U.S. President Barack Obama is playing hardball in his effort to get re-elected later this year. And if last week is any indication, a second term will be even more of a slam dunk than I thought it would be.
In a move that led some to dub him “the first gay president,” Obama endorsed gay marriage – without actually promising to do anything about it, since he says the issue is one for states to decide for themselves – just a day before it was revealed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had bullied gay students at the posh Michigan prep school he attended as a teen in the 1960s.
I’m not buying the story that Obama’s hand was forced after his vice-president, Joe Biden, said recently on NBC’s Meet the Press that he was “totally comfortable” with same-sex marriage.
This allegedly led Obama to come out, so to speak, with his own statement to ABC News that gays and lesbians ought to be allowed to marry, after previously stating that he opposed gay marriage, then later saying that his position on the issue was evolving.
Obama had reportedly intended to endorse gay marriage just before the Democratic convention in September. Biden’s “slip” supposedly moved up the timeline.
But it’s hard to believe that the vice-president’s statement was accidental. The whole sequence of events looked like it was carefully orchestrated to Obama’s political advantage.
I say that because the day after Obama’s declaration, the Washington Post ran a long news feature on how Romney bullied gay students when he was in high school.
In one case, he and some friends chased down a boy with foppish bleach-blonde hair, and Romney cut off the crying boy’s bangs while his friends held the boy down.
In another incident, he shouted ” ‘atta girl” at an effeminate male classmate.
Responding to the Post report, a defensive Romney said he had no recollection of either incident, but he nevertheless apologized for any youthful “pranks” he may have committed. He also said he didn’t know that the boys, who came out as gay years later, were homosexual. (To his credit, so far he hasn’t used the incidents, or his opposition to gay marriage, to try to rally social conservatives, who so far have been lukewarm about him, to his campaign.)
The White House and Obama’s re-election team must have known well ahead of time that the Post was working on this teen bullying story about Romney – in fact, their own researchers likely dredged it up and fed it to the Post for its reporter to flesh out.
Furthermore, Biden hasn’t “gone rogue” in a significant way in years. His comment was very likely a plant, as was the back story about the president’s hand being forced on the issue.
The Obama camp obviously made a decision to control the agenda and get out ahead of any culture war that might erupt during the campaign, and to paint Obama in a positive light compared to Romney, who comes off looking like a bigot as a result of the revelation.
Even among Americans who aren’t in favour of gay marriage, the image left in people’s minds is that Obama is principled, while Romney looks like a shallow frat boy at best and a cruel bully at worst.
(I expect the next “surprise” about Romney will involve racist comments he once made somewhere along the line.)
In some ways, Romney can take all of this as a compliment, in that it shows Obama and company are concerned about him, or at least are taking him seriously.
But they needn’t worry. The Republican A Team, such as it is, sat this presidential race out.
They knew that despite a persistently rotten economy, it’s highly unlikely that the first black American president was going to go down as a one-term wonder. Jimmy Carter he ain’t.
Silver-spoon Romney isn’t even fit to lead the B team, although he looks better than the rag-tag bunch of also-rans who tried to beat him for the nomination, such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. (It’s still hard to believe that Santorum had the chutzpah to think he’s presidential material!)
The only downside to all of this is that while the president should be lauded for taking a principled stand, it’s unfortunate that gays and lesbians are being treated as political footballs. In the process, they could be exposed to a firestorm of bigotry as the socially conservative right rallies against the president’s statement.
The 2012 election is Obama’s to lose, but the whole episode shows that the Democrats and Obama don’t intend to coast to victory, even though they probably could.
They’re going to play rough, and it’s good to see them getting ahead of events and feeding the Republicans some of their own “swift-boat” medicine.
It looks like Romney doesn’t stand a chance.