THURSDAY, MAY 10, 2012

Interlude—Heroes and bigots: Good grief. This is really bad journalism!

Jackie Calmes wrote the featured news report on the front page of today’s New York Times. This is the way she starts:
CALMES (5/10/12): Before President Obama left the White House on Tuesday morning to fly to an event in Albany, several aides intercepted him in the Oval Office. Within minutes it was decided: the president would endorse same-sex marriage on Wednesday, completing a wrenching personal transformation on the issue.
Good lord! That makes a good novel. But as reporting, that’s cosmically bad.

Has President Obama experienced “a wrenching personal transformation” on the subject of same-sex marriage? Has he experienced a “transformation” at all? Plainly, Calmes can’t know.

As of yesterday, Obama has changed his public position on this topic. But have his personal views really changed? And if his views have changed at all, was the transformation wrenching?

Calmes can’t possibly know such things. As she starts this morning’s report, she is crafting a hero tale. She is writing a novel.

That said, quite a few hero tales were told last night on MSNBC. Liberal viewers were encouraged to see their tribe’s leader in an heroic light.

For ourselves, we have no problem with Obama’s new public stance. We would complain about the "journalism" involved in these hero tales.

What is wrong with the hero tale? On The Last Word, one of the tribunes narrowly hinted at an obvious flaw in the tale. Lawrence spoke with Dorian Warren, a professor at Columbia:
WARREN (5/9/12): I think we’re a long way from the mid-1990s, when you have now the mainstream position of Democratic politicians is to support marriage equality. That’s a huge, huge leap in a short amount of time.

I think the president should be applauded. I mean, his evolution of personal beliefs is very important. But there is still a lot of work to be done of translating those personal beliefs into public policy because this is now— Thirty states ban gay marriage. The president said it’s a states’ rights issue.
Somewhere yesterday, we’re fairly sure we saw someone make the obvious point. In saying this should be left to the states, Obama is adopting the standard position of historical southern opposition to civil rights for blacks—the position MSNBC pseudo-liberals deride when discussing immigration today.

But MSNBC isn’t a journalistic concern. For the most part, it is a collection of clowns hired to treat you like children. Last night, they took turns telling you that President Obama had been very brave, even as they made absurd comparison with President Clinton’s actions on same-sex issues in the 1990s.

For ourselves, we have no problem with Obama’s new stance; we had no problem with his previous stance. We don’t think either stance was heroic. But then, we don’t expect (or want) heroism from such a major elected official, especially as he he seeks re-election.

This is another way of saying that we aren’t seven years old. Whatever! Hero tales were unfurled last night—and then too, they gave us Chris Matthews.

At highly tribal times like these, the ugliest players will roll out the bombs. Matthews is a total hack—a hack who worked to defeat Al Gore when his billionaire boss was Jack Welch, a hack who pretends to be in thrall to progressive values now that the official line of his corporate owner has changed.

Matthews will do and say almost anything to keep his five million bucks rolling in. Last night, as others spun hero tales, he made tribal viewers feel very good by dropping a heartfelt B-bomb.

Matthews spoke with Clarke Cooper of the Log Cabin Republicans. Finally, Matthews couldn’t help himself. He said what he deeply feels:
MATTHEWS (5/9/12): Let me ask you about what I said this afternoon right after this announcement by the president on ABC.

I said every Republican staffer who is gay, man or woman, should go to their boss, man or woman, and say to them right now, “Why aren’t you out on this issue? Why aren’t you supporting this issue?”

Do you think there was a response, or do they continue to put up with this refusal to support equality? The Republican bosses of so many gay people on Capitol Hill, for example, have they gone to their bosses? Have they said, “You have got to change on this? The president has done it. Why don't you do it to neutralize the issue so it doesn`t become a campaign issue?”

If both sides agree support it, it won’t be a campaign issue. If one side opposes it, all the bigots out there will go to the other side and vote for the other candidate, won’t they?
Finally! Someone dropped the B-bomb! Good lord, how good it felt!

