When the liberal base of the Democratic Party gets excited, so do the media. Witness their reaction when the president told ABC’s Robin Roberts that he favored marriage equality for same sex couples.
“Bold” and “risky,” proclaimed The Seattle Times. Roberts herself said she was “getting chills again.” The current Newsweek has Obama on its cover with a rainbow colored halo, eyes on the horizon looking slightly heavenward. Headline: “The First Gay President."
President Obama's announcement was played as the end point after he previously opposed same sex marriage, then later acknowledged that his view was “evolving.” Perhaps “revolving” would be a better word.
As a candidate for the Illinois statehouse from a hip liberal district in Chicago 16 years ago, he supported same sex unions and promised to oppose anyone who didn’t. But when he ran statewide for the U.S. Senate eight years later, he said that he opposed same-sex unions because of his Christian faith, a position reiterated during his run for president. Now he’s gone full circle.
What the president did not do was argue that marriage equality was a constitutional right, which lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies are contending in the federal courts right now. Instead, he says it belongs in the political arena, at the state level, where it was rejected by 22 percentage points in North Carolina just last week.
Still, it is the first time a president said he supported same sex couples tying the knot with a matrimonial pledge. The party base is euphoric, media coverage has been gushing and checkbooks are opening around the country.
But what about the voters?
I had an interesting conversation on KOMO Newsradio with Jim McDermott about this last week. The elder statesman of Seattle liberalism praised the president for his courage, lauded him for moving the issue forward ... then said it was time to “move on” to other issues. He said this twice.
Newsweek clearly didn’t get the memo. What does the wise old liberal know that Tina Brown does not?
Perhaps how to read an electoral map.
On Monday morning, The Hill newspaper reported, Vulnerable Democratic Senators balk at Obama’s Gay Marriage Endorsement.” Montana freshman John Tester declined to climb aboard the bandwagon. Ditto for Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Bob Casey, who dispatched Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania six years ago, along with Bill Nelson in Florida. Joe Manchin in West Virginia not only balked at supporting marriage equality, he’s even said he’s undecided about voting for Obama in November.
All of these senators, save Manchin, are in swing states. All are states with laws or constitutional amendments outlawing same sex marriage. In fact, same sex marriage has been on the ballot in more than 30 states. It has lost by popular vote every time in states red, blue and purple.
No wonder ol’ Jim wants to “move on.” Once you’ve scooped up your money in Seattle and Hollywood, and at Rickey Martin’s LGBT fundraiser earlier this week, there isn’t much to gain by dwelling on the issue, and plenty to lose. McDermott knows what many enthusiasts for marriage equality forget: The more the issue is discussed and debated in the political arena, the less popular it becomes. In no state where it was on the ballot did support for it grow during the election campaign.
But this sudden jolt of front page attention did more than make gay marriage a front burner issue (at least for now). Newsweek and company just solved a major problem for Mitt Romney. The one element of the Republican Party that Romney needs and was having trouble rallying was the social conservatives. Romney to them was like Reagan was to Big Business back in 1980, always a third or fourth backup. Social conservatives preferred Santorum or Gingrich, and before them, Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, and even Rick Perry.
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