Obama’s remarks yesterday were a brilliant example of political rhetoric calculated to appeal to an emotionally mushy middle.
A scenario that has played itself out thousands of times across the country is the following. A person who unreflectively (that is, on the basis of “religion” or “tradition”) has been opposed to same-sex relationships is confronted by a friend who declares himself to be gay. Although marriage invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs for this person, his views begin to evolve, perhaps over a period of years, until — seeing his friend in what seems to be a committed monogamous relationship — he concludes that for him personally it is important to go ahead and affirm that he thinks same-sex couples should be able to get married.
Obama simply transposed the italicized words to the realm of the political. By appealing to sentimentalism in this way and avoiding questions of the common good, Obama can turn criticisms into strengths. To evolve is to move to a position better than that of someone who hasn’t evolved. That his new position is “personal” shows his sensitivity. His long hesitation is only a measure of the weight he gives to tradition. Romney will find it difficult to affirm a strong commitment to traditional marriage, as he should, while appearing equally sensitive and troubled, as (given the character of the electorate) he must.
— Michael Pakaluk is chairman of the philosophy department at Ave Maria University.
First reactions to President Obama’s newly announced approval of same-sex marriage bespeak shaky mirror imaging. While folks on the right are routinely critical of its very core, they’re rejoicing in what they see as its politics. Folks on the left, meanwhile, while routinely celebrating the very heart of the president’s change of outward heart, don’t seem to be nearly as enthused (or even verbal) about its politics, fearful as many surely are that it will prove the opposite of helpful in November.
The latter dynamic may well manifest itself, and if I had to guess, it probably will — albeit not as consequentially as many Republicans and conservatives assume. A main reason is the great if generally unacknowledged rhetorical advantages proponents of same-sex marriage have over opponents.
Arguing compellingly against same-sex marriage is a complex and nuanced business, drawing on history, human nature, cultural coherence, and the well-being of children — and this last topic must be pursued without the aid of adequately persuasive research showing that growing up with same-sex parents is damaging. As for straightforward religious claims regarding the wrongness of same-sex marriage, by definition they are useless and worse on tens of millions.
Now take two things proponents can say in making their case.