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Obama’s Fake ‘Evolution’ on Marriage Equality

When President Obama finally finished his much ballyhooed “evolution” on same-sex marriage during the 2012 election, I pointed out that the entire thing was fake. It was pure political calculation, not some principled change in position. The author of a new book on the subject confirms that conclusion.

Despite the president’s stated opposition, even his top advisers didn’t believe that he truly opposed allowing gay couples to marry. “He has never been comfortable with his position,” David Axelrod, then one of his closest aides, told me.

Indeed, long before Obama publicly stated that he was against same-sex marriage, he was on the record supporting it. As an Illinois State Senate candidate from Chicago’s liberal Hyde Park enclave, Obama signed a questionnaire in 1996 saying, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” But as his ambitions grew, and with them the need to appeal to a more politically diverse electorate, his position shifted.

In the course of an unsuccessful run for a House seat in 2000, he said he was “undecided” on the question. By the time he campaigned for the presidency, he had staked out an even safer political position: Citing his Christian faith, he said he believed marriage to be the sacred union of a man and a woman.

The assumption going into the 2012 campaign was that there was little to be gained politically from the president’s coming down firmly in favor of same-sex marriage. In particular, his political advisers were worried that his endorsement could splinter the coalition needed to win a second term, depressing turnout among socially conservative African-Americans, Latinos and white working-class Catholics in battleground states.

But by November 2011, it was becoming increasingly clear that continuing to sidestep the issue came with its own set of costs. The campaign’s internal polling revealed that the issue was a touchstone for likely Obama voters under 30. The campaign needed those voters to turn out in the record numbers they had four years earlier, and the biggest impediment was Obama’s refusal to say he favored allowing gay couples to wed.

“We understood that this would be galvanizing to some voters and be difficult with other voters,” said Jim Messina, the manager of Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Caught between countervailing political forces, Obama called his top aides together and said that if asked again for his position, he both wanted and needed to drop the pretense and tell people where he really stood.

“The politics of authenticity — not just the politics, but his own sense of authenticity — required that he finally step forward,” Axelrod said. “And the president understood that.”

As I said at the time, none of this had anything to do with his actual position, which was always in favor of marriage equality. He was lying about his position out of concern for his political viability. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. The fact that we have reached the point where being in favor of equality now helps you politically rather than hurting you is far more important than the position of one politician.

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    In fact, his position in 2008 was similar to that of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Both stated that they were opposed to same sex marriage but favored same sex civil unions. Of course, it is my information that even Sarah Palin was on the record as stating that she didn’t oppose same sex civil unions.

  2. steve84 says

    That’s how I saw it too. It’s pretty obvious that he was waffling around for political reasons.

  3. dingojack says

    Could it be his evolution was away from his real position (the one he held when nothing major was at stake) away to a fake position (when he needed to get elected) and now back to his actual position now it’s not vote-losing to do so? And this is a bad thing how exactly?
    Or is that being far too favourable to Obama? (He causes milk to curdle, miscarriages, warts and turned Mr Bek onto Newt once — according to certain sections of the US media. You’ll pardon my scepticism about criticism of a politician finally doing something that’s morally right).

    Dingo

  4. dingojack says

    Marcus Ranum – there are these special group of people called politicians, they don’t much give a shit about anything other than being elected*, perhaps you’ve vaguely heard of them?
    @@
    Dingo
    ——–
    * Because a politician that’s not elected is about as much use to his or her constituents as tits on a bull

  5. sigurd jorsalfar says

    “President of the United States” or “one politician”, what’s the difference, right?

    When your official position on an issue is whatever opinion polls tell you is the safe position, you aren’t a leader you are a follower.

  6. dingojack says

    Marcus – Having re-read mine above, I apologise for the curt tone. But what you’ve basically done is said:
    “Boy that Obama is a rather hairless, bipedal member of the Great Apes!”
    Hardly much of description (let alone a criticism) of Obama or any other scumbag in politics.
    Dingo

  7. dingojack says

    sigurd jorsalfar – politicians are public servants. The people lead (if they can be bothered) and the lackeys scurry after them. That’s the way it is.
    Dingo

  8. says

    You people make me sick! Leading is Partisan! “Going with the polls, not rocking the boat, prolonging the status quo is the way to go”, say DC Insiders, “…at least if you’re a Democrat.”

  9. Michael Heath says

    Ed reports:

    As I said at the time, none of this had anything to do with his actual position, which was always in favor of marriage equality. [President Obama] was lying about his position out of concern for his political viability.

    This is a defectively narrow interpretation of the president’s behavior on this issue. True, but narrow to a point that the uninformed would reasonably conclude the president wasn’t effectively increasing the equal protection of gay people until he came out in support of gay marriage. That when in fact no president has advanced this cause more than the current president and his efforts have been astonishingly successful when you consider the dark days of November 2004.

