Political Animal


May 10, 2012 8:59 AM The Fallout

By Ed Kilgore

Anyone who thinks the marriage equality issue is a distraction from “real issues” like the economy or income inequality or Afghanistan, or that the president’s statement yesterday is meaningless substantively or politically, should probably find a real good book to read for the next few days. The chattering classes are going to be full of back-and-forth discussion of the fallout from Obama’s action and the reaction we are already seeing from conservatives, and there’s not much you can do about it.

I’ve already got a reaction piece up at TNR that offers a perspective on how to look at this issue politically. There’s a lot we don’t know about the priority various categories of Americans assign to this issue, particularly at a time when the fundamental salience of economic concerns is much higher than is usual. What we do know is (1) Obama was facing a crossroads on this subject between now and the Democratic convention, and was holding a position increasingly out of synch with that of other Democrats, not just elites but a growing majority of rank-and-file voters, and (2) the furor Obama has unleashed, particularly from the Christian Right elements that Mitt Romney was in the midst of yoking to his campaign, is going to create a serious strategic challenge for a Republican presidential campaign that really, really, wants swing voters to think about nothing but Obama’s record on the economy and the size and competence of government.

Was this move risky for Obama? Its timing pretty much answers that question, coming a day after voters in a battleground state enacted a draconian same-sex marriage (and civil unions!) ban by a landslide. And even though public opinion is moving relentlessly in the direction of acceptance of legalized same-sex marriage, it’s “evolving” just like Obama has been, and it will be noted that gay marriage remains unpopular for one key element of Obama’s electoral coalition (African-Americans), and problematic for another (Hispanics), while making his effort to hang onto a decent minority of non-college educated white man even harder than before.

But the fact remains that Obama’s made his decision, and now it’s his opponents who have to figure out what’s next. Also at TNR, Noam Scheiber thinks Mitt Romney is unusually ill-suited to serve as the leader of an anti-gay marriage crusade. At HuffPost, Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, heatedly disputes the common belief that anti-gay marriage sentiment tipped the scales for W. in Ohio or anywhere else. And just about everyone—including even Cultural Right crusader Phyllis Schlafly—seems to understand that making this issue a big deal will position Republicans even more poorly than they already are with the younger voters whose support they will someday need.

From a purely strategic point of view, it’s going to be an interesting debate.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on May 10, 2012 9:09 AM:

    In all fairness to Obama, who finally “came out” on gay marriage (and who said he was FOR gay marriage when he was an IL State Senator), over the past 20 years, Mitt’s taken EVERY position possible on the issue of Gays.

    He’s been on top of them, on the bottom – practically kneeled to them when running against Ted Kennedy.

    Now, he’s trying to avoid his former positions, and is reaching around them – to stroke the Evangelicals.

    On a more serious note, while Obama’s position has evolved, Mitt’s has devolved.

    Still, there’s plenty of video evidence of his former positions.

    If I had a D Super PAC, I’d run an ad showing video of Mitt’s different positions on gay rights.
    And, at the end, have one of those guys with the deep, stentorian voices, say:
    “On the one hand, in the 90′s, Mitt said he was adamantly FOR gay rights.
    One the other hand, Mitt NOW says he’s AGAINST gay rights.
    So, Mitt was for gay rights before he was against gay rights?
    When you reach out your hand to pull the lever for him, are you sure which Mitt you’re voting for? On ANY position? How can you really be sure?

    This ad has been pair for by the ‘Mitt Has More Positions Than a Hooker on an Around-the-world Tour Super PAC.’”

  • c u n d gulag on May 10, 2012 9:14 AM:

    And Steve M pointed out this Romney pro-gay rights pamphlet when he was running for Governor in 2002 - ONLY TEN YEARS AGO!


    I'm still hoping there's video somewhere of Mitt, while running in MA, leading a Gay Pride Parade, dressed like Carmen Miranda, and singing "Weekend in Havana."