Matthews became a supporter of marriage equality like maybe ten seconds ago. But now that he supports equality, those who don’t are bigots! According to Nexis, only one other person dropped the B-bomb in last night’s discussions on The True Liberal Channel. That was Melissa Harris-Perry, subbing for Al Sharpton:
HARRIS-PERRY: Bigotry is the only basis for denying marriage equality. So, we should debate policy, we should debate which legislative plan we take. That's reasonable. But the basic rights of citizens should not flip and flop, they should not be erased like an etch-a-sketch at the whims of the intolerant. Our rights should be permanent, constant, and abiding. Thanks President Obama for reminding us of that.
On Tuesday, Obama was a bigot. As of today, he isn’t.

But wait! Are you a bigot if you’re willing to let the various states vote on this civil rights issue? If you want to let the various states vote on same-sex marriage, how have you reminded us that our rights are permanent, abiding?

Crafting their hero and demon tales, folks like these aren’t likely to ponder such questions.

For himself, Obama didn’t drop any B-bombs as he spoke with ABC News. At present, about half the country would deny marriage equality; to Matthew and Harris-Perry, they’re bigots. But Obama seems to be soft on bigots! In her report in the Times, Calmes revealed what he said:
CALMES: Long a proponent of civil unions, Mr. Obama said his views had changed in part because of prodding by friends who are gay and by conversations with his wife and daughters.

“I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” Mr. Obama said. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”
Disgusting! President Obama was “sensitive” to the bigots! We’ll guess that he still is!

We live at a time of high tribal division. Part of the joy of the liberal sect is the joy of dropping those R- and B-bombs.

We enjoy calling the other tribe bigots. In a similar vein, we say their limbic brains don’t work, that they’re “wired” for hate.

Tomorrow, we will look at some of the ways the two tribes demonize one another. For today, just note the way you’re juvenilized when you watch our liberal channel—just as conservatives have long been done when they tune to Fox:

Barack Obama came out for states’ rights—and we were told that he is our hero! We have no trouble with Obama’s new stance. But we do reject the jugglers and clowns who are hired by NBC News to treat you in such childish ways.

As one time, Matthews lied for Jack Welch. His owners now want different novels.

When Boxer was a bigot: Barbara Boxer was a bigot until 2008. Arms drawn back like a Chinese convict, Boxer confessed her crimes to Harris-Perry:
HARRIS-PERRY: What are Americans facing at the ballot box on this question of fundamental civil rights?

BOXER: There’s a huge choice in this election everywhere you look. And you could look at this issue of equality, and we see Mitt Romney now, not only has he flip-flopped all over the place on this, which says a lot about a human being’s heart and soul. But more than that, he does not even support civil unions anymore. I mean, this is unbelievable.

And I think, if you asked Americans do you support gay marriage or civil unions, if you added that up, it would probably be 80 percent of the people. So he’s just stuck on the far right on this, and I think it isolates him certainly from the younger people.

I’m glad you mentioned that because it took me a while to evolve, I say to you, on this issue myself. And it wasn't until I read the Supreme Court decision written by Ron George, this great California justice, basically said you can think it's equal all you want when you say civil unions are marriage, but it has to be marriage. That's just the way it is because of all of the rights and benefits that go with it.

And so, after that, that was 2008, I changed and my kids of course had been bugging me for years on it and I said you can have equality without it and I realized I was wrong.
The arc of history bends toward inclusion. As it does, we remember our scripts:

Republicans flip-flop; we change and evolve. By definition, the bigots aren’t us!


  1. Last night, we watched liberals gush over the historic decision by a sitting President to support gay marriage.
    But will that decision change many lives?
    The state legislatures and voters can still weigh in on this.

    The people that hate Obama are not going to suddenly decide he is really not such a bad guy after all.

    Single-issue gay progressives that turned away from Obama when he didn’t come out openly for same-sex marriage may well decide to vote for him in November, since he also ended DADT, but how many votes will that be, and how many districts and states will turn blue as a result?
    It’s not likely that one more wedge issue will make any real difference at the polls.

    Obama’s kids convinced him that same-sex marriage is ok.
    Will they be able to convince homophobes and those who firmly believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman?

    Will Mitt Romney come out of the closet and declare that marriage should be between one man and no more than a half-dozen women?

    We have a little over 5 months to find out.

  2. The Real AnonymousMay 10, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    "In saying this should be left to the states, Obama is adopting the standard position of historical southern opposition to civil rights for blacks—the position MSNBC pseudo-liberals deride when discussing immigration today."