    Two of the key leaders in advancing the cause of equal protection of gay people’s rights, and their families’, are Andrew Sullivan and Barney Frank. Both of them long championed fighting this issue at the local and state level, rather than the federal level; in spite of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment obligating the federal government to defend gay people’s rights from state and local tyranny.

    When it comes to all three men, they’ve all been incredibly successful where the movement itself has been moving at light-speed relative to other efforts to advance the cause of equal protection. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s pragmatism over blind idealism, not merely cynical self-serving hypocrisy. Especially given the fact the president can make a valid defense of his behavior that it was all for the best; where he’s the player in the arena and we’re effectively arm-chair quarterbacks relative to the impact of his efforts.

    I disagree with Obama’s, Sullivan’s and Frank’s approach. I’ve long argued the federal courts should have struck down all anti-gay laws long ago. But I can’t avoid that their collectively cautious strategy arguably insures more popular sustainable support with far less risk of blow-back; where the advancement of the cause is considerate of the fact our real opponents here are not the president and cynical politicians but instead conservatives who wield significant powers in Congress and the Supreme Court. From this perspective, the president’s efforts legislatively, in his judicial nominations, and even culturally though to a modest degree, makes him a hero of the gay rights movement, not a mere cynical selfish politician. We need this framework evident when we credibly criticize the president if we’re going to inform, rather than misinform others.

  10. Michael Heath says

    sigurd jorsalfar @ 8 writes:

    “President of the United States” or “one politician”, what’s the difference, right?

    When your official position on an issue is whatever opinion polls tell you is the safe position, you aren’t a leader you are a follower.

    Thank you for so vividly illustrating why Ed’s post is wrong as I argue @ 12.

    No U.S. president has been a more effective leader at advancing the equal rights of gay people, with no close seconds. Yet to you the president’s a follower? Are you not aware of the current state of DADT and DOMA and President’s Obama’s leadership on these controversies? Are you not aware of the kind of federal judges and justices the president has appointed who are creating a bulwark in the federal courts to protect gay people’s rights?

    If we want blame those on the left for us not having progressed even faster on gay rights, then let’s point the finger straight at those liberals who didn’t vote for Al Gore in closely contested states.

  11. says

    They have to pick and choose their battles. I think health care policy already made him a dangerous radical. And, of course, one thing he couldn’t pick and choose, being black, was already a lightning rod for large swathes of white America.

    There’s a name for politicians who ignore polling and electoral calculus: losers. And losers can’t do anything for us. I count the health care law as a major accomplishment and there was no other electable pol who would make it happen.

  12. dingojack says

    Let me tell you a little story. It’s a story of brave stands and heroic resistance to further a greater ‘principle’ (leadership, you might call it).

    Once upon a time there was an Emissions Trading Scheme. It wasn’t a perfect trading scheme by any stretch of the imagination, but it was much, much better than the alternative (nothing).

    The Left side of the house proposed it, the moderate leader of the right-side of the chamber also approved (despite the disagreement of some within his own party). All seemed well.

    But the Greens disliked with a passion. They wanted a bigger and better scheme, one with even tougher targets and more teeth.

    The moderate leader of the right staked his reputation on getting it through, the Greens dug in saying firmly “no, this is against our principles”.

    It failed to pass and so a weaker, more confusing, more conciliatory bill to the CO2 producers was passed with a tiny margin.
    But only after the Right’s moderate leader was rolled by a hard-right asshole (now PM), the Left got nothing but blame and opprobrium for passing a flawed ETS (from the left) and a job-killing bill (from the right). and soon was rolled itself, and the Greens took a pasting a the election.And even now the Right-Wing Nutjob (Our Fearless Leader) is seeking to replace it with the ETS you have when you’re not having an ETS.

    Yep, strong, principled leadership in action, and didn’t it work out so well.

    Dingo

  13. Michael Heath says

    Dr X writes:

    There’s a name for politicians who ignore polling and electoral calculus: losers. And losers can’t do anything for us. I count the health care law as a major accomplishment and there was no other electable pol who would make it happen.

    I count the increased protection of gays’ rights another major accomplishment for President Obama.

    Andrew Sullivan continues to use the Road Runner analogy when describing President Obama. That the president’s basic approach is to modestly press and merely tact towards the liberal cause when his opponents fuck-up, as they almost always do. I’d liken this description more to judo than the cartoon. However I think there’s more luck and others’ contributions in play; that Sullivan gives the president too much credit.

    But regardless of analogy, Dr X’s point that winning elections is imperative is key here. I think that too often goes largely un-appreciated by the most liberal among us.

