Brief Note on the Politics of SSM

So how should we understand the president’s decision to endorse the legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage?

Ross Douthat has an excellent new Campaign Stops column on the politics of same-sex marriage. He notes that opinion polls seem to consistently overstate the extent of popular support for same-sex marriage, which could be why the size of the majority in favor of Amendment 1 in North Carolina proved surprising to many outside observers. This could be why the president has been so reluctant to endorse the legalization of same-sex marriage. At the same time, however, a vocal and influential segment of his base has seen this as a profoundly problematic stance, as Ross makes clear:

Supporters of same-sex marriage have worked very hard to frame their issue, not as an ordinary political conflict, but as an all-or-nothing question that pits enlightenment and progress against reaction, bigotry and hate. I don’t accept that framing, but I accept that its architects genuinely believe in it, and see the conflict over same-sex unions as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, with no possibility of middle ground.

If same-sex marriage isn’t an issue where people can disagree in good faith, though, then the president’s evasions and obfuscations can’t be treated as ordinary political maneuverings, and excused as just so much politics-as-usual. If the debate is as black and white as many supporters of same-sex marriage argue, then they should be much harder on political leaders who pretend that it’s a gray area.

Indeed, if you accept the framing of the debate that many liberals (and many journalists) embrace, then you have to acknowledge that President Obama has spent the last four years lying to the American people about his convictions on one of the defining civil rights issues of our time, and giving aid and comfort to pure bigotry in the service of his other political priorities.

But there is another dimension to the president’s decision-making which most analysts haven’t fully taken in. Peter Wallsten and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reported the following on Monday:

About one in six of Obama’s top campaign “bundlers” are gay, according to a Washington Post review of donor lists, making it difficult for the president to defer the matter.

In light of recent news reports that the Obama presidential campaign has a very high burn rate, i.e., it is spending the money it is raising at a rapid clip, this is clearly an important consideration. President Obama’s decision to endorse same-sex marriage will prove a tremendous boon to his fundraising efforts. 

So is this necessarily good news for Mitt Romney? It’s not clear. Romney might make gains among culturally conservative opponents of same-sex marriage in Ohio and other Midwestern states, yet GOP campaigning on cultural issues might strengthen the president’s position with college-educated upper-middle-class voters. Drawing a sharp contrast on social issues reinforces the president’s claim to be the candidate of “enlightenment and progress” against “reaction, bigotry, and hate.” This is the kind of campaign — focused on broad generalities rather than detailed questions concerning the state of the economy, debt and deficits, etc. — that the president wants to run, and it is easy to see why. 

And the president seems to have concluded that he won’t suffer any erosion among African American voters, which is reasonable enough. The fact that President Bush increased his margins among culturally conservative black voters in Ohio from 2000 to 2004 made a significant difference, but he was running against John Kerry, not Barack Obama.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More