And big pundits have to push script: Did Obama take a “courageous stand” in the case of same-sex marriage? Writing in Sunday’s Washington Post, Kathleen Parker seemed to say no:
PARKER (5/13/12): This past week’s news cycle has produced two narratives:In her column, Parker came out for same-sex marriage herself. But she seemed to say that Obama’s announcement wasn’t especially courageous—although she said “you’d never know it by the media’s response.”
One, Barack Obama is an evolutionary, 21st-century hero who supports equality for all.
Let’s parse, shall we?
Obama’s Big Announcement that he supports gay marriage came about for the following reasons: (a) He had no choice after Vice President Biden said on “Meet the Press” that he was fine with same-sex marriage; (b) one in six of Obama’s campaign bundlers, those who raise big bucks, is openly gay; (c) Obama risks nothing except the votes of those who wouldn’t have voted for him anyway
We tend to agree with those assessments, although we don’t mean that as a criticism of Obama. (We also don’t agree with Parker’s point C.) As a major pol seeking re-election, Obama had to say something about same-sex marriage; he couldn’t continue for several years saying he couldn’t decide. When he did speak, he chose the softest degree of support, explicitly presenting this as a matter of states’ rights.
His staff then trashed the vile Joe Biden for making Obama say that much! Biden was frog-marched into the Oval, where he was made to repent.
Biden-fragging to the side, we wouldn’t criticize Obama for his stance. But it isn’t clear why it should be seen as a “courageous stand.”
That said, simple-minded narrative-pushing is what the “press corps” does best. Yesterday, Jonathan Capehart responded in scripted ways on the unwatchable program of recitation known as Meet the Press:
GREGORY (5/12/12): The reality of this is, the president is not making this a federal case. He's saying, "I'm for it, but I'm going to let the states handle this."It’s true that people will benefit psychologically. To some extent, that will happen because those people aren’t being told that the states’ right approach which Obama affirmed means that they will never be married in fact.
CAPEHART: Well, because the states have always been in the business of, of setting the qualifications for, for marriage. And it wasn't until Congress got into the mix by passing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that you had the federalization of marriage.
Look, this idea that the president is punting to the states, I think, is wrong. The states, as I said, they set the qualifications, but they also say who can marry. And in, at the—ultimately, it's the federal Constitution that, that judges whether states have gone too far, whether they have denied equal protection under the law. And it is clear that the president believes that, constitutionally, everyone should have the right to marry whether they're heterosexual or, or same-sex. And I would have to say, just to disagree with the governor here, Gavin Newsom, I do think the president did—was going to change his mind. I think he was going to do it sooner rather than later because he was in an untenable position. The untenable position being that his words were not matching his deeds. If you look at the president's record, as you said, he had a very pro-gay record. In particular, when it came to same-sex marriage, it looked like he supported it, but he would never say the words. Ultimately, because of what happened here on this set a week ago—
CAPEHART: —those words and deeds match. And you have people now who are going to benefit from that psychologically.
Later, Gavin Newsome said that, in his opinion, this was “a point of political courage.” But how does anyone know whether “courage” was involved here? How do we know that the decision wasn’t based on a raw political calculation—on the belief that more votes would be lost by sticking with civil unions?
We don’t mean any of this as a criticism of Obama. In our view, presidents aren’t paid to be courageous in all such things, despite this stirring follow-up from Capehart:
GREGORY: Jonathan, this is, is this about getting back to “hope and change” in 2008 for those supporters for, for Obama who might have been disappointed?Parker agrees that Obama took the right stand. She just said it isn’t clear that courage drove the decision.
CAPEHART: I think a lot of supporters of the, of the president are buoyed by what he did. But let's remember, leadership is about doing the hard thing when it's neither easy nor convenient. This is not a slam dunk for the president. But siding with families, with gay and lesbian Americans, gay and lesbian Americans who are raising children across the country, who are doing so at a disadvantage because of the tax code, because of local laws, because of federal laws, their president, president of the United States, came out and said that he supports, he supports their right to wed. He supports their right to be fully engaged and involved in the American dream, and that's an important thing to do, that we shouldn't forget.
Sorry. As a general matter, political leadership is not “about doing the hard thing when it's neither easy nor convenient.” In the vast array of cases, political leadership is about doing the most sensible thing on balance—unless you’re one of the silly-bills who are paid to stir our souls with the simplest constructions.
Capehart has emerged as a toady in the past year, a step back from earlier postures. In this case, he joined the herd in praising Obama’s “courageous stand”—his words last Wednesday night.
But did Obama show courage in this decision? Did he “do the hard thing when it wasn’t convenient?” Or did he possibly choose the best of several uncertain options?
We don’t have the slightest idea; Capehart doesn’t know either. But these folk do know the scripts—and they gotta recite.