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Rebecca Sive

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Like Hope, Evolving Is Not a Strategy

Posted: 05/11/2012 11:49 am

I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that. -- Joe Biden

Joe Biden's endorsement of gay marriage didn't give me pause because I assumed that he had been instructed by President Obama's handlers to say what he said (though he may actually believe what he said, too), either in order to blunt the unhappiness of gay men and lesbians, and their tens of millions of straight friends and families, with this president, who had stated 16 years ago he was in favor of gay marriage, but, of late, was "evolving," (can you evolve backwards?), or, in the alternative, to see how much of an outcry there would be, if the president were evolving until the day after Election Day.

Presto: Wednesday, the president acknowledged what he stated he had re-concluded a few months ago: that "...it is important for me to go ahead and confirm that same sex couples should be able to get married." "Evolving" for a while longer wouldn't cut it. So, the president took up in earnest his 2012 campaign slogan: "Forward," even though this forward was backwards.

Must be election time, big time.

But that's just the way politics works: It mutates to meet the needs of the day. And sometimes those mutations are ugly.

Richard Roeper and Carol Marin, gifted political reporters, said what time it really was, as the President went back to the future. Marin: "Right now, there is only one thing I can see standing in the way of a straightforward statement of support by this president. It's called an election."

And then there's Roeper (I loved this one): "POTUS Biden his time: ... As the president's view on the issue 'continue to evolve,' perhaps Biden and Carney would be better off simply saying, 'If you're gay, who you gonna vote for -- the president and his evolving views or Mitt Romney and his clearly unevolved stance? Now, let's talk about bin Laden. Still dead!"

Currently, I'm writing a handbook for young women who want to run for public office. The book is framed by the notion that women should run "...with joy, humor, and without apology." While "without apology" is my term of encouragement to female candidates fearing claiming their birthright to power, it also means doing what you know is right -- without apology to those who may think it imprudent, or untimely, or politically opportunistic.

I remind prospective candidates we are all fallible. Sometimes, you'll eat too many corndogs and can't wear a favorite dress; sometimes, you'll pick the wrong friends, and then they will embarrass you; sometimes, you'll do something foolish for which you'll have to seek redemption (happily, a concept just fine with most Americans); and, sometimes, you'll be politically craven. You're just human, too. Forget about it: Forge ahead, and do the right thing.

So, I forgive the president for his politically opportunistic back-to-the future program. So what if the president's strategists convinced him to "evolve" overnight, even if they'd probably known for quite some time now that a good way to win Florida and Virginia was to evolve to being pro-gay marriage? So what if the president, with a straight face, put the impetus for his announcement not on the views of the voters who elected him, but on the sentiments of his daughters? He did the right thing, even if, as Matt Bai pointed out, it wasn't his LBJ moment.

Anyway, once you've eaten as many corndogs as the president has, and kissed as many strangers' babies as he has, what's the point, really, of not being politically expedient, especially when it comes to policy that advances human rights? Clearly, that's what the president concluded after he heard what Joe Biden had to say. Not to mention that all the president's men's backfilling in the intervening couple of days had demonstrated to him that "evolving" was devolving. No percentage in that approach. (Can you imagine the scene at the NATO meeting in Chicago next week had all those world leaders been at the president's side, while reporters were yelling out questions to him about gay marriage? Not a plan. And then there were all those people at George Clooney's house. Also not a plan.)

The president has much bigger fish to fry in these days of turmoil and trouble. He knows this. That's why he regularly preaches to us (I use that word advisedly) about the importance of family values -- getting a good education, working hard, fighting for democracy, and creating secure, loving families. (Yet, when it came to gay and lesbian families, and that includes those of us straight folks with gay siblings, he'd step down from the pulpit and off the bimah.)

I know from my own family's experience that the capacity of an adult -- much less of a child -- to live the values the president preaches, requires growing up in that secure and loving family the president extols. When I ponder this truth, I remember when my youngest brother "came-out" to his siblings and parents, a quarter-century ago. Though I've never asked him, I think he was comfortable doing this because he felt secure in his family's love and support. (Last year, my brother got to marry his partner of 25 years when New York legalized gay marriage. Our parents, my 87-year-old mother and my 88-year-old father, were his witnesses. No evolving needed. They wished the same happiness for my gay brother as for his straight siblings.)

There's a sentiment in a Dr. King sermon I heard growing up that, at long last, we heard expressed by President Obama this week. It's the one that, but for the public policies that sermon (and LBJ) engendered, meant Barack Obama could be president: "We are all God's children." No exceptions. I'm grateful the president took it to heart, whatever the impetus.

 
 
 

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