. Both sides will see it as a world-class political haymaker.

But what made the president's comments so memorable was the fact that, while he would have preferred to sidestep this particular bombshell of an issue forever if need be, it appears it was his wife and his daughters who ultimately convinced him that, while he might be president of these United States -- an all-powerful position requiring the wisdom of Solomon and the unbiased judgment of, say, the theoretical Supreme Court -- his earlier published views on the subject were about as wrongheaded as it gets.

They talked to him about love and how it works in mysterious ways, and his daughters let him know how much it hurt them that, by his own admission, the best he could come up with was that he was still "evolving" on this particular issue.

There were many juicy quote-bites one could pull out of that interview, but this one got me right where my heart beats loudest:

You know, Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. And I -- you know, there have been times where Michelle and I have been sittin' around the dinner table. And we've been talkin' and -- about their friends and their parents. And Malia and Sasha would -- it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them. And -- and frankly -- that's the kind of thing that prompts -- a change of perspective. You know, not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated -- differently, when it comes to -- the eyes of the law.

Okay, I'm a sucker for a good dad, no matter what kind of house he lives in, so it's understandable why I might latch onto that one particular part of the conversation. But I watched the entire interview; I watched the body language and listened to the tone of voice. I saw an everyman wrestling with his ethos, not a politician striving to convince, and I rejoiced.


So, okay again: It didn't hurt that Joe Biden, our beloved, wacky veep, got to gushing about his own feelings on gay marriage on Sunday's Meet the Press. The next day, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank called it a "gaffe" (a word that seems to cling to Biden as tightly as his own shadow) and the press took off running. (Note to Joe: It's far better to be gaffe-prone than to be mean-prone. So far, you're okay, man.):

The vice president said he is "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage, committing the classic Washington gaffe of accidentally speaking the truth. This bit of straight talk made Obama's position — neither for nor against such unions but in an evolutionary state, not unlike the Galapagos finch — all the more untenable. On Monday, Biden took off for a campaign event in Tennessee, leaving Carney on cleanup duty. But the more Carney swabbed the mess, the more it spread.

I frankly don't get it. How exactly did Joe Biden's own personal views on gay marriage conflict with anything the president might have said about that same issue? There is no actual blending of the pair simply because they're Leaders One and Two. They aren't contractually obligated to agree personally on all issues. I didn't see it as "one-upping" the president, I saw it as Biden being Biden. Especially when he got to the part about Will and Grace. (Debra Messing, "Grace," says it's right up there in the top five moments of her life, so you see it's striking chords everywhere.)

Well, apparently even the president felt that Joe had overstepped "his skis" or some such. But publicly he's okay with it, and I get the feeling that he, like me, loves old Joe, gaffes and all. (And who wouldn't?)

Immediately after the Sunday news shows, it was out there, people were talking, and the entire White House had to grind to a halt and address the elephant in the room. Does the president support gay marriage or doesn't he? So on Wednesday, President Obama sat down with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts and talked at length about the issue he had so studiously worked to avoid:

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Yes, it was calculated and ultimately political, but the essence of it, the way the president chose to address it, was as much heaven to me as it had to be hellish for his political opponents, those so intent on ousting Barack Obama they have no problem casting him as evil incarnate -- the devil himself.

I saw a man who might finally understand that there are times when it's not only essential but soul-satisfying to separate the thoughts of the person from the decisions of the presidency. That "evolution" doesn't work as a handy substitute for equivocation. And that sometimes political expedience isn't all it's cracked up to be.

My mother was Finnish-Lutheran and my father was Italian-Catholic. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary just nine months before my mom died, and they loved each other to the end. What if the powers-that-be had arbitrarily decided that Finns and Italians couldn't marry? Or that Lutherans and Catholics couldn't marry?  How different is that from deciding that blacks and whites couldn't marry or that same-sex partners couldn't marry? They're all consenting adults with the capacity to love one another, and if marriage is the desired tie that binds, it's a sad and sorry law that seeks to outlaw fidelity instead of celebrating it.

I think the president always got that. He only just now, thanks in part to the women in his life, found the cojones to say it out loud.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt the Bully: What Romney's high school "pranks," including physical assault, tell us about his character and values

It's an ugly story. The Washington Post takes us back to 1965, to Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a prestigious private school for the moneyed elite, and to a teenaged Mitt Romney, illuminating something, something essential, about Romney's character, about what kind of a person he was, and still may be:

Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

"He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!" an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann's recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber's look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school's collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber's hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

In other words, Romney was a moralizing bully who physically assaulted a fellow student. As Richard wrote earlier today, this highly disturbing incident reveals "Romney's need to enforce conformity with his own views and his sense that other people who are different are a personal affront to him."