  14. says

    Well, if I have to take a stand about whether I’d rather vote for a man who’s a little waffly about being a hard-core supporter of teh GAY and universal medical care v a man who openly despises his opponents supporters and promises to fuck up more peoples’ lives if he’s elected, well–what’s of shorter duration than a picosecond?

  15. dingojack says

    MO – Put like that, a Planck time* should more than enough to decide.
    Dingo
    ——–
    * approx.. 5.39106(32) × 10^−44 seconds

  16. atheistblog says

    it goes for everything else. Obama is just an ordinary asshole politician, no conviction whatsoever. Only conviction to get the political office. I bet he would have voted for Iraq war if he was in Congress in 2003. Don’t you remember his defense of NSA ? He came to office with skepticism but he changed his mind seeing how wonderful was spying people.
    Don’t forget, most of the democrats care for women, minorities, inequalities are falling in the same category, political convenience, no different than republicans.

  17. says

    He appears to not give much of a shit about anything, other than power.

    If that were the case, then why did he feel uncomfortable with his previous position? If he only cared about power, he wouldn’t have had any moral qualms about changing his stance; the fact that he did indicates that he has a conscience.

    I swear, attacking Obama over his record on gay rights of all fucking things has got to be the worst manifestation of the circular firing squad. Obama is the most pro-gay rights president in history, and it’s not even close. His immediate predecessor tried to pass a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and the one before that passed DOMA and DADT into law, all of which Obama tore down. Gay people should be erecting goddam statues to the man. Big, long, hard statues. But no, we have to find fault somehow because he wasn’t pure enough.

  18. says

    “it goes for everything else. Obama is just an ordinary asshole politician, no conviction whatsoever.’

    A comment was made the other day about “good atheists”, the ones who AGREE with the KKKonservatives. I’m kinda leaning toward believing that after reading that comment@20.

    Feel free to hurl invective or sulk.

  19. Michael Heath says

    Area Man writes:

    we have to find fault somehow because he wasn’t pure enough.

    When scientists started researching how people think about politics, one of the bigger surprises for me in reading their findings was how zealous partisans from all political ideologies all used triggers to resort to irrational thinking. E.g., certain triggers moving their thoughts from their pre-frontal cortex to their amygdala where their response was to bark-out an ad hominem followed by their self-inflicted award, a pleasing jolt of dopamine. Frequently the trigger was merely a name or event, George Soros, Benghazi, or Barack Obama.

    Here we have some liberals acting just like fundamentalists when it comes to fealty to ideological purity, except only one group is regularly castigated for such self-defeating behavior – and that isn’t those liberals who demonstrate such behavior.

  20. says

    Michael Heath “When scientists started researching how people think about politics, one of the bigger surprises for me in reading their findings was how zealous partisans from all political ideologies all used triggers to resort to irrational thinking. E.g., certain triggers moving their thoughts from their pre-frontal cortex to their amygdala where their response was to bark-out an ad hominem followed by their self-inflicted award, a pleasing jolt of dopamine. Frequently the trigger was merely a name or event, George Soros, Benghazi, or Barack Obama.”
    No, you’re stupid!

    Damnit.
    Sorry.
    You got me there.

  21. says

    “Here we have some liberals acting just like fundamentalists when it comes to fealty to ideological purity, except only one group is regularly castigated for such self-defeating behavior – and that isn’t those liberals who demonstrate such behavior.”

    I won’t argue that there are commenters here who seem to be somewhat left of center–and not shy about it–but I don’t think that they’re being given a free pass.

    And yes, the KKKonservafucks are castigated here–but they’re RUNNING the GOP and have a 50Kw transmitter compared to the lefty commenters here with their 12v loud hailer.

  22. Michael Heath says

    democommie writes:

    I won’t argue that there are commenters here who seem to be somewhat left of center–and not shy about it–but I don’t think that they’re being given a free pass.

    I was referring to the larger U.S. society rather than in this venue. I’d argue that’s for two reasons:
    1) There aren’t all that many zealously partisan ideological liberals where they also don’t wield political power.
    2) Conservatives don’t follow scientific findings and therefore are oblivious to this fact. And even if they were, they’d be pointing out a flaw possessed by relatively few liberals, a flaw far more prevalent amongst themselves.

  23. thebookofdave says

    Now that Obama’s political survival is assured, his true position on same-sex marriage may finally emerge. But from which closet?

  24. dingojack says

    MH posted “.. how zealous partisans from all political ideologies all used triggers to resort to irrational thinking….”

    Psst Michael — Ronnie Reagan was an asshole!

    :D Dingo

  25. sigurd jorsalfar says

    Sorry Michael Heath but I’m really not seeing the ‘hero’ emerge from your tepid defence of Obama.

