Monday, May 14, 2012

The first gay president? Really?

Here, via Politico, is the upcoming cover of Newsweek, which, as you can see, will feature a cover story by Andrew Sullivan on President Obama's support for same-sex marriage, announced just last week.

Don't get me wrong. It was indeed an historic announcement for which the president deserves an enormous amount of credit. I said so at the time, though my assessment was not without its criticism -- first, because he waited so long while claiming that his thoughts were "evolving" (he had supported publicly it in the past, so it's pretty clear his views have been driven by political opportunism, not principle); and second, because he said that it's a state matter, which it isn't, and shouldn't be.

And I do like Sullivan on this issue. I'll read his piece with an open mind. It's not that he and I disagree on this issue, it's that I'm open to hearing his case on why the president deseves to much credit.

But look, can we stop with the whole "first _____ president" thing?

Clinton was supposedly the first black president, though that had more to do with his cultural liberalism and engagement with the black community (or, rather, with multiple black communities; I hesitate to suggest it's a monolith) than with his actual policies, which leaned right especially after '94.

And now Obama is supposedly the first gay president? Why? For being behind the curve (and behind his own administration, including Vice President Biden, of course) on a basic civil rights issue, and for finally announcing his support for same-sex marriage only after most of the rest of the country, according to polls, had come to the same conclusion, and for doing so because he needed to fire up the base, not to mention his big-time donors?

Call me cynical, but this doesn't make Obama gay, it just proves he's a smart politician who may have had generally progressive views on gay rights all along but who obviously allowed political considerations to get in the way of doing what was right.

And, again, I'm on Obama's side on this and am willing for the most part to give him the benefit of the doubt. I just don't think "first gay president" is really the right way to put it, unless all we're talking about is the first president to promote not just same-sex marriage but gay rights generally. And, okay, I'm willing to give him that, even though his record on gay rights so far hasn't exactly been without its flaws.

I do get the need for fairly simplistic media narratives, though, and so it's not like I don't get what Newsweek is up to here. This is about selling magazines, whether print or digital, and a provocative headline helps, luring prospective readers in by oversimplifying and overdramatizing. It just bugs me.

What's next? Will a president who helps secure the two-state solution in the Middle East be called "the first Palestinian president? Will a president who finally supports the legalization of marijuana and other such drugs be called "the first 'high' president"? Will a president who hands American sovereignty over to the country's future overlords in Ottawa be called "the first Canadian president"?

There's obviously no stopping this stupid trend.

Besides, if we're talking about the first gay president, well, wasn't that Lincoln?

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