We all got a laugh when Van Jones, asked if President Obama would lose some support in the black community if he came out for marriage equality, quipped that the president wouldn't lose such support even if he "came out as gay" himself.
"I don't understand this strategy," Jones said. "It's not a hard-core issue for many African-Americans."
Jones not only got it right in alluding to the fact that there's really not one constituency among Obama supporters in the Democratic base, or among independents, that would vote against the president on this one issue; he was also right to conjure up the closet.
Obama is very much in a closet on gay marriage even though he's been outed several times. Like others who've been outed, his past came back to haunt, in his case when a questionnaire surfaced from 1996. The White House spin and denials have been as comical as former Senator Larry Craig trying to explain he had a "wide stance."
Everyone, including his enemies, knows Obama supports gay marriage, to the point where there is uproarious laughter when TV commentators are sitting around discussing Obama's claim that he is "evolving." It's bordering on ludicrous. Obama's closet on gay marriage is about as well-guarded as Liberace's was on being gay.
And it's time for Obama to now kick down the closet door. It's no longer a matter of whether he can or should. He must if he wants to win the election.
I've read the arguments against it. First let me say it's fascinating to witness good liberals who say they support marriage equality and are certain the president does as well, but who tell us he needs to continue to try to fool voters -- some would call it lying -- in order to win, even though no one is fooled. These same people thought it was the most cynical politics when George W. Bush didn't tell the truth on a wide variety of matters, some large, some small. You've got to chuckle at that one.
More importantly, they really don't make an argument based in sound electoral politics analysis -- they don't bring forth examples of the voter who is supporting Obama but for whom gay marriage would be the deal-breaker that would drive him or her to the GOP -- as much as they cling to a generalized "better safe than sorry" strategy.
But playing it safe doesn't win elections in the current political environment. Just ask the Democrats, who lost the House in 2010 because they were so fearful of making bold moves on the issues on which they were elected in 2008, while Republicans acted as if they'd won all along and galvanized the Tea Party-inspired base. The president himself seems to be realizing this on economic issues, finally drawing a bright line between him and the Republicans after four years of playing it safe to the point where he was about to give away the store.
And there are two things happening now that will make the president seem more disingenuous, fearful and weak if he does not come out for marriage equality. His own party is moving at light speed on the issue, with pressure mounting to include marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform. This week four former Democratic National Committee chairs joined the Democratic National Convention's chair, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in calling for the platform to include full equality. As Greg Sargent explains, this makes the issue unavoidable for Obama at this point.
Secondly, Mitt Romney is now emerging as the sure Republican nominee, a man who supports "gay rights" but not "gay marriage" -- in other words, in the broad brush of politics and the media, having the same position as Obama. And you better believe, just like his buddy Chris Christie did, Romney will say that. Yes, of course it's not true when you look at the details. And true, Romney has veered far to the right in the primaries. But Romney is whipping out the Etch A Sketch as we speak, and our media can't be counted on to stop him from erasing the past and keeping the details submerged.
I've heard from caller after caller to my radio program, people from all across the country who describe themselves as gay Republicans and gay independents, or as straight, socially liberal independents or moderate Republicans, who voted for Obama in 2008. They're experiencing Obama fatigue and were never really that loyal, voting for Obama mostly because the GOP had hit rock bottom under Bush. They're looking for reasons to vote for Romney, or, rather, against Obama. The president has got to clarify every blurry line between Romney and him, and on this issue, relevant to many of them, one way to do it is to come out for full equality.
Some people ask, If everyone assumes Obama secretly supports gay marriage, why does he need to say it? Because staying in the closet makes him look scared and dishonest. It keeps him on the defensive and far behind his party -- not to mention behind Dick Cheney and Laura Bush. And it depresses energy. The campaign surely wants to tap into the youth vote it galvanized in 2008, and certainly an issue like this, a civil rights issue of our time and one that is a driving force on college campuses, is the way to go.
Obama and his campaign need to stop the fretting and the fear -- the cowering in the closet -- and get back to the bold message of, "Yes, we can!"
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