    As for your efforts to psychoanalyze those whom you disagree with, you can shove that where the sun don’t shine, as my old granddad used to say, or take it back to the fan fiction site daily kos. You couldn’t possibly be a zealous partisan using triggers to resort to irrational thinking, because you’re obviously too smart for that and see things as they really are.

  26. abb3w says

    @5, dingojack

    Could it be his evolution was away from his real position (the one he held when nothing major was at stake) away to a fake position (when he needed to get elected) and now back to his actual position now it’s not vote-losing to do so?

    That’s not evolution, that’s merely norm of reaction.

    @25ish, Michael Heath

    When scientists started researching how people think about politics, one of the bigger surprises for me in reading their findings was how zealous partisans from all political ideologies all used triggers to resort to irrational thinking.

    All ideologies? Interesting. Got a citation handy?

    My own knee-jerk reflex is that such triggers may be a biological analog to the is-ought problem. While rational analysis can evaluate implications once emotion gives rise to a basis for ordering choices along better to worse, and can even show the existence of a set of such orderings, purely analytic rational thinking does not seem to give a means for picking among those orderings without relying on emotional preferences.

    @29, sigurd jorsalfar

    You couldn’t possibly be a zealous partisan using triggers to resort to irrational thinking, because you’re obviously too smart for that and see things as they really are.

    It’s more that his environmental conditioning has rewired his lymbic system to release dopamine disproportionately less for reflexive emotional analysis and more for reflective rational analysis. Same switchboard, substantially different triggers, radically different result.

  27. cjcolucci says

    There’s a huge difference between “not willing to spend political capital on X” and “opposing X.” Obama (and Hillary) both said they favored civil unions and “opposed” same-sex marriage. But what did that mean? There were states, even then, legalizing same-sex marriage. Did either of them spend a nanosecond of time or a calorie of effort to stop that? Did they put any political muscle behind a campaign for civil uniion alternatives? (I think history has shown that there was never a significant constituency who said both “no” to same-sex marriage and “yes” to civil unions, and there was no deal to be made along those lines, however clever or plausible it seemed at the time.) Did they shun married same-sex couples that they knew? Neither Obama nor Clintion was willing to get out in front on same-sex marriage, for obvious, if ignoble, political reasons, but what did they actually do, or even endorse, to stop it?
    Both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage believed/hoped/feared Obama and Clinton were lying for political gain and would reveal their true colors when it became politically safe. They were both right.

  28. Michael Heath says

    sigurd jorsalfar writes:

    your efforts to psychoanalyze those whom you disagree with, you can shove that where the sun don’t shine, as my old granddad used to say, or take it back to the fan fiction site daily kos.

    I don’t read Kos. I did read about these empirical findings, i.e., facts, in two science books and have had other scientists cite the same when Ed was blogging at ScienceBlogs.

  29. Michael Heath says

    abb3w writes:

    When scientists started researching how people think about politics, one of the bigger surprises for me in reading their findings was how zealous partisans from all political ideologies all used triggers to resort to irrational thinking.

    abb3w:

    All ideologies? Interesting. Got a citation handy?

    My own knee-jerk reflex is that such triggers may be a biological analog to the is-ought problem. While rational analysis can evaluate implications once emotion gives rise to a basis for ordering choices along better to worse, and can even show the existence of a set of such orderings, purely analytic rational thinking does not seem to give a means for picking among those orderings without relying on emotional preferences.

    Weston et al on motivated reasoning [PDF]:

    In this study, conducted during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004, we observed the reasoning processes of committed partisans as they were presented with threatening information about their own candidate, the opposing candidate, and neutral control individuals. We hypothesized that reasoning about threatening information about one’s own candidate would activate regions likely to be involved in implicit emotion regulation, notably the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), as well as regions reflecting elicitation of negative emotion (the insula, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and amygdala).

    Here’s one of their findings:

    Fig. 2: Behavioral ratings of the extent to which subjects perceived contradictions in statements by Bush, Kerry, and neutral figures. Democrats and Republicans reasoned to distinctly different conclusions about their preferred candidates, with mirror-image responses: Democrats readily identified the contradictions in Bush’s statements but not Kerry’s, whereas Republicans readily identified the contradictions in Kerry’s statements but not Bush’s. As can be seen from the standard error bars, the distributions of responses were essentially non-overlapping, demonstrating powerful effects of motivated reasoning. In contrast, Democrats and Republicans reasoned similarly about the contradictions of neutral figures.

    I think discovering this and keeping it mind does help a person reduce their own susceptibility to such to thinking. Conquering our weaknesses requires us to first concede their existence and be willing to work at adapting to a better position.

  30. Michael Heath says

    Thanks for the published version. For some reason I couldn’t find that version when I was googling with the patience of an eight year old.

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