There are some who will call this a prank, excusing it as a youthful misdeed, if a misdeed at all. They will say that it was all in good fun, or, if not, that it hardly matters now, that the Romney of 1965 isn't the Romney of today. Those people, in my view, will be -- and are -- wrong. Because it shows that the privileged rich douchebag of today is very much the same person as the abusive, perhaps bigoted bully who terrorized John Lauber because he didn't like his look, because he thought he was gay.

As you can imagine, Romney's campaign has been on the defensive today, urgently trying to bring in character witnesses from Romney's high school days to tell us that their guy wasn't the abusive bully he would appear, from several independents accounts, to have been. And Romney himself was just laughing if off today -- he always laughs when he's uncomfortable, and when he's hiding something, have you noticed? -- saying he doesn't remember the incident in question. But is this credible? I think not. As Think Progress reports:

Mitt Romney was asked about the Post's story during a live radio broadcast with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, apologizing before explaining that he didn't remember many of the details of what took place: "Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that... I don't remember that incident," Romney said, laughing. "I certainly don't believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case."

It seems odd that Romney would not recall such a bizarre event, especially since so many other students who were asked about it painted clear pictures of what transpired, but perhaps such "hijinks and pranks" were so frequent he has simply lost track of them all.

A separate incident, in which Romney ridiculed a closeted gay classmate by sarcastically praising him with "atta girl!" comments, helps paint a troubling picture for the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee.

It was a different time, certainly, a time when anti-gay sentiment was widespread and even in some circles completely acceptable, but what we see here is a young man who clearly had a problem with difference, and specifically with homosexuality (he's lying when he says sexual orientation was "the furthest thing" from his mind), and who was a leader, not a follower, when it came to taking out his nasty prejudices on others. And one classmate is painting a pretty clear picture of just what sort of a person Romney was:

One former classmate and old friend of Romney's – who refused to be identified by name – said there are "a lot of guys" who went to Cranbrook who have "really negative memories" of Romney's behavior in the dorms, behavior this classmate describes as "like Lord of the Flies."

The classmate believes Romney is lying when he claims to not remember it.

"It makes these fellows [who have owned up to it] very remorseful. For [Romney] not to remember it? It doesn't ring true. How could the fellow with the scissors forget it?" the former classmate said.

Politically, this story alone won't sink him, but it adds an ugly, violent element to the "privileged rich douchebag" narrative that has been building around him for some time now. He became super-rich as a vulture capitalist destroying jobs and ruining lives, and back in high school he liked to abuse others, both verbally and, it seems, physically. I acknowledge that people can change, but there's a common theme to Romney's character here, exposed in those old "pranks," both this assault and others, as well as in how he has behaved both in business and in politics -- and, for all I know, in his personal life. As Jon Chait writes:

My cautious, provisional take is that this portrait of the youthful Romney does suggest a man who grew up taking for granted the comforts of wealth and prestige. I don't blame him for accepting the anti-gay assumptions of his era. The story does give the sense of a man who lacks a natural sense of compassion for the weak. His prankery seems to have invariably singled out the vulnerable — the gay classmate, the nearly blind teacher, the nervous day student racing back to campus. It's entirely possible to grow out of that youthful mentality — to learn to step out of your own perspective, to develop an appreciation for the difficulties faced by those not born with Romney's many blessings. I'm just not sure he ever has.

I'm not sure either, but the evidence that he hasn't keeps piling up. And while it may not be fair to blame him for "accepting the anti-gay assumptions of his era," there's a difference between having generally anti-gay views common to many at the time, including to those of his socio-economic ilk, and physically assaulting and otherwise abusing those he suspected of being gay -- and otherwise singling out the vulnerable for abuse.

We'll have to see to what extent, if at all, this story sticks, adding to the Romney narrative, to the general perception of Romney as an arrogant prick, but to me he ought to be held accountable for his character, and for what these "pranks" say about his character, as well as for his values, and for how those values have manifested themselves in his actions over time, including in high school. Saying that he doesn't remember, or that he "might have gone too far," isn't nearly good enough.

Mitt Romney has spent his life being a bully, and worse. The American people deserve to know just what sort of a person he really is.

