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Dr. Peggy Drexler Headshot

Obama and the Bully: The Cornering of Mitt Romney

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Ok. Let me get this straight. Vice President Joe Biden happens to mention that he has no problem with same-sex marriage. Then President Obama says that he supports it. Then some schoolmates of Mitt Romney say he and his buddies held down a shy, quiet student they thought to be gay, and chopped off his hair.

The Republicans might want to reconsider their talking points about this "community organizer" who is in over his head. As political theater, Karl Rove could not have scripted this any better.

First, you learn all about Romney's school days -- and you realize you have some credible ammunition. But how to use it? You trot out well-known gaffe-meister Joe Biden to make the statement. If all hell breaks loose, duck and cover -- it's just Joe being Joe. If all looks clear, come out with a presidential position that dominates the news cycle. Then -- wait a couple beats -- let loose the news that Romney was a teenage gay basher -- forcing him into an "I don't remember" non-apology apology -- with a chuckle -- for "dumb things" he did in high school. He is sorry if -- always if -- anyone was offended; the implication being that being held down by a gang and attacked with scissors is more upsetting to some than others.

Adding to the no-win column is the lack of recall. Two options here: either you're lying, or a horrific act of bullying was so trivial to you that it failed to lodge in your memory.

Certainly Obama felt his support was the right thing to do but any scenario other than brilliant political positioning says that all these events happened independently and coincidentally. Really? Nobody gets this lucky.

Putting your opponent in a no-win position is time-honored politics. The Republicans backed Clinton into don't ask don't tell with a threat of an outright ban on gays in the military -- something Clinton couldn't let happen on his watch, leading to a compromise he says he regrets.

What's interesting in the latest round of using gays and lesbians like sumo wrestlers use leverage is how the nation has changed since don't ask, don't tell. Look at virtually any opinion poll, and we are a nation moving on -- leaving politicians at a loss about what to do with their voting blocks of well-organized intolerance.

The heart of the Republican dilemma is the Millennials -- roughly mid-teens to late 30s. There are 79 million of them -- making them bigger than the boomers. The boomers see them as entitled, lazy, and happy to live in mom and dad's basement. A recent Boston Consulting Group study found something very different.

In spite of being raised amid the debris of the epic failures of multiple institutions, they are a generation that believes business and government can change the world. They believe in collective action -- and as the first generation of digital natives, they have an easy command of the opportunities to share their opinions.

They are very clear on social issues. One marketing study listed ten ways the generation describes itself. Number one is "friendly." A close second, at 81 percent, is: "open minded." Other studies show they are less religiously affiliated than their parents, and they feel government is too deeply involved in morality. They believe Christianity has good values, but they see it as judgmental, hypocritical and intolerant -- particularly on gay issues.

Most telling of all, they largely see issues like gay marriage as beside the point. A Harvard Institute on Politics survey found the economy and jobs as their top concern -- at 58 percent. Nothing else got out of the single digits, and social issues barely registered.

So to a generation of current and future voters, Obama has deftly offered a choice: a respectful and inclusive voice of the future; versus a schoolyard tormenter aligned with the intolerant voices of the past.

Not bad for a community organizer.

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