The landscape for the 2012 presidential campaign may have been fundamentally changed by the president's announcement that he now will openly support same sex marriage.
The most significant impact of the announcement and the most debate over the announcement is of course related to the "political" impact of the announcement on the campaign, the various voter and constituent group responses, fundraising impact, etc.
But first, I do think it is important to step outside of the political impact box for a second and at least acknowledge that it genuinely appears that our president made a decision, or announced a decision, that really represented his core beliefs and principals rather than calculated to reflect the impact of various political realities. And in so doing, he demonstrated what many might say an all too rare commitment to his principals and to trying to really lead the country in a direction that is good for the country and his legacy and not just reflective of calculated political considerations.
We might also consider that this praiseworthy approach and decision seems also to be in contrast to how tepid and almost fearful this president has been to take strong morally supportable positions on race and unjustified killings of unarmed Black males by people in authority who so often are never held to account.
Ironically, it was in the area of "race" that so many Americans, minority and otherwise, thought that the election of Barack Obama represented so much promise for America and really would put us on a track to a "post-racial society." So much for that. Indeed, I would argue that based on what we have seen during this current presidential term, Hillary Clinton would probably have been more proactive and forceful on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities in America than what we have seen from Barack Obama.
Without question, we all know the reason why our president has been so reluctant and indeed absent from front and center "conversation" on issues of racial significance during his first term -- it is because either he or his advisors or both have felt that "politically" it was too risky for the president to potentially alienate so many voters, particularly independents, who might be uncomfortable with his taking strong positions about race in advocacy for justice and fighting prejudice, especially given that he was an African-American who would have to run soon for re-election in a national mood where fighting for a job is more important than fighting for racial justice.
But no president since Lincoln was compared so often to Lincoln both during his first campaign and even after taking office, and if this president is going to ever live up to the comparisons to Lincoln, he will have to start being more involved in issues of race and prejudice and discrimination, and certainly one can say that Lincoln did get involved in such issues.
Let's remember this. Whether Barack Obama serves one term or two terms as president of the United States, one fact remains quite certain -- once Barack Obama leaves office, whether after four years or eight years, the next president will be white, and the one after that as well, and if Obama leaves not having done more than he has done so far in advocating and leading even at least the kind of "conversation" we need in this country on issues of "race", historians will look back on his administration and determine that in terms of achieving significant improvement in matters of race in America, the Obama administration was a "missed opportunity."
So certainly it is ironic that while caving in to the dangers of speaking out so forcefully on issues of race, our country's first African-American president has instead chosen the issue of same sex marriage to take a stand that might be controversial, unpopular, and fraught with political danger and recriminations but nevertheless represents a president as a leader of his nation trying to forge a new direction that so many feel confident is the right thing to do and is more reminiscent of Lincoln and his approach to using the presidential platform to provide moral leadership for a country divided. We applaud the president on this forceful stand and hope this approach might continue and even spread over to other issues as well.
But inevitably, coming in the middle of a presidential campaign, the moral leadership aspect of same sex marriage will have to take a back seat to the discussion of the political impact aspect of the issue and how it will affect the current presidential campaign.
And once we move on to the political impact discussion, we have to consider that this announcement and reintroduction of the same sex marriage issue really does put Mitt Romney back into this presidential race.
In fact, it is ironic that I had viewed the past four to five months of the Republican presidential primary campaign as a new updated textbook manual on how not to run a presidential campaign in the midst of a disappointing and still devastatingly slow economic recovery from a most severe recession.
With Republican candidates attacking each other using such pejorative terms as "liar and fundamentally dishonest" to describe each other, and then letting the entire campaign morph into a Christian fundamentalist seminar on contraception, morality, abortion, same sex marriage, and even "Satan", my political analysis evolved from giving Mitt Romney not just the only chance but a good chance to defeat the president to a more recent analysis that in my judgment, I felt it now looked like the president would pull it out in the end.
But the president's announcement on same sex marriage does five things that will benefit Mitt Romney in a significant way as he tries to regain some lost momentum, although he won't succeed with that goal by making incomprehensible statements claiming that he should get credit for the success of the auto industry bail-out -- something he adamantly opposed.
First, the fact that Romney has staked a clear position in opposition to the president's on same sex marriage will convince many suspicious conservatives that Romney just might be "conservative enough" to satisfy their tastes -- and that could be very important for him.
Second, while the Republicans hurt themselves focusing on social issues the last four months with the economy taking a back seat, they now have a social issue that can stay on the front page as long as they want it to because of the clear difference in the two positions, and it often turns out to be the social issues that draw conservatives out to the polls -- and that could be very important for Romney.
Third, while national polls show the majority of Americans now support same sex marriage, the defeat of every referendum put on every ballot in every State in support of this issue shows clearly that the people who actually vote in the country do not support this proposition, and that means that those who oppose same sex marriage will be motivated to go to the polls even if they aren't excited about Romney personally -- and that could be very important for him.
Fourth, the fact that the president's position has evolved over the years on this issue from support to opposition to support does give Romney some wiggle room to deflect criticism of his positions as being those of a "flip flopper" -- and that could be very important for him.
And fifth and finally, in swing States like North Carolina and Virginia in the old defined "red state" territory, the race will be very close and an issue like this could just give Romney the impetus he needs to possibly retake at least one of those States that Obama won in 2008.
And we can also add that there is going to be a lot of debate as to whether the economy is really improving or is still stagnant with too many people suffering, and most likely, at times the general consensus will go back and forth. I would submit that during those times when the argument is that the economy has really improved a lot which will benefit the president, Romney will be able to divert some of the discussion to a social issue like same sex marriage to help him counter any momentum to the president.
And when the consensus is that the economy is doing badly and not improving, then Romney can set same sex marriage aside and go after the issue that ultimately might be the only one that can elect him.
Mitt Romney still has an uphill battle, but the fact that right now both candidates are fairly even in the polls gives Romney a chance to erase most of the damage Republicans did to themselves during their primary campaign. But to defeat an incumbent president, you can't do damage to yourself in the campaign -- you have to run a perfect campaign like Bill Clinton did in 1992 so that you go into the summer not even with the President but 8 to 10 points ahead. Why? Because an incumbent President will always close that gap after the conventions and in the fall.
If there's no gap, then the edge goes to the incumbent president. Mitt Romney may now have an issue that will help keep him even as the president's momentum grows, and that could keep Romney in the race, and possibly keep all of us up all night on November 6th.
Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles and Seattle based columnist, TV political analyst, radio political and social topic commentator, and a national lecturer and business consultant. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org