Now that I have the attention of all eight of my readers, I want to announce my disappointment with President Obama on the gay marriage issue that I've been writing about recently--here and here, for instances. The vote in New York forced members of its state legislature to say Yes or No. In the state senate, which has a Republican majority, four Republican members said Yes, and the bill became law. One of the four, Roy McDonald, memorably summarized his internal dialogue: "You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn't black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. . . . You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing."
The word "evolve" plays its part in the president's pronouncements on this issue as well. Instead of saying Yes or No, he says his position is "evolving." From what to where? When he had a job like Roy McDonald's, he indicated that he supported marriage equality. Obama, however, represented liberal Hyde Park in Chicago, whereas McDonald represents a conservative district in upstate New York. On the national stage, Obama's public position changed, and his self-described "evolving" began.
His deployment of "evolving" is probably intended to be redolent of portentous moral deliberations occurring at the core of his noble being, where the arguments against contend with the rising arguments for. But if we are to believe the state senator from Hyde Park, he was never persuaded by the arguments against. It seems evident that it's not his position but his political calculations that are "evolving."
Now, "political calculation" is a term, like "rhetoric," that has an undeserved bad name. If your line of work is politics, you had better be good at making political calculations (and being a gifted rhetorician is an advantage, too). New York's Roy McDonald spoke also of "trying to do the right thing," a goal that cannot be conceived simply. Hendrik Hertzberg has recently argued that Obama, had he announced his full-throated support of gay marriage a year ago, would have added "Obamarriage" to "Obamacare" and united the tea-party brigade with the Christianist hordes. The evolution of society's views on marriage equality would have stalled.
Maybe. Let us give Obama credit for the demise of "don't-ask-don't-tell"; also, for the decision not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. On marriage equality, though, Hertzberg sounds to me like an ingenious defense attorney who, after his client has been caught, constructs an after-the-fact "theory of the case" that strains to create reasonable doubt. Meanwhile, Obama looks like an insincere trimmer. Society hasn't moved toward acceptance of gay marriage on account of anything he's done. One of his miscalculations has been to suppose that "doing the right thing" on gay marriage would be political suicide. By now he'd probably like to endorse gay marriage but that would make him a laughingstock. He was contemplating Reinhold Niebuhr while Roy McDonald was saying, "Fuck it, I'm doing the right thing."