    Now, THAT might make Conservative head's explode like a Death Star!

  • estamm on May 10, 2012 9:18 AM:

    Obama's career has been amazingly similar to Lincoln's. I can't help but compare Obama's 'evolution' on gay marriage to Lincoln's view of slavery. Both presidents undoubtedly always felt the same about slaves/gay marriage, but were careful about how they expressed that view as they ran for president the first time. Over the course of their first term, both watched the country catch up and surpass their stated view (but to match their actual beliefs). Only after 3 years in office did Lincoln start to press the issue on slavery emancipation. Obama took about the same length of time on gay marriage.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 10, 2012 9:28 AM:

    I've said elsewhere that I would have been surprised if Obama didn't eventually come out as the POTUS who is officially in favor of equal marriage rights. Repealing DADT and not defending DOMA certainly give Obama the benefit of the doubt. It's definitely deserving of a good "'Bout time!".

    And, I seriously doubt Biden and Duncan would have been so public in their support if there weren't little birdies whispering in their ears that Obama was getting ready to officially throw is support officially gay marriage rights. Every body knows what his official stance--opposed, at least in words, not actions, fortunately--has been since he was elected. Their ears were to the ground on this one, just like when we have an idea our bosses are about to make an about-face on office policy or something.

  • boatboy_srq on May 10, 2012 9:30 AM:

    @CUND: We don't call him Multiple Position Mitt for nothing.

    Mitt was "for" at least limited DP benefits five minutes before and thirty seconds after he stated he approved of NC's Amendment One. He said all those things in the same comment. We don't need ten years' worth of campaign material to catch this guy - just complete coverage of his last 48 hours will yield enough flips and flops to sink him.

  • DAY on May 10, 2012 9:36 AM:

    It is pretty much a generational thing, with the Old Farts Crowd agin' it- and most everything else that is newfangled- and the Whippersnapper Crowd yawning in disbelief that anyone gives a flying F about teh gay.

    Not too different when some of us listened to Elvis, while Mom and Dad pushed us towards Pat Boone. Right, gulag?

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 10, 2012 9:38 AM:

    Gulag: Your post has me thinking of Arlen Specter's infamous line, "Mitt Romney has changed positions more often than a pornographic movie queen", and I don't really know why. hmmm...


  • DRF on May 10, 2012 9:39 AM:

    I think this is just the first of many issues where Romney is going to be put on the spot by having to take a position in front of a national audience. The tension between his desire to appease and appeal to the GOP base and his need to move to the center to appeal to moderates and independents is going to be become more and more apparent.

    Romney's initial reaction in each case is to try to thread the needle and not alienate anyone, but that just isn't going to work. The pressure from the right will be relentless.

  • Milt on May 10, 2012 9:39 AM:

    I don't think there was a great deal of planning involved in this decision. The media, sensing an opportunity to make a real race out of the election by wounding Obama, pushed the gay marriage issue over the past week or two and demanding Obama make a statement one way or the other. Rather than be seen as trying to influence the North Carolina election, the White House waited till the day after to make the obvious statement. Also, by making the statement now they assured that the subject would be long forgotten by electors as more important topics arise prior to the election. King's rook to Queen 3.

  • blueboy on May 10, 2012 9:41 AM:

    I agree with the above comments about Romney's flip-flopping on the issue of Gay rights, and if Obama's people are smart they'll use this against Romney. It's good this came out now in early May because the huffing and puffing by the MSM and the right wing will get old in a few weeks and if they try to keep it up for six months they'll just end up looking pathetic. I also think/hope the media gets more excited about these things than the regular person on the street because it sells copy and makes them money to hype it all up. Hasn't even Dick(less) Cheney come out in support of gay marriage since he left the White House?

  • c u n d gulag on May 10, 2012 9:45 AM:

    My Mom was a classical singer, so I grew-up on Opera and symphonies (she had two solo concerts at Carnegie Hall).