    I was wondering if I was going to see anything dumber than Fox's "Obama Declares War On Marriage" which they later dropped from the FoxNation site since it was so obviously wrong.

    I guess since Mr. Somerby can no longer say "Obama's position on gay marriage is the same as Limbaugh's et al", which was ridiculously false in the first place, he's going to try to paint Obama as standing on the steps of the Capitol with an ax handle in his hands.

    Mr. Somerby needs to read the Constitution to see whose purview marriage falls under, state or federal, before he goes chasing after this latest false equivalency.

    1. Utterly amazing, isn't it? Obama said FAR more than gay marriage should be left to the states, but that of course doesn't fit the narrative Somerby wants to right.

      It isn't enough for Somerby to reduce one of the rare moments of courage we have seen out of any president in decades to virtual meaninglessness. He also has to equate Obama's crystal-clear endorsement of gay marriage to George Wallace standing in front of the door at the University of Alabama and declaring states rights.

      Utterly, utterly incredible.

    2. All the references to Wallace belong to me, Anonymous, and my really Anonymous fellow traveler -- but we pretend they're Somerby's.

      Obama said what he said, but we pretend it's Somerby who has the problem.

    3. Sorry, bucko, but these are Somerby's exact words:

      "In saying this should be left to the states, Obama is adopting the standard position of historical southern opposition to civil rights for blacks"

      Read it and weep, because your hero just compared Obama to southern bigots during the Civil Rights era? And for what reason? For saying he is IN FAVOR of gay marriage!

      Now I know it is hard for you to imagine that your muddle-headed hero is guilty of precisely that which he condemns in others, and I really know how easy it is for people who can't think for themselves to keep drinking the Flavor-Aid.

      But if Bob Somerby were paid directly by the Koch brothers for spewing this drivel, he couldn't be doing a better job for the right wing.

    4. I wish it weren't true, but "this should be left to the states" IS "the standard position of historical southern opposition to civil rights for blacks."

      Since I've got no leg to stand on there, I try to move the fight elsewhere.

    5. Remember when the national speed limit was 55? We eventually returned to the position that this "should be left to the states."

      Does that make the people who held that position any way similar to "southern opposition to civil rights."

      Heck, why doesn't Somerby go all the way? Slavery was once thought to be a "states rights" issue as well. I guess using the bully pulpit of the presidency to advocate for same-sex marriage is the same as calling for the return of slavery, since he is obviously using the same argument.

      Basically, Obama is saying that the principle of subsidiarity has to be given a chance to work, at this moment. And that principle calls on issues to be resolved at the level of government closest to the problem.

      For instance, you got a pothole in front of your house, you don't call the Army Corps of Engineers to fix it.

    6. Human rights of gays = pothole.

      Got it.

  3. Obama's position on gay marriage was the same as Limbaugh's until yesterday. Now it is the same as southern opposition to civil rights. There is no arguing with those two statements because they are true. Obama believes the question is up to the majority, unlike real "rights."

    1. "Now it is the same as southern opposition to civil rights."

      Oh, good lordy! Be sure to baaaaaa loudly for your shepherd.

    2. The facts aren't on my side -- therefore I call you sheep. I'm cheap like that.

    3. Oh, I get it! It's perfectly OK for Somerby to compare Obama to southern bigots, but it's not OK for those whom Somerby and his sheep do not approve.

    4. It's not OK for Somerby to correctly characterize Obama's argument.

      If he does, I say it's equivalent to calling someone a bigot.

      That's me, Anonymous. Later, sheep!

    5. Well, you go ahead and believe that all Obama did was invoke states rights. After all, if that's what Somerby tells you to think, that's what you got to think.

      Don't bother even to take the 10 seconds to google up what Obama actually said.

      Somerby already told you what he said. Don't let the facts get in the way of the novel your hero is writing for you.

    6. "Obama's position on gay marriage was the same as Limbaugh's until yesterday."

      Obama's position "until yesterday" was in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples. That was NEVER Limbaugh's position.

  4. Even Glenn Greenwald extends kudos to Obama at Salon. This, as one might expect, has blown the minds of his followers, who are alternately lobbing angry missives at Glenn and each other.

