Friday, May 11, 2012

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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