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Mitt Romney is such a kidder

When Mitt Romney was 17 or 18 years old, he thought it would be good fun to terrorize a fellow high school student by leading a group of friends to hold him down and cut his hair. The young man, John Lauber, screamed for help with tears in his eyes. Lauber was, according to The Washington Post, a "soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality."

Apparently, teenage Mitt didn't like the looks of the other boy, telling a friend that "He can't look like that. That's wrong." So being the leader he was meant to be, he did something about it. What a kidder.

The Post verified the story with five separate accounts. One who was there, Thomas Buford, says it troubles him to this day. Many years after the event, Lauber commented that "it was horrible." Nice.

What I find most disturbing about this story is Romney's need to enforce conformity with his own views and his sense that other people who are different are a personal affront to him.

His egocentrism is incredible. And this was not a prank. It was an assault by a young man who should have been charged under the criminal code. Of course, people born into privilege like the Mittster are rarely called to account for such transgressions. If he had been, daddy's lawyer would have, no doubt, taken care of it.

I knew people like Romney in high school who did the kinds of things he did at that age. I wouldn't want any of them near the White House either.

I know, we are supposed to think that people change, but they don't change that much from their teens into adulthood. Not in my experience.

Maybe now we know why people don't like Mitt Romney. He's an asshole. And given that Romney also told Brian Kilmeade in a radio interview that he didn't remember the incident, that makes him a lying asshole.

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For a bunch of individualists, the right wing sure does like to tell people what to do

I thought this was the point.
On the theme of Obama's support for marriage equality, I was wondering what the dumbest right-wing response would be. There were so many to choose from, but I found my favourite at Gateway Pundit.

The blazing headline there read: "Obama Continues Attack on Christian Church -- Throws His Support Behind Gay Marriage."

Jesus Christ, are you kidding me?

I want to go on record that if anyone ever tries to force two Christian men to marry each other against their will or two Christian women to do the same, I will be the first to object. I agree, that just wouldn't be right. But if anyone is suggesting we shouldn't be allowed to do anything in America unless the "Christian Church" thinks it's okay, well, they can go shit in their hat (or some other colourful metaphor to signify disapproval).

I don't care what any Christian or any other practitioner of any religion wants to do in their life. That's fine. Just keep it away from me. Thank you.

The right-wing chattering class does keep my blood pumping.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The Iranian nuclear talks, part 1: Where we are today

By Ali Ezzatyar

I feel like it is difficult to be a casual follower of the Iranian nuclear issue. All related news items are generally tagged with a derivation of one of the following themes: a) Israel is going to attack Iran; or b) the parties are set for nuclear talks. Particularly with respect to the nuclear talks, it is even frustrating for me, an IR nerd of sorts, to see this title every once in a while, as I have every once in a while for the last ten years. Besides dates and parties, they are all a bit of a wash in my head. So let's talk about why no fruit is growing from that tree.

Iran's nuclear program started in the '70s, under the Shah of Iran, with direct support from the United States and other world powers. The idea was that Iran, a large producer and exporter of crude oil, could benefit from a cleaner, cheaper form of energy. It would allow them to sell more of their large but ultimately limited supply of oil, which was good for the world consumer as well, while diversifying their domestic grid. It was tacitly understood at that time that the dual-use nature of nuclear technology as well as Iran's military ambitions meant Iran would one day likely have a nuclear bomb.

The fundamental logic of that energy choice applies even more today than it did in the '70s. The problem is, Iran is now a "rogue state," and so the bomb idea doesn't really fly anymore.

To understand why negotiations have failed, it is essential to recognize that both sides see the entire process as a zero sum game.

News has focused on the potential that Iran will use nuclear technology for the purposes of building a nuclear bomb -- no doubt, that is the biggest concern. But under the zero sum construct and current relations between the two countries, any step Iran takes in the direction of nuclear energy is bad for America; a sworn enemy will have both proven that despite sanctions and a lack of diplomatic relations with the United States, it can accomplish huge technological feats worthy of its desired standing among the world's most powerful nations.

For Iran, every step it takes further emits an aura of self-sufficiency and contentedness that it strives so hard to maintain in the face of what it sees as America's desired monopoly on everything, and dominance of Iran in particular. The threat of having the bomb or the capability to throw one together, Iran's leaders are not too ignorant to notice, has its own cachet.