    R&R was verboten!

    My gateway was my cousins, who loved "pop" and R&R, and turned me onto The Beatles and Simon and Garfunke in the late 60's.

    Then, I went immediately to Alice Cooper, The Who, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie - you know the HARD stuff!

  • T2 on May 10, 2012 9:56 AM:

    I'm in the group that thinks this is a wash politically. Not many staunch Dems and Obama voters are going to vote for Romney because of this. I don't think, at the end of the day, deflections from the black and brown voters will be significant, primarily because there are much more important policies affecting that group.
    Not many staunch TEAGOPers are going to dump Romney and switch to Obama over this. They may dump Romney for other reasons (cult religion, not crazy enough, wealthy snob), but not this. I think Obama probably understands the political risk, in 2012, isn't a deal breaker. If he loses the election over this issue, we've got way worse problems coming than I already think we have.

  • zandru on May 10, 2012 10:02 AM:

    "More Positions Than a Hooker"

    Frankly, that sounds misogynistic and sexist. Maybe it'll appeal to the Old Farts Club - men only, of course - but insults all women and anyone under 65.

  • JEA on May 10, 2012 10:05 AM:

    There's no big risk for either Obama or Romney on this issue. The right hates gay marriage and the left embraces it, and the middle isn't really too passionate either way and is more concerned about other issues.

  • Bo on May 10, 2012 10:05 AM:

    Mittens hasn't really flip-flopped about gay marriage . . . he's just "evolved".
    Give him some credit here. At least he didn't give a Mormon response and state that "marriage should be defined as a union between one man and as many women as he wants to marry".

  • c u n d gulag on May 10, 2012 10:13 AM:

    "Hooker" is a two-way street.

    Those Conservative politicians and preacher's weren't ALL arrested with female hookers.

    As a matter of fact, it seems like most of them were nailed (poor choice of words, I know) with gay, male, hookers - usually fairly young ones!

  • T2 on May 10, 2012 10:14 AM:

    marriage licenses are not dispensed by the Federal Government anyway. So this exactly what Obama said....his opinion. States/local laws regulate who does and doesn't get a marriage license and what benefits go with that marriage on the state level. And a person can be lawfully wed in a civil ceremony. Religious ceremonies are a choice of the lucky couple, not a requirement for any benefits.

  • boatboy_srq on May 10, 2012 10:20 AM:

    @blueboy / T2: the damage to Romney won't come from appealing to the bigots - it'll come from his inability to keep a consistent policy position even within the same sentence, and from one more proof that he either doesn't understand issues that are too complex for third-graders to grasp or thinks his listeners are that challenged.

    Bigot? Maybe, but that's not a deal-breaker for the Reichwing. Tone deaf, clueless and consistently inconsistent? Absolutely - and that's what'll beat him.

  • Peter C on May 10, 2012 10:21 AM:

    I think the biggest fallout from this is that Obama and Biden look 'genuine', whereas Romney will still come across as 'phoney'.

    I think there are a bunch of dedicated Democratic Party operatives who got a warm feeling from the President's announcement and they will work harder because of it.

    I think there are a bunch of rabid conservatives who are frothing in a foam of fury and indignation, but what else is new? They will only be pleased when we've destroyed our civil society and created a religious autocracy; hoping to make them happy is not only futile but counter-productive.

    Personally, I don't care about the fallout. It was the right thing to say and I'm glad he said it. GLBT individuals have a rough time in our society and they deserve all the support we can give them.

  • hornblower on May 10, 2012 10:38 AM:

    You mean there is a day when they will turn to the serious issues. All horse race all the time.

  • Ron Byers on May 10, 2012 10:45 AM:

    Contrast Obama's position on Gay Marriage and Romney's firing a gay foreign policy spokesman in deference to a few homophobe Evangelical Yokels. Obama looks courageous and Romney looks like a cowardly pander monkey. That should help Obama and it certainly won't do Romney any good. This was a big win for Obama and a loser for Romney.

