Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Gay Way

The Tom Robinson Band--"Glad To Be Gay" (mp3)

The attempt to paint President Obama's decision to come out in support of gay marriage as a political move is very fair.  And, therefore, completely irrevelant.  For to accuse a politician of being political is akin to postulating that a sex addict is only in it for the sex.  Politicians act politically. 

The reason such an attack is irrelevant, however, is not just because it attacks a politician's core for being his core: it's because the attack carries the implication that Obama has supported something that he really doesn't believe.  Well, even though I'd be shocked, given Mr. Obama's own background, if this wasn't true to his beliefs, though it may or may not have been politically expedient to say so, whether or not Mr. Obama "believes" in gay marriage or not is also completely irrelevant.

The only thing that matters is that he has come out in favor of it.  The only thing. 

It's kind of like when George Bush the elder came out against broccoli, only this time it's positve and important.  And what comes of the Obama announcement is the following:

1. Suddenly, the cause has legitimacy that it didn't have.
2. Pollsters immediately want to know if the people back the president, and the polls suggest, however tenuously, that a majority of Americans do.
3. Pollsters want to know if it will affect the election, because for the media, a major quality-of-life issue, a civil rights issue, is really only fodder for the big story.
4. Presidents can't retreat from the gay issue now, not until it is resolved in some way.

One need have only a superficial understanding of American History (would that more people had even that) to know that some of the greatest moments in our history, moments that I am most proud of, have come about even though the President at the time might have had no particular interest in the cause in question.

Lincoln's comment pre-and-post Emancipation Proclamation have been parsed repeatedly and more intelligently than I could do.  All I need do is to remind you that Lincoln was no great advocate, either morally or intellectually, of correcting the state of slaves.  He merely saw the chance to use them as the means to an end--namely, the preservation of the Union.  Similarly, when LBJ picked up the torch of JFK's social programs, he was no great champion of civil rights.  But he did enjoy power, and manipulation, and bending people to his will, and if he could use the ghost of the dead president to push an agenda, well, that was what he did.  An entire minority gained, and not because he loved them.

And that's why Obama's measured support matters so much.  Call him calculating, challenge his manhood, demonstrate that he didn't get much of a "bump" from doing it, say he didn't go far enough, prove that it isn't going to make much an impact on the election.  None of that matters now. It doesn't even matter which side of the issue you are on.  When a president weighs in, even if he's a president you malign or despise, his embrace of the issue carries so much clout that it would take a cataclysmic societal shift (think: the Taliban taking over Afghanistan) to push the issue off the table.

The fact is that civil rights need a helping hand from government.  I'm not being patriarchal.  The laws and legislation that follow from governmental interest are crucial to changing the minds of a society, to forcing a change through fine and sentence and punishment, if necessary.  And those have to come from federal government, not state.  I understand the arguments against "big government" and the threat of intrusions into our lives, but I also know that part of these arguments are coded--thinly-veiled advocacy for states and individuals being able to inforce their misguided, narrowly-defined, religiously-based inhibitions of others' practices.  It isn't that they're opposed to big government; they just want to be the biggest part of it when it suits them.

But that cannot stand for civil rights.  Our tendency as a society is to ignore the fact that those who are suffering, are hiding, are pretending to be something they aren't still matter when they aren't part of a crucial political debate.  So even now, a week or two later, the gay marriage issue is off of the front page and is, apparently, not the "single issue" that will sway voters in either direction.  Obama may not have to say much more about it; Romney made his opinion known back when he was at boarding school.  Probably, the courts will decide the matter in their own good time.

Unless we become a theocracy, the prejudice against gay rights cannot stand.  And I'm not saying that with a tone of outrage.  I'm saying that, legally, as a matter of social equality, the issue will eventually be solved dispassionately and on a national level.  States should not determine gay marriage law any more than they should determine immigration law, any more than they should have been allowed to maintain "separate but equal." 

And that's when we'll be reminded again of the presidential leadership that we have just witnessed, that seemed to matter for about a week, until some latest conflict took its place.  And no one will have any memory of why he did it, if they ever knew.  And it won't matter, because now it's out of the closet.


Billy said...

It's fun to pretend that, because no one is commenting, it must mean all our readers just agree with you.

Bob said...

Political posts rarely get comments + gay posts never get comments (unless the poster includes his love of Chick-Fil-A) =


rodle said...

I thought it was a great post, at least until the jab at Romney. Attack his stance on the issue(s) now, but his behavior in high school is (to quote a talented writer I know) "completely irrelevant".

troutking said...

Agreed. Great post, though I would disagree with your characterization of LBJ. Though there was no great political animal than him, helping poor people of all races was his true core. He knew the risks and acted anyway. He commented, as he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that he just lost the South for the Democrats for a generation. More as it turned out.

Bob said...

@Randall, I would agree with you, but for three personal observations:

1. Though all of us committed acts of meanness in high school, I really doubt you held the gay kid down and cut off his hair. It's hard to get too much more invasive than that.

2. Again, given that all of us did unpleasant things in high school, I suspect strongly that you, like me, remember all of those and revisit them from time to time, regretting what you did. Romney, though, no memory of the event.

3. I don't believe people change significantly, even over time. I don't think someone who would commit such an act in high school is now compassionate. In fact, so many of his comments suggest that Romney has little understanding of, and therefore compassion for, people who do not live like him.

@Trout--LBJ was one of our most brutal, forceful politicians. I appreciate that you give him credit, but I think Caro's ongoing biography of him paints him in a far less sympathetic light, in spite of posters in classrooms that suggest the contrary.

troutking said...

It was actually some of what Caro said in his recent interview with Colbert that reminded me of the idealism/populism that underlay LBJ's ever-present and ultimately triumphant political considerations and self-interest. I'm sort of making the Gordon Connell argument here: "I haven't read those books but I know what's in them." Have you read 'em?

Here's the passage:

His life was dedicated to the single goal of becoming President of the United States at any cost, almost as if becoming the most powerful man in the world could undo the trauma of childhood poverty and shame brought on by his father's failures. Though his path to power was one of cruelty and ruthlessness, Johnson was going to use the power he accumulated to advance social justice for those Americans who felt the same shame and experienced the same crippling poverty of Johnson's youth.

Caro writes,

"Nor was it financial factors alone that accounted for his empathy for the poor, for people of color....Respect was involved, too - respect denied because of prejudice. He had understood those kids in Cotulla, 'the disappointment in their eyes....the quizzical expression on their faces: 'Why don't people like me? Why do they hate me because I am brown?' They had been denied respect for a reason, the color of their skin, over which they had no control; so had he - for him the reason was his family, his father. 'Never amount to anything. Too much like Sam.' He had 'swore then and there that if I ever had the power to help those kids I was going to do it.' And now, he was to say, 'I'll let you in on a secret. I have the power.' [As he said to an aide who suggested that he not push for civil rights in his initial address to Congress because it had no chance of success]....'Well, what the hell's the presidency for?'" (Robert Caro, The Passage of Power, pages 486-487)