In a zero-sum game, the only thing that works is force or incentives. Nobody is convincing anyone of anything on the basis of merit. Example: One of the most essential requirements of the United States and other world powers is that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment; what people fail to cite is that Iran did so once, for the purpose of "confidence building," in 2003. It wasn't for confidence building at all; it was because Iran perceived the U.S. as ready, willing, and moderately likely to invade, as they had just done in Afghanistan and Iraq. Force.

As Iraq turned into a quagmire, and Afghanistan too, both with Iran's help, Iran's cooperation dissipated, as if it was tethered to the threat of force which looked more and more unlikely.

Is it any surprise, then, that the recent volume augmentation on the "bomb-bomb Iran" song has led parties back to the table yet again? The difference this time: There is no real threat of force. Simply put, partially for reasons I outlined here, America can destroy Iran's nuclear program and oust its regime (the most scary thought that ruminates under the great Mullah's turban when he sleeps), but won't. And Israel, by the vast majority of accounts, cannot do much alone.

So, then, the second recourse of incentives must be used. A discussion on that in the days to come.

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Mitt Romney's position on same-sex marriage defines the GOP's new campaign slogan: Backward!

By Richard K. Barry

The news of the day yesterday was obviously the culmination of President Obama's evolution on marriage equality. Great news. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is sticking to his guns, so to speak. As The New York Times reports:

Asked by Fox News's KDVR-TV about a bill that would have allowed civil unions for same-sex couples in Colorado, which died late Tuesday night, Mr. Romney reiterated his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

"Well, when these issues were raised in my state of Massachusetts," he said, "I indicated my view, which is I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name. My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not."

We have watched as the Republican party has steadily marched itself back to the 1950s. Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog writes:

As President Obama breaks new political ground, Romney is now positioned to the right of Bush/Cheney on legal recognition of same-sex partnerships - Dick Cheney endorsed marriage equality and George W. Bush backed civil unions.

I noticed this past February Dick Cheney was even lobbying in Maryland for same-sex marriage rights as that state debated marriage equality.

Ah, to return to the good old days when the Republican Party was marginally less obnoxious than it is today. Truly proof of the implicit GOP campaign slogan: Backward!

See for yourself: George W. Bush on his support for civil unions in 2004.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The inevitable earthquake

By Carl 

Some may think Barack Obama's hand was forced.

Some may think it was a cynical ploy to garner Gay Money campaign contributions or to pander to the youth vote.

Some may simply shoot themselves and the right wing in the foot, talking about distractions that their own party has raised in the middle of a recovery.

Obama himself has said his feelings have evolved, as he's witnessed gay couples in the netherworld of "civil unions." Marriage-lite, if you will.

And some have treated it like a Romney-sized flip flop.

One thing is for sure: it was a monumental statement to make for any president, but doubly so ahead of a re-election campaign against a party that's pledged its not-inconsiderable resources to limit the president to one term. He very neatly swung away from leading from behind to breaking new ground.

To be sure, this energizes the base of both parties, and how can that be a bad thing if it forces us to confront issues that many on both sides wish would simply lie dormant? Obama needs that base this year as much if not moreso than he did four years ago. He carries a lot of weight in being the incumbent but the past forty years have taught us that a president who doesn't inspire his party's base will lose re-election.

In framing his announcement in this light, we begin to see some other, more clever and subtle things he's done in his first term. The big knock liberals have against Obama is that he's too centrist and that he's turned a deaf ear to the concerns that he addressed in his first campaign.

I've long maintained -- from back in the days when the troika of Obama, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton were in the hunt -- that Obama's liberalism was a bit of a sham. Oddly, I soften that stance somewhat in the face of the evidence. I still believe he's a centrist politician (you can't be a national candidate without being centrist) but I think he's actually governed to the left of what I believed he could have. The Lily Ledbetter Act, repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and healthcare reform are all staunchly liberal positions to stake out.

They are also supremely fair ideals to have: Equal pay, equal rights, equal access to quality affordable healthcare.

This is not to say that Obama hasn't staked out some fairly conservative positions as well. For instance, he opened some offshore drilling sites in 2010 that previously didn't exist, threatening wetlands on both coasts as well as the Gulf of Mexico. TARP was a near-disaster of epic proportions that didn't address the underlying problems, that progressives pointed out: people, not banks, were hurting. It rewarded the one percent for nearly driving us off the cliff, while leaving the 99% to suffer in agony and torment of mounting bills and disappearing jobs. He caved on the Bush tax cuts, all to get a debt ceiling increase. And so on.

