Bill Whalen

Obama, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Ordinarily, there wouldn’t be much to this column – at least, as far as North Carolina is concerned.

On Tuesday, Tar Heel voters approved a ballot measure that added a marriage amendment to its constitution. While North Carolina already bans same-sex marriage, the vote likely means civil unions and other forms of domestic partnership likely will go unrecognized as well.

That North Carolina would choose to do this isn’t earth-shattering news. Thirty other states have opted for the same policy course.

Likewise, it’s not a surprise that the measure received about 60% of the vote in Tuesday’s light-turnout primary.

For all the talk of North Carolina representing a purplish “New South” (Obama carried it by 14,000 votes out of 4.3 million cast in 2008), it’s still a socially conservative state. The moral of this ballot fight: Chelsea Clinton (she wrote a letter denouncing the ballot measure) is no match, on his home turf, for the Rev. Billy Graham (who appeared in a signed newspaper ad statewide supporting Amendment One).

So much for politics as usual.

Now, on to something else that’s become de rigueur for this campaign: the president’s campaign seemingly stumbling into trouble – and the uneasy feeling that said pratfall was more staged than accidental.

Conspiracy buffs will long debate why Vice President Biden and, a day later, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan seemingly went off message when each went out of their way to espouse their support for gay marriage.

And why, later the same week, President Obama “came out”, as it were, ending his supposed mental anguish by pronouncing his support for gay marriage – something that was expected to occur in the political safe haven of a second term (or forced retirement, whichever comes first).

The reason for my cynicism: (a) Obama’s back-and-forth over the years seemed more about campaign landscapes than intellectual process; (b) the White House pre-signaled that the President would address gay marriage in his ABC News interview, which reeks of build-up and choreography.

So if you want to play along, feel free to choose which of these factors accelerated the President’s timetable:

  1. Trying to reanimate a disappointed voting bloc – disappointed in the sense that Obama has been so measured on an issue that, to the LGBT community, is a matter of equal rights?
  2. Trying to ensure the Obama money machine keeps humming along (some disgruntled gay and progressive donors reportedly have been loath to give to the Obama super-PAC)?
  3. Trying to drive a wedge between Mitt Romney and social conservatives (the likely Republican nominee is for some domestic partnership benefits, but dead-set against same-sex marriage)?
  4. Trying to show that the Barack Obama, the man, is not unlike a lot of suburban voters who likewise are “evolving” on the concept?
  5. Fear of being booed and heckled by George Clooney & co. at Thursday’s mega-millions fundraiser in Los Angeles?

For argument’s sake, I’ll go with the second and penultimate points: money and votes are what drive the presidential re-elect. Let’s see if the President’s rainbow embrace brings a big haul of campaign green, and if voters credit him for ditching what was becoming a comically bad inability to step up to the plate and offer an honest opinion on the matter (as parodied in this Onion piece, which has Obama blasting himself for his own evasiveness).

And so the President survives the week. Now, the question of what to do later this summer, when his fellow Democrats gather at their party’s national convention in Charlotte?

Does the party take the next step – make support of same-sex marriage a plank in the party’s platform (as 11 state chairs advocate)? If so, what happens to the party’s fortunes in more culturally conservative parts of America (remember: this is a President who just lost 4 out of every 10 votes in West Virginia’s Democratic primary to a federal inmate who listed himself as a “Rastafarian-Christian” and his career as “Founder, World Peace Through Musical Communications Skills”.

A realist will point out that West Virginia, a state Obama lost by 13% in 2008, isn’t on the President’s radar screen.

But a cynic will point out that there are two forms of political evolution – those genuine and those born of circumstance.

Hence the phrase: election-year conversion.

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