We’ve all heard about Mitt Romney’s “Etch-A-Sketch” strategy – just erase the past several months of hard-right public comments and move toward the center. Nobody will notice, and you can grab some extra votes in November. It’s a testament to politics at its worst, treating the American public like idiots and making no attempt whatsoever to cover up the pathetic pandering.
Which is why I’m a bit alarmed today by the possibility that President Obama is up to the very same tricks as Romney. Seeing the administration’s response to Joe Biden’s comments over the past couple of days has set off the warning bells in my head.
The Vice President, in an interview for “Meet the Press”, stated that he is “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage. Gay rights groups immediately began firing off celebratory tweets and emails lauding Biden for his statement. But the White House was acting just as quickly, and the attempt to walk back these comments kicked in shortly after the interview aired. Both David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign advisor, and Biden’s own office issued public comments which seemed designed to align the VP’s words more closely with the official Obama line.
And what exactly is the official Obama line on gay marriage? Well, he’s for it legislatively, but not personally. Although he has decided that his administration will no longer support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, and will not challenge gay marriage rights in the legal arena, he has never publicly accepted or approved of gay marriage. His position, he has said, is still “evolving”.
His evolution on the subject has been the cause of much discontent among LGBT groups, many of whom feel that the pace is far too slow. While it’s true that there have been more advances for gay rights under President Obama than there had ever been under any previous US president, I think there is some reason for concern when you see his administration’s response to the Biden interview. It is the same sort of calculated pandering that Mitt Romney has been doing, and it is no less pathetic when the president does it.
We are conditioned to expect this sort of thing in an election year, so maybe there aren’t a lot of folks outside the LGBT community who feel outraged by the attempts to spin Biden’s comments into something else. We’re used to seeing politicians walking a tightrope on controversial issues, trying to balance their appeal to both sides so that they can maximize their support at the ballot box. President Obama is apparently no different in this regard.
The problem is, he should be different. He campaigned in 2008 on the ideas of “hope” and “change”. If he wants to offer real hope and real change to the gay community, all he has to do is stand up for them. Not as a president, or as a legislator, but as a person. As a human being who openly accepts them, and is “absolutely comfortable” with their right to marry and create families with the people they love, regardless of their sexual orientation.
I understand why the president has done certain things the way he has in relation to the LGBT community. The route he took to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military is one example. There were many who felt that the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy should have been removed via executive order, on day 1 of Obama’s presidency. However, he chose to follow a different course of action, which included a military study on the issue and input from top brass in all the branches of the armed forces. By doing so, President Obama left very little for the opposition to stand on. The military leaders joined forces with the president, and Congress then acted to repeal the policy. Had there been an executive order, the hue and cry from Republicans would have been immediate and massive, and the issue would have become a more prolonged battle than it truly needed to be. Although the president’s way took a bit longer than many gay rights activists might have liked, it was the smart way to proceed legislatively, and it gave us a solution that seems more likely to stand the test of time than an executive order would have.
In the case of gay marriage, there is the same sense of urgency and anger among those who want the president to act. It has been frustrating for supporters of marriage equality to see the hands off approach being applied to this issue, just as it was during the DADT controversy. It is even more critical to many people because they are concerned that Obama will run out of time. If he doesn’t enact some legal protection for gay marriage before this term ends, they argue, what will happen if he doesn’t get re-elected?
Those concerns are valid, and I understand where people are coming from when they voice such criticisms. Still, I happen to believe that the president wants to do as he did with DADT, and follow a course of action that will be a more long-term legislative solution to the issue. I understand and support this strategy wholeheartedly.
At the same time, I feel that the president can also come out publicly in support of gay marriage from a personal perspective, and that he really should. It bothers me enormously that he has refused to give his personal approval for it throughout his entire term to date. It’s clear that he worries about getting support from Christian voters. He already has the whole “secret Muslim” thing hanging over his head, and I suppose he’s nervous that he will do himself more harm with the religious community if he says he’s personally OK with gay marriage. To me, that’s just cowardly. If he genuinely is OK with it (and I do believe that he is), then he shouldn’t be afraid to say so. The Vice President has said it (despite his office’s later statements) and so has Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. Even Lord of the Underworld Dick Cheney, Cindy McCain and former First Lady Laura Bush have all publicly voiced their support for gay marriage. As Joe Scarborough asked on his MSNBC show this morning, “When is the president going to be as courageous as Dick Cheney?” That is a perfectly fair question, and one which I want an answer to as well.
If you want to get support from the LGBT community and all those who stand with them, then don’t try to pull an “Etch-A-Sketch” on Joe Biden’s words, or the words of anyone else in your administration who is brave enough to speak out for gay marriage. Better yet, have the balls to openly speak out for it yourself. Don’t flip flop, don’t be wishy-washy, don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth. If you think gay marriage is OK, then say so, and to hell with those right-wingers who may not like it. They weren’t gonna vote for you anyway. Stand up for the dignity of those who deserve it and stop being ambiguous about supporting them. That would be a great example of the sort of hope and change you promised all of us.