  5. After Obama's announcement, Mother Jones' David Corn spoke with an administration source and asked whether the president recognized gay marriage as a right. The official replied, "He has always said that it is a state issue, and he's not suggesting changing that. He did not support the North Carolina amendment, but he's not saying he will bring up a piece of federal legislation on gay marriage. This is how he feels himself about the issue, and he leaves it to the states."

    Guess that means Obama opposes joint federal tax returns in NC and elsewhere.

  6. Did Obama say that it _should be_ left to the states, or that it _is_, factually, a matter left to the states? Because it's indisputably true that different states have different laws on marriage, and that states have had the right to set those laws independently of one another. If marriage hadn't been a state matter, the number of states offering same-sex marriage would currently be zero. Sometimes "states' rights" is a pretext, and other times, you know, states actually have rights to do things. If Obama had said that regulating insurance is a matter that has been left to the states, would that also be suspiciously segregationist?

    1. Where is Obama on what's explicitly NOT states' rights -- Where is he on an executive order barring sex-orientation discrimination for those receiving federal contracts?

      He's still stonewalling, that's where he is.

      That aside, the question of whether the states can define who may marry is not settled. It was once possible for a state to bar mixed-race marriage. That is no longer possible, due to federal-level action.

      That states can currently get away with defining marriage so as to exclude same-sex couples hardly proves it is their right to do so -- no more than the existence of anti-miscegenation laws proved that the states had the right to discriminate against mixed-race couples.

    2. States _did_ have the right to discriminate against mixed-race couples, until the courts determined that Virginia's right to set its own laws on marriage was trumped by the Constitutional precept of equal protection. Eventually that will happen on same-sex marriage. But right now states have different laws on marriage, including whether same-sex couples can marry, how closely related the couple can be, and how old the two parties must be. In other words, marriage is, at present, a matter left to the states. To say that it isn't is false. To say that it should not be triggers a very wide debate about, first, federalism, and, second, what a federal marriage law would be. I would want federal marriage law to cover same-sex couples, for sure, but I don't have any confidence that the US government would successfully pass a law making that possible. And then same-sex couples and their straight allies would well be worse off. The fact that marriage is a state matter has led, happily, to a small number of states providing same-sex marriage. To note that marriage is a state matter is not to rehash old segregationalist rhetoric.

      We can fight about what still should be done to guarantee equal treatment for LGBT individuals and couples, and whether Obama has done enough yet. Fine. But this idea that evoking "states' rights" is a cop-out or a dogwhistle is goofy. States actually do have rights in this area, including the right to do dumb-ass bigoted things.

    3. Premature submission... Apparently Romney will now come out for a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, i.e., he wants to take that power away from the states, including the states that now permit it. Loathsome, ain't it?

    4. "is" a state matter vs. "should be" a state matter -- world of difference.

      "Should be" is very definitely an echo of the era where the federal government hadn't yet got the message that black people's human rights in fact *shouldn't* be a matter for the states.

      Somerby has Obama saying it "should" be a matter for the states. Is Somerby wrong about what Obama said?

    5. As far as federal contracts go, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

      Miscegenation was challenged under the Equal Protection clause of the 14 Amendment.

      The 14th Amendment has had a great deal of case law on racial discrimination, but virtually none on sexual discrimination, with the possible exception of Reed v Reed, which is not a wide-reaching decision.

      I don't think the DOJ cannot really be expected to succeed in challenging state sexual discrimination laws by citing precedence of racial discrimination cases.

      Obama has the choice of ordering the DOJ to attack state marriage laws under the Equal Protection clause, and the government may even win, but may not pass appellate review unless the issue is one of plaintiffs demanding relief in federal courts after losing in their own state courts.

      In other words, it would be better if citizens petitioned the Federal government for redress, rather than the Feds attack the states head-on.

      Until the rights of the state are challenged, and struck down by federal courts, the states do have the right.

      I wouldn't call it stonewalling, but Obama may be sitting tight, giving conservatives time to frame the issues, as he did with the bank bailout, DADT, troop withdrawals, and the Affordable Care act.
      And we know how those turned out.

      What Obama could do is assure LGBT groups that the DOJ will be sympathetic to their cause, and also start framing the argument that discrimination against gays is on the same level as racial discrimination.

