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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Column: Culture wars

Last week, I wrote about how Obama’s coalition is not so slowly unraveling. Through broken promises and perennial letdowns, he has managed to anger the very constituencies that helped him win election in 2008. These groups include minorities, LGBT and the young.

Without their support, Obama is not going to win this November. Period. In fact, things could be dicey for team O even with their support. Because the economy is still in the dumper, the president is going to lose plenty of votes with those tired of being unable to find a job, or who have to work jobs below their skills set and training. So he’s going to need every Hispanic, same-sex and college-aged vote he can possibly get.

Well, he just might get those votes yet — or, at least, the LGBT votes. The president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage has been a long time coming for many in the LGBT community, but that does not diminish the significance any. Any time a president has come out publicly on the side of civil rights, laws have eventually followed. It might take years for the dream to become a reality in certain parts of the country, but the LGBT community has history on their side.

Obama’s motivations, at least to some degree, quite simply comes down to politics. Obama was apparently saving his declaration of support for same-sex marriage for closer to the Democratic National Convention. This convention is where he will publicly accept the nomination to be the small-d Democratic candidate for the fall election. It’s also a moment where millions of American households are tuned in to watch the big speech that the candidate always delivers.

It would have been a prime moment to drop the same-sex marriage bombshell. There would have been screaming, crying, pandemonium and gnashing of teeth. It would have also led to a surge in excitement among Democratic constituencies and a flood of contributions.

Now, this is probably happening today, at least to a certain degree. But it would have been more dramatic in the context of an arena with thousands of screaming fans. The political bang-for-your-buck would have been greater. Hence, the irritation on the part of Obama’s political advisers.

I have to wonder, however, if his advisors have this all wrong, and that, regardless of the timing, Obama’s support for equal rights to marriage could backfire. What if, despite firing up part of his base of support, Obama’s public support for same-sex marriage riles up the opposition even more? After all, this issue is an anathema to the religious right. And it is the religious voters who form the backbone of the Republican Party.

Mitt Romney’s campaign had never received glowing reviews from this section of the Republican Party, and for good reason. Romney was essentially a Democrat 20 years ago — a conservative Democrat, it is true, but still certainly not a radical right-winger. He risked not getting much support from conservative Republicans in the election before Obama’s public coming-out, but now things are different. For them, the war is on.

They are not wasting any time, either. Down in Bakersfield, where I am from originally, Romney’s campaign is already robo-calling households, warning people about Obama’s same-sex marriage agenda and asking for their support in the fight. And I’m willing to bet that there will be plenty of individuals willing to answer the call.

In the end, every vote that Obama’s same-sex marriage stance might garner could be canceled out (and then some) by the righteous anger of religious conservatives. Personally, I have to wonder if Obama is beginning to realize that there is a good chance he might lose the election in November and is taking stock of what he can get accomplished before he is booted out of the White House. This issue is one that he quite possibly felt like he could make a difference and that he needed to do so soon, before time ran out.

The election will probably still come down to the economy, but issues like same-sex marriage could affect outcomes made at the margins. This election is going to be a close one — razor close. Whoever wins this culture battle could be the next president. Get ready for things to get bloody.

Contact JONATHAN NELSON at jdnelson@ucdavis.edu and tell him your thoughts and feelings about Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.

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