Mandi: Ok, so I know that it is crass to ask this question, when we are all celebrating freedom, love, tolerance and whatnot, but from a purely political perspective, what has Obama gained by coming out so firmly in favor of gay marriage? I can’t help but think of LBJ, pushing through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after which he is said to have remarked, “We [Democrats] have lost the South for a generation.” Did Obama gain any voters that he would not have already had? I think he may have lost a tiny number of votes from the anti-gay crowd that he may have gotten otherwise, but not enough to make much of a difference.
I know by taking this “courageous” stand, Obama now looks decisive, and he can employ the weak flip-flopper meme against Romney to greater effect, as that is one charge which seems to have stuck against Romney. The questions from reporters on this subject before the President spoke about it were unusually harsh, and they seemed to be building up to labeling Obama as the flip-flopper. So he neatly evades that, and thanks to the Romney bully story, also manages to make Romney look like a raging homophobe loon to boot, as a bonus.
Or perhaps the President was merely worried about his legacy? No President wants to go down as being on the wrong side of history. History, and history books, have not been kind to the Hoovers, Buchanans, and Fillmores of the world. Obama is no fool, and can see the writing on the wall as far as same sex marriage is concerned. As great as I think the President’s announcement is, the cold-blooded calculations that went into that announcement fascinate me on an entirely different level.
Emily: Well, LBJ was awesome. (This is the Voting Rights Act speech, I like that even better than the Civil Rights Act of 1964 speeches. The full version at that link is even better, and includes the "we shall overcome" reference.)
But also, LBJ was right. In fact, he's mostly still right. There are few "swing states" in the south to this day - they are mostly Redder than red. That said, when more black and young people vote in the South, we do better (see, e.g. 2008). In Virginia and North Carolina, for example:
And speaking of North Carolina...
I know, clumsiest transition ever. But FWIW, here's what I think is going on:
I think there was strategy here, as well as some desire to be honest and forward-thinking. Forward is the theme, right?
I think the Campaign and the WH realize that they need to get young people and women fired up (not just passively-supportive, fair-weather voters) to win.
I suspect they also think that black people will still vote for Obama in fairly large numbers - particularly if it's a close election and the Rs continue the code-race-baiting - even if a significant number of the more religious African-Americans disagree with him on gay marriage and abortion.
So I think this recent wave of Obama political decisions has been about trying to get the young vote.
I think they laid the trap for Rs on contraceptives, and the Rs bit. I doubt the Obama folks had any idea just how crazytown the Rs would take it, and it certainly helped that it happened in the primaries, and while Santorum was surging. That whole episode helped with women, particularly young women (who in my estimation don't understand how tenuous the gains made by the feminist movement really are, or how virulently anti-woman a faction of the Republican party is). It also helped with young men who want to get laid and not have a kid every time. Particularly with those who lean libertarian.
Then there's student loans. And while Rs have tried to turn that whole argument into a reason for middle-aged white men to vote for Romney, Obama used going on Jimmy Fallon as a savvy opportunity to reach a ton of young people - for free - in a way that I think engaged them and made them want to vote for him. It was a solid strategy: they went on a show that young people watch, that is fairly cool (as much as anything mainstream can be) - banking on the fact that the video of his appearance would go viral as soon as it happened (which it did), and would thereby reach way more young people than watch the show. And even the decision to do the slow jam was brilliant, because the interview, while good, wasn't viral material. The slow jam? Total viral bait:
Pundits have been calling this "unpresidential" - which shows how much they missed the boat. 5.5 million views on the official Jimmy Fallon YouTube version, who knows how many from HuffPo to the Hulu version. And for free. Very smart strategery.
So then we get to gay marriage. And continuing to draw a clear line between the old fogey party of the Republicans, and the young, vibrant, forward-thinking party of Obama. Gay marriage is an issue that people under 40 view as fairly universal - unless you are very religious, you think gay people should be allowed to get married. So even a fair number of young Republicans are with Obama - not Romney on this one. And what if you are a young Republican, or a middle-aged one, and you have a family member who is gay? And you hear the crazy crap coming out of Republican party leaders?
Obama has put young people on his side on issue after issue here, contraceptives, student loans, gay marriage. And he's created ridiculous statements by Romney, who's bitten at every single opportunity to say the opposite of whatever Obama says, because he's desperate - still - to appear conservative enough to drum up evangelical turnout.
The reason this is a smart strategy at this point in the campaign is that while young people will remember it, and women will remember the contraceptives issue, the campaign is now able to start the other part of the argument that is aimed mostly at older people: on economics. And this is some important, new thinking for a Democratic campaign. Democratic presidential and congressional campaigns have been so defensive since Reagan - always "we can't say that, they'll come after us." And here we have a President using populist arguments, using what he really believes, and arguing for it. That's nice, and refreshing.
As you know, I was (and probably will always be) a Hillary girl, but I'm truly impressed with the campaign Obama is running. And I think gay marriage is a part of that. I think it's brave and important, and man did it take guts - because I promise you that almost everyone who adheres to Democratic Mainstream Beltway thinking would have told him it was political suicide.