    6. Re: "should" be handled at the state level vs. "is," here are the relevant quotations from a transcript I found:
      “And I continue to believe that this is an issue that’s going to be worked out at the local level because historically this has not been a federal issue.”

      Robin Roberts: ”But Mr. President, it’s not being worked out on the state level. We saw that Tuesday in North Carolina – the 30th state to, in essence, ban gay marriage.”

      President Obama: ”What I’m saying is that different states are coming to different conclusions."
      No "should" in those remarks.

      Characterizing Obama's position, Somerby wrote "In saying this should be left to the states, Obama is adopting the standard position of historical southern opposition to civil rights for blacks."

      Somerby is wrong. And in a particular way he does not tolerate in others.

    7. Source for the above:


    8. flipyrwhig, you're 100 percent right on this, and it's depressing that so few people-- after all these years of state-by-state battles on marriage equality, most of them touched off by state court decisions-- remember this or ever even knew it.

      Neither Congress nor the president can mandate how states define marriage, short of a constitutional amendment, and i think we know which way that would go even today.

      What Obama *can* do is the stuff he can do by executive order only. He can't even wipe out DOMA with this Congress.

      It's embarrassing in the extreme that Bob Somerby doesn't look this up before delivering his in this case ridiculous rant.

      It isn't only multi-million-dollar TV hosts on MSNBC who are too lazy to do their homework before opining loudly.

      And also to correct the record in re multi-million-dollar MSNBC hosts, Matthews has been pro same-sex marriage for a while now, and increasingly passionately so in recent months.


  7. Glad Obama evolved to Dick Cheney's 2004 position.

    1. Without a gay daughter to help him.

    2. Well, you're wrong. Cheney did not publicly support gay marriage until 2009.

      Back during the 2004 campaign, Republicans were using gay marriage as quite the wedge issue, with numerous statewide bans on it going before voters in several states that very November as a way to energize there fundamentalist base.

      And Dick Cheney? Oddly quiet about the issue during all that.

    3. Still, Dick Cheney, Satan Incarnate, had the non-bigoted view two years before Obama.

    4. Amazing. Obama takes a courageous stand as his re-election campaign gets underway, and all the pseudo-liberals can say is that he's no better than southern bigots claiming states rights during the Civil Rights era, and not nearly as principled as the wonderful Dick Cheney.

      Funny thing though. When Republican state legislatures were putting same-sex marriage bans on ballots as a method of helping to re-elect Bush/Cheney in 2004, what did Dick Cheney say then? When it might really have mattered?

  8. I think the important point Bob Somerby makes here is that the reporting, though some kind of bias or not, is turning the "news story" into a novel. It's how viewers and readers are now used to taking there News. The Romney "bully" story may be a new low in this type of pandering. It's a hell of a lot easier to sell liberals there products this way than to remind them, of say, Obama's continued war in Afghanistan, a disaster of W Bushian proportions. So, apply another clothes pin to the nose and get ready to vote.

  9. Obama doesn't think gay marriages are real marriages. Obama thinks equality under the law means gays "should" be legally allowed to get married in states that decide to allow it, but that it's OK in other states to permit only "normal" (real) marriage if they choose.

    1. Until it is found to be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection clause, it is, in fact, legal for some states to restrict marriage more than others do. Marriage law is state law. Without that being true, a handful of states would not have been able to institute same sex marriage or civil unions. Obama's position, as evident in the statements I quoted above, appears to be that states SHOULDN'T ban same-sex marriage, but that some of them do, and have the power to do so. Or, you might say, it's morally wrong but not unconstitutional to do it. To make that into an indictment of Obama is straight-up loony. It is, in fact, true that states, not the federal government, set marriage policy. If you have a problem with that, you have a problem with hundreds of years of federalism. If you have a problem with that, you are saying that you want a federal marriage policy. What would that look like? What kinds of cousins could get married? How old should both parties be? Every state has different policies. Some are more progressive than others. If you want the federal government to set policy for all states, congratulations, you just killed same-sex marriage in the few states that have implemented it, because Republicans in Congress will never vote for same-sex marriage. Still feel righteous?

    2. Also, I quoted the transcript of the interview above. You put the word "should" in quotes. Who are you quoting?

  10. Obama could say it shouldn't be up to the states whether gays have human rights.

    He doesn't say that.

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