  • beejeez on May 10, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Actually, pointing out Romney's back-and-forths on gay rights would be a bad campaign strategy for Obama, since Obama himself has been back and forth on it, too. Keep it simple, stay on the high road. Let Mitt paint himself into a corner on this one.

  • liam foote on May 10, 2012 12:26 PM:

    Let’s get ready to Grumbllllllllle! In the red corner the anti-gay rights tag team trio of ex-Gov. Mitt Romney, broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, and RNC Chair Reince Priebus. Annnnnnnnd … in the Blue corner, the pro-gay rights tag team threesome of President Barack Hussein Obama, former Vice President Big Dick Cheney, and the ATR belt holder Grover Norquist.

    Romney: “I’ll take Obama! No, Cheney! No, that other guy! Wait!”
    Limbaugh: “I’ll take ‘em all. I can dispose of these three with no alimony”
    Priebus: “Why is Cheney looking at me like that? Is that a smile? Good Lord!”

    Obama: “OK, I got Romney. No perspiration. Yes, I can!”
    Norquist: “I’ll kick that big Limbaugh butt. Log Cabin guys said do it now!”
    Cheney: “I get Priebus? Hell, Pelosi could take that little weasel.”

    Annnnnnd now! To perform Randall Thompson's “Testament of Freedom” (Mvt. 1; The God Who Gave Us life) we proudly present the US Army Chorus and the Turtle Creek Chorale!

  • bdop4 on May 10, 2012 12:48 PM:

    beejeez: Agree totally.

    I really don't think this hurts Obama. Anyone for whom gay marriage is a litmus test never would have voted for him anyway. It solidifies his base, and is just another log on a huge hate bonfire the GOP is building with theirs.

    Four months from now, this will be old news for everyone but the homophobes.

  • TCinLA on May 10, 2012 1:10 PM:

    Mitt Romney is unusually ill-suited to serve as the leader of an anti-gay marriage crusade.

    Au contraire, Ed. From the news that is out now from the five witnesses to Romney leading an anti-gay assault of a fellow student at his prep school, it looks like our Mormon moron has been a right wing bully-boy all his life.

  • boatboy_srq on May 10, 2012 1:17 PM:


    I'm not so sure that would be a losing proposition. Obama has revised his position on this subject over several years, and said plausible (if not always easily believed) things about each variation along the way. Romney can't even keep his positions straight in the same speech, and (if his comments on Amendment 1 are any indication) can't defend any of the positions he's taken beyond a polite version of "I'm saying this to you because I need your campaign contributions and your vote" without looking like an untutored, entitled buffoon (at best).

    OTOH, how is this going to play out any differently from any policy-based campaign against Romney? The man gyrates fast enough that if he were hooked up to a generator, his campaign could sell the excess power produced back to the utilities and make each stop pay for itself. There's not one policy plank he's used in the last three years where he's made consistent statements to different groups - even between adjacent appearances.

  • Qalice on May 10, 2012 1:26 PM:

    I'll preface this by saying it's a feeling I have, so I may be wrong. But I think about Obama's announcement in another way: I think he's emphasizing the difference between his team and the other guy's. Increasingly, politics in this country are tribal, based on social identification more than information. I doubt Obama enjoys that fact; his frequent references to "reaching across" indicate that he's an instinctive mediator. But that doesn't work any more. I think Obama's the first Democratic president to really get, deeply, the nature of the fight we're in. And I was convinced in 2008 that he's a very good fighter.

  • c u n d gulag on May 10, 2012 1:50 PM:

    liam foote,
    And as the fight gets ready to start, Cheney would ask for another deferment.

  • Mike on May 10, 2012 3:32 PM:

    T2: "States/local laws regulate who does and doesn't get a marriage license"

    Loving v Virginia says otherwise.