If the president reverses his position today, we can thank activists -- not the pundits who gave him a pass
This week, Gallup’s poll showed that half of all Americans now support legalizing same sex marriage. This same week, President Obama had his spokesperson reiterate his opposition to such a move. That’s right, in the face of near-majority public support for equality, the official position of the Democratic administration is that its “feelings about this are constantly evolving” — a direct quote from the president in 2010.
In light of Obama’s past support for gay marriage as a state legislator and his recent refusal to sign an order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, it would be logical to assume that — sans a full-scale reversal (which may be in the works tonight) — the president’s position has been “evolving” toward more entrenched opposition to equality.
Yet, somehow, many liberal pundits nonetheless defended the president’s restated opposition to gay marriage this week.
Two articles in the Daily Beast sum up the bizarre arguments from the left. The first, by Jesse Singal, insists that Obama actually “supports [gay marriage], but he doesn’t think he can afford to make this support public.” The second, by Michael Tomasky, argues “that Obama should not endorse gay marriage before the election, for various political reasons, mostly because the majority that supports same-sex marriage seems a little fragile.”
Both rationales, not surprisingly, were echoed by liberals across talk radio and television throughout the week, raising a pair of disturbing questions: 1) How could any liberal defend Obama’s current opposition to gay marriage? and 2) What’s so fundamentally immoral about such a defense?
The answer to the first question is related to the fact that in red-versus-blue America, many liberals are first and foremost Democrats, leading them to defend any position taken by a Democrat, no matter how illiberal.
We’ve been reminded of this constantly during Obama’s term, as the American Left is now dominated by those who will angrily chastise a Republican politician for advocating atrocious tax, trade, war and civil liberties policies and then cheerily praise a Democratic president for advocating the exact same policies, or worse. Essentially, many liberals are desperate to see liberalism in their president, even if it’s not there. And so on an issue such as gay marriage, Obama deftly plays to that vanity with terms like “evolve” — promising-but-meaningless words that prompt his base to insist that he has a stealth scheme to make gay marriage legal — and that any pressure to force his hand somehow undermines the overall cause.
That gets to the second question about morality. However pathetic it is for liberals to manufacture Nixon-esque “secret plan” sophistry to defend a president, it’s far worse for anyone to cite political considerations as reason to endorse Obama’s current opposition to equality.
To understand why it’s worse, simply exchange “African American rights” with “gay marriage” in Tomasky’s aforementioned sentence and then re-read it. Yes, your gut reaction is correct — in that context, the sentence suddenly seems not like measured advice from a pragmatic liberal, but like a totally unacceptable bigot-appeasing screed from a Jim Crow apologist trying to stop civil rights legislation a half century ago.
Ignored as it is, the forgotten triumph over such prejudice in the 1960s is instructive in today’s battle for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Though many Democratic partisans and Obama apparatchiks today may not want to admit it, civil rights laws didn’t originally pass because the American Left kept applauding politicians who said their positions were still “evolving.” They passed, in part, because activists set aside their partisan affinities and declared that such condescending propaganda was an intolerable excuse for inaction.
If history is any guide, the cause of equality today demands that same commitment to principle over party — even if it means making a Democratic president uncomfortable. Indeed, if Obama reverses course and endorses equality in his ABC News interview tonight, it will be because he was made sufficiently uncomfortable by civil rights activists, not because party-first sycophants praised his continued intransigence.
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More David Sirota.
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