While I wouldn’t put anything past Biden’s big mouth, Obama’s little foray earlier this week into gay marriage appears highly calculated. Like Catholic Yankee politicians, he is essentially saying he’s personally for gay marriage, though he wouldn’t impose that view on the several states. He seems to think this and other social issues–contraception, Trayvon Martin–are winning political issues. I think he’s highly mistaken on the politics here.
I think the underlying issues here have several dimensions. One Obama has a bit of psychodrama going on. He is torn between his liberal instincts, which he undoubtedly acquired at Harvard and in his years in Hyde Park, and his parallel desire to remain authentically black. Most blacks, religious or otherwise, are not the biggest fans of gay marriage and are in some cases vociferously against it. They are especially resentful of comparisons of gay activism to the civil rights movement, which they consider their proprietary moment in the sun and an expression of self-respecting Christian morality. They don’t want their undeniable claim on the American psyche analogized to a fringe group defined by a behavior a great many consider sinful or unmanly or both.
And Obama’s own psychodrama is a microcosm of the entire Democratic coalition’s problems: It is not really rooted in any philosophical unity. It’s just 20 disparate groups clamoring for what they want, their share of the money and the spoils in the victims sweepstakes. This competition is also internecine and zero sum. Not everyone can be the number one victim, and helping one group often comes at the expense of others. Obama’s intimately familiar with this, no doubt, as Chicago’s politics are both ethnic and largely devoid of any ideology. It’s just ethnic bribery and power sharing. And, in the post Harold Washington era, increasingly has little room for blacks.
Equally important, Obama’s coalition is fragile, while the Republicans’ is strong. Social conservatives and economic conservatives are essentially the same group. Tea Partiers hate the growing deficit, and they like guns and want to ban abortion. The only wedge in their coalition may come from the conflict of Evangelicals and Mormons. But injecting gay rights into the mix will likely bring recalcitrant Southerners and Baptists who are all a little wary of Mormons back into the fold due to their deep opposition to gay marriage.
Obama really does not understand the American people. He’s demonstrated this multiple times, whether in calling out the Cambridge Cop, stepping into the swamp that is the Trayvon Martin case, siding with the dog-killing Michael Vick, embracing a bloodless vision of life in his Julia cartoon, or now thinking gay marriage will win him an election. True, many Americans attitudes have softened on this issue. But the majority is still against it, multiple ballot initiatives have rejected it, and, on top of all that, Republicans who might otherwise be fragmented by denominational politics–i.e., anti-Mormonism–are now being united by the second-biggest social issue of our time. The Obamacare/abortion nexus only adds additional fuel to this fire.
Obama is becoming what George W. Bush promised to be: the great uniter . . . in this case, of social conservatives.