On balance, and a night's reflection, I tend to believe this is an instance where President Obama weighed his options carefully, realized things balanced out, and decided to go with his heart. It is about fairness, something we've seen is an important factor in his administration.

It's up to us to get his back on this. If we want him to be more progressive in his second term, something I have no doubt he wants, its up to us to reward him not only with that second term but with a Congress ready, willing and able to work with him to deliver it.

He's shaken the nation to its foundation. Time to wake up.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

At long last, President Obama comes out in support of same-sex marriage

Earlier today, as you know by now if you pay even the remotest attention to what's going on, President Obama finally came out in support of same-sex marriage:

President Obama today announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, reversing his longstanding opposition amid growing pressure from the Democratic base and even his own vice president.

In an interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts, the president described his thought process as an "evolution" that led him to this decision, based on conversations with his staff members, openly gay and lesbian service members, and his wife and daughters.

"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama told Roberts in an interview to appear on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday.

But of course it hasn't really been an evolution. Pre-President Obama openly supported same-sex marriage. He only began to hedge and waffle when it was politically inexpedient for him to express what many of us assumed was still his personal view. And many of us have been frustrated with him over gay rights these past three and a half years. Personally, it's not that I expected him to be a great champion of gay rights, including marriage equality, just as I never expected him to be the bringer of progressive change he made himself out to be during the '08 campaign. He's an establishmentarian, a centrist, a pragmatist. It's not just in him, off the campaign trail, to be anything else.

But surely he could have done more, pushed earlier and harder for DADT repeal, advocated marriage equality before it became the popular thing to do. It's not that he didn't do anything -- he called for the repeal of the insidious Defense of Marriage Act, he banned hospital visitation discrimination against gays and lesbians, and he issued a memorandum "directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons." All in all, I suppose, he's been a solid, sincere advocate for gay rights, and certainly a welcome change from previous White House occupants.

But all along there's been his silly position, likely more political than personal, on same-sex marriage. His views were supposedly been "evolving," whatever that meant (one suspects it was a lame excuse), and, indeed, as late as October of last year he said he was "still working" on it. This was inexcusably ridiculous. Basically, he just didn't want to come out yet. The timing wasn't right. Politically speaking.

In a way, one can understand his concerns. Obama isn't a prophet, he's a politician, and as such he must play close attention to public opinion, particularly in such a divided country with the Republican opposition out to destroy him at every turn. According to Gallup, a majority of Americans supports same-sex marriage, but that's only been the case the past two years. Previously, the other side was ahead. In '08 and '09, it was way ahead. Even if he personally supported it, it made sense for him to try to avoid the issue, allowing it to play out at the state level. (I'm not excusing him, just explaining the obvious rationale.) With his focus on issues like health care and the economy, not to mention the challenges of foreign and military policy, why hand the Republicans what appeared at the time to be a winning issue for them?

This may not be convincing, but at least one prominent gay figure is providing some much-needed cover today: Barney Frank, who said, "I understand why a president facing a national election took some time in making this decision." (As a long-time politician himself, Frank surely understands the compromises one must make as a politician, including with oneself.)

While I do not withhold my criticism of the president's hedging and waffling in light of his statement today, I am for the most part willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. On this, I tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes:

I know what the polls show, and I know he was pushed into it, but I still credit the president with doing the right thing. So much of this process reminds me of Lincoln weighing emancipation, even as he knew, in his heart, that slavery was a sin.

Moreover, regardless of the push, I think this is really heartening timing after North Carolina, where a ban on gay marriage and civil unions triumphed by some 20 points.

Well, okay, I won't go so far as to say that Obama has been Lincolnian on this issue, but of course Lincoln himself wasn't quite the determined anti-slavery advocate he is made out to be in American mythology.

And simply, whether he liked it or not, whether it was politically convenient or not, the time had come -- what with Vice President Biden's comments over the weekend (which presumably he made on his own, though it's possible there was some coordination going on, with him floating the position before the president needed to embrace it himself) and the appalling Amendment One result in North Carolina yesterday. Oh, and with the need to do some serious fundraising -- and with the need to start rallying the base (particularly on a now-winning issue like this one), as Steve Clemons explains:

Many political handicappers won't be able to resist criticizing Obama for picking a fight in the culture war terrain that evangelical-strumming, Karl Rove-types have been trying to tease out for years. But President Obama is not prone to emotional leaps of faith and knee jerk shifts in policy. Their polls must show that the nation is ready to have this fight -- that most independents and Democrats think same-sex marriage should be a civil right.

