Some may think Barack Obama’s hand was forced.
Some may think it was a cynical ploy to garner Gay Money campaign contributions or to pander to the youth vote.
Some may simply shoot themselves and the right wing in the foot, talking about distractions that their own party has raised in the middle of a recovery.
Obama himself has said his feelings have evolved, as he’s witnessed gay couples in the netherworld of “civil unions.” Marriage-lite, if you will.
And some have treated it like a Romney-sized flip flop.
One thing is for sure: it was a monumental statement to make for any President, but doubly so ahead of a re-election campaign against a party that’s pledged its not-inconsiderable resources to limit the president to one term. He very neatly swung away from leading from behind to breaking new ground.
To be sure, this energizes the base of both parties, and how can that be a bad thing if it forces us to confront issues that many on both sides wish would simply lie dormant? Obama needs that base this year as much if not moreso than he did four years ago. He carries a lot of weight in being the incumbent but the past forty years have taught us that a President who doesn’t inspire his party’s base will lose re-election.
In framing his announcement in this light, we begin to see some other, more clever and subtle things he’s done in his first term. The big knock liberals have against Obama is that he’s too centrist and that he’s turned a deaf ear to the concerns that he addressed in his first campaign.
I’ve long maintained– from back in the days when the troika of Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were in the hunt– that Obama’s liberalism was a bit of a sham. Oddly, I soften that stance somewhat in the face of the evidence. I still believe he’s a centrist politician (you can’t be a national candidate without being centrist) but I think he’s actually governed to the left of what I believed he could have. The Lily Ledbetter Act, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and healthcare reform are all staunchly liberal positions to stake out.
They are also supremely fair ideals to have: Equal pay, equal rights, equal access to quality affordable healthcare.
This is not to say that Obama hasn’t staked out some fairly conservative positions, as well. For instance, he opened some offshore drilling sites in 2010 that previously didn’t exist, threatening wetlands on both coasts as well as the Gulf of Mexico. TARP was a near-disaster of epic proportions that didn’t address the underlying problems, that progressives pointed out: people, not banks, were hurting. It rewarded the one percent for nearly driving us off the cliff, while leaving the 99% to suffer in agony and torment of mounting bills and disappearing jobs. He caved on the Bush tax cuts, all to get a debt ceiling increase. And so on.
On balance, and a night’s reflection, I tend to believe this is an instance where President Obama weighed his options carefully, realized things balanced out, and decided to go with his heart. It is about fairness, something we’ve seen is an important factor in his administration.
It’s up to us to get his back on this. If we want him to be more progressive in his second term, something I have no doubt he wants, its up to us to reward him not only with that second term but with a Congress ready, willing and able to work with him to deliver it.
He’s shaken the nation to its foundation. Time to wake up.