Obama Secretly Supported Gay Marriage All Along
Was just reading the above article over at Huffington Post that features an excerpt from David Axlerod’s new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. In the excerpt Axlerod claims that Obama supported gay marriage all along, even while he claimed that he favored the more politically popular civil unions during his first run for the presidency.
I’m sure this will make some heads on the right explode. I am also sure that even some of his supporters will claim this shows a lack of character. However, this is really not out of step with politics in general. Having been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals about Lincoln, even our greatest president engaged in this kind of thing. (Well, I was reading it until my Kindle exploded! I will finish it as soon as possible.) Lincoln was often told by the left wing of his party that he was not moving fast enough on slavery, even though he eventually was the president that put an end to slavery.
The idea is that leaders have to take the temperature of the populace on issues. A good leader will be out front of the public on issues, “leading” them to do the right thing, but they can’t be too out front of the general population. If they are too out front they risk a backlash and giving the opposition a chance to make political inroads. So they have to have enough courage to move the ball down the field, but enough smarts to do it in a way where they don’t risk creating a situation where they don’t have enough political capital to get things done.
On top of this political leaders, especially at a national level, have a many other issues that they also need to treat in this same manner. It’s a complex puzzle that is not an enviable task. This is not to say that the general public should not express outrage if they believe a politician is acting against their interests. It is expressly this growing political “heat” that will eventually give a leader enough cover to make it politically expedient to act. Those that try to change the national dialogue through protests and other forms of peaceful serve a very important role in democracy, one that has often been ridiculously belittled in the mainstream media, but it is not the same role that a leader elected by popular vote has.
This is not to say that one can not criticize Obama on his decisions. It is fair to say that Obama was not far enough in front of the general population. If someone wants to make the argument that he lacked the courage to act in a timely manner, I don’t know if I would agree given all of the other issues at stake when he took the presidency, but it is again a fair criticism. However, I think history shows that a political leader who has a different opinion in private and in public is not out of the ordinary, and might even be smart politics when trying to accomplish a larger goal. Although it is too early to tell, and I am more willing to hear arguments against this belief, I think the gains that gay couples have made during Obama’s presidency will leave Obama looking favorably on this issue in the history books. Change, important change, and I do believe that gay marriage is an important issue as everyone deserves the chance to find love and happiness, is not always pretty. To change the way people think takes real people doing real work. It requires those that are willing to stand up for justice on the front lines and, yes sometimes, it also requires political leaders that are willing to bend political will in using the often unseemly machinations of politics.