With the enthusiasm of liberals and progressives for the president's reelection seeming somewhat wilted when compared to the Obama juggernaut of 2008, gay marriage now may be one of the big meta-issues of the time that isn't only about gays -- but is part of a package of progressive "wants," such action on climate change, environmental protection, defending a woman's right to make her own choices about birth and abortion, and more.

By supporting gay marriage, Obama is giving his crowd, his base, something to go to the streets to fight for. And to the cynics on the political right who think that Obama loses in a head on culture war, he is saying "Bring it On" -- not only because he thinks that supporting gay marriage is the right thing to do, but because it may now be very smart politics.

I agree. Very smart. And what this now does for the president is allow him to blend principle and popularity. Clemons again:

President Obama has now shattered any doubt about the administration's commitment to achieving fully equal civil rights for the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community. No shades of gray.  No politically sculpted safe place for the president to endorse same sex civil unions over marriages. No separate but equal. None of that any more.

What the president finally did today is brave. Others around the country have beaten him to the position. At this past year's Human Rights Campaign dinner, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's full-throated, resounding embrace of and support for gay marriage made President Obama's comments supporting the rights of gays (but not marriage) seem thin and weak-kneed. But Bloomberg is not behind the Oval Office desk -- and does not have to win presidential contests in North Carolina.

Brave, yes, in a way, but also, as always, pragmatic. Chris Cillizza calls it a "calculated gamble," while Ronald Browstein suggests:

[H]is decision also reflects a hard-headed acknowledgement of the changing nature of the Democratic electoral coalition. Indeed, historians may someday view Obama's announcement Wednesday as a milestone in the evolution of his party's political strategy, because it shows the president and his campaign team are increasingly comfortable responding to the actual coalition that elects Democrats today -- not the one that many in the party remember from their youth.

Obama's senior advisers see the announcement as essentially a political wash, although polls now consistently show more Americans support than oppose gay marriage. In its latest national measure, the Pew Research Center found in April that a 47 percent to 43 percent plurality of Americans back same-sex marriage. Other recent national surveys, including those by Gallup and the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, have found majority or plurality support for the idea.

Obama's announcement might not significantly change the overall level of his 2012 support, especially in an election where economic issues will dominate. But the announcement may reflect the Obama camp's thinking about the likely composition of his support. It shows the president, however reluctantly, formulating an agenda that implicitly acknowledges the party is unlikely to recreate the support it attracted from the white working-class and senior voters who anchored Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal coalition. Instead, the announcement shows him reaching out to mobilize the new pillars of the Democratic electorate, particularly younger people and socially liberal white collar whites.

You get a sense that the other side, at least the few sensible minds left over there, understand what's going on and don't like it one bit. Sure, there's the predictable knee-jerk flailing about from the various theocratic or otherwise social conservative elements on the right, from religious leaders and politicos and even from the likes of the oft-married Rush Limbaugh and the other usual suspects of movement conservatism, fearmongering about Obama supposedly waging war on marriage, but Romney's clear discomfort when confronted with the issue today shows just how worried some Republicans are now that Obama has taken a firm stand on a popular issue, including with broad support from independents and others Romney needs if he hopes to win in November, an issue that interferes with Romney's only real hope of winning, namely, the false narrative that blames Obama for all of America's economic ills.

Yes, Romney reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage (he was once rather more supportive of gay rights, you may recall, back in his Massachusetts days, but of course he's driven by shameless political opportunism as much as anyone), as well as civil unions, but he generally preferred to avoid the issue today. He's got to keep sucking up to his party's right-wing base, of course, but he can only win in November if he pulls in the independents as well. Siding with bigotry isn't going to help him in that regard.

There is much more to be said on this issue, and on yesterday's developments, and we'll have more posts to come (stay tuned!), but for now, even acknowledging all the political calculation at work, I must applaud Obama for finally coming out in support of same-sex marrage. He may not deserve three cheers, but let's at least give him two. (Or maybe one and a half. Sadly, he also said it's a state matter, a right-wing position to take. If it's fundamental, if it's a right, if it's really about justice and equality, it must be national, if not universal. And he, as president, must push for it, not abdicate responsibility.)

After much "evolving" and "working" on it, he has finally made his position perfectly clear. Now we need to hold him to it.

There are no excuses going forward.

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