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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Evolution of Barack Obama

First things first, today is a good day for a lot of Americans, and even more importantly, a bad day for a lot of bigots who want to legislate their religious feelings into civil law. It was not that long ago that U.S. Presidents completely ignored gay citizens. Ronald Reagan famously did not use the word AIDS in public until 1987. Twenty-five years later, the President is publicly supporting their right to marry each other.

But how much credit does Barack Obama deserve? His statement is obviously a great moment, but it might have been a more meaningful moment at any point in the last four years. The President has not exactly been a leader on this issue, and the calculations that have made him so reticent are no more acceptable for their probable correctness. Is it too naïve to wish that the President had had the conviction to proclaim his support for gay marriage at a time when it might have been less politically expedient?

Surely there are very few people who believe the malarkey that the President’s views have been “evolving” on this issue. Most liberals have long believed that Obama was privately in favor, but too worried about the electoral consequences to do so in full-throated fashion.

If so, that actually augurs better for the gay-rights movement on the whole. Imagine, the President of the United States is coming out for gay rights in order to pander to voters. That means that the real credit here belongs to society, which has been gradually becoming more accepting and tolerant, even without a President willing to lead the fight against bigotry.

As is so often said in regards to this issue, demographics is destiny. Young people, even ones who think corporations shouldn’t pay any taxes, are for gay rights in large numbers. The true significance of Obama’s public stance is that it’s now likely that there will never be another Democratic candidate for president who tries to placate the middle by hanging back on this issue. In a generation or so, the issue might well be nearly settled. History will decide how much credit Barack Obama gets for this, but one thing is clear today. He could have done a lot more, a lot sooner.

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