Is Obama's gaydar malfunctioning?

It's still the economy, stupid, but Stupid may have been advised to wait until safely re-elected before addressing the issue of gay marriage

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Picture: Newsweek
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Dr. James Boys
On 16 May 2012 10:32

In my last piece, Courting Bubba, I noted that former president Bill Clinton had been accused of racism for questioning the credibility of Obama’s 2008 campaign. This was particularly perplexing and wounding to Clinton whom in office had famously been referred to as America’s First Black President by Toni Morrison. Obviously, Bill Clinton was not an African American, but the point was that he was one of only a few Caucasian politicians who appeared to feel comfortable and capable of empathising with a non-white audience.

This week, Newsweek has referred to the supposedly post-racial Barack Obama as ‘American’s First Gay President.’ They even revealed alternate cover mocks ups in case anyone wondered how they arrived at the cover story.

Clearly, Newsweek’s decision has much to do with its ongoing ratings war with Time Magazine and its somewhat more risqué attitude under new editor, Tina Brown. The decision to do so has ensured that almost as much time has been spent dissecting Newsweek’s coverage of the story, than it has analysing Obama’s decision to support the idea of gay marriage in the first place.  

Indeed the coverage of the announcement is a story all in itself and will doubtless be retold over and over as the media clearly loves nothing more than a tale that is essentially about itself. Yet the media, its coverage of the story and its apparent usage by the White House remains central to the developing tale of President Obama’s statement endorsing the idea of gay marriage.

Recall that despite attempts to present a serene image of a tolerant, thoughtful president whose position had been evolving on this issue, this was not a planned or carefully thought-out decision. Instead, the President of the United States was playing catch up and being forced to address the situation following yet another gaffe by the vice president, the man even bid Laden did not want to target!

Once the vice president had given his support for gay marriage it was inevitable that the president would be required to go on the record in one form or another. The decision to come out and make an announcement appears to have been made quite literally as the president was heading out of the White House door en route to Albany.

There then followed a mad scramble to identify an appropriate vehicle by which to make the announcement, with the White House finally settling on using Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America. The use of Roberts, an African American, was revealing and this must have been factored in when deciding who got the scoop.

With the announcement made, the media have jumped all over it; ABC has been congratulating itself for securing its place in broadcast history. In the week that Time Magazine made headlines for its cover on breastfeeding, Newsweek chose to place its coverage of the Obama story front and centre in what will doubtless be a cover for the ages. Interestingly, just as the White House made a conscious decision in the selection of Robin Roberts, so too did Newsweek in their selection of Andrew Sullivan to write the cover story.

But what of the political ramifications? Whatever one’s views on the morality of the issue, the political timing is dreadful. It has clearly caught the country and Obama’s own party completely flatfooted.

Is there an up side? Well, by all accounts there was a great deal of money riding on this that Obama will presumably now be able to secure from the gay community. It has also (and completely unconnectedly, of course) played well in Hollywood. This combination was expected to generate anything up to $12 million in campaign funds in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.

It will be argued that this places Obama on ‘the right side of history,’ that gay marriage is an inevitability and that Obama is right to endorse it now, lest he get left behind on the issue and be forced to play an even bigger game of catch up later. Maybe. It will help with some elements of the Democratic base that view this as a matter of civil rights.

But where else were the gay community, Hollywood and the Democratic base going to go? Would they have ever voted for Mitt Romney?

And so we come to the downside.

At present, polling indicates that this is a closer race than many (myself included) would have predicted. With the power of the incumbency, a divisive Republican primary season and millions of dollars in his campaign war chest, the expectation was that Obama would be far ahead in the polls.

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