11:08pm May 9, 2012

Obama on Gay Marriage: He’s Smarter Than You Think


I can’t believe it took almost four years for Vice President Joe Biden to finally say something that the White House had to scramble around and explain. When Biden openly supported gay marriage last Sunday, just 48 hours before the hottest new purple state of North Carolina was set to vote on a same sex marriage ban, we could all exhale.

He’d finally made the gaffe we were waiting for.

Between Biden’s statement and voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly voting for Amendment 1, the president felt it was time to make a move. After a hastily scheduled interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, the president became a full-fledged rainbow flag carrying supporter of gay marriage this afternoon, a reversal so sharp it almost gave me whiplash.

But Obama knew what he was doing: this was all very strategic, and part of a larger plan on the part of the Democrats to improve their chances this fall.

Obama is Smarter than You Think

The big questions from the press and political analysts are already trickling in.

“Will Obama’s support for gay marriage cost him African American or Latino voters?”

“Will this decision to support gay marriage cost Obama North Carolina?”

“Has the president’s flip-flop giving Romney a wedge issue?”

The answers to all three questions? No, No and No.

African Americans and Latinos that voted for Obama in 2008 and still plan on voting for him in 2012 are not going to be swayed by his stance on gay marriage. Any minority voter who is that driven by a social issue like gay marriage wouldn’t vote for any Democrat let alone Obama.

Next, Obama barely won North Carolina in 2008 and his chances of a repeat this year were pretty slim. Having a convention in Charlotte is as much about targeting North Carolina as it is about misdirection for Romney and wishful thinking. Obama knows his fates are tied to Virginia first and Florida second. The Tarheel state is a longshot.

Finally, Romney can’t win a flip-flop argument with a fish out of water (3:54 mark in the video) let alone Obama, so it would be foolish for him to attack the president with that line of argument.

So how does Barack Obama’s new marriage stance show that he’s smarter than anyone gives him credit for in 2012? As a good PR friend of mine told me earlier this week: “Any day where we’re not talking about the economy is a good day for Obama.” Which leads us to the second big result of today’s announcement.

Throwback to the 90’s

I already made a Faith No More reference to Romney the flopping fish in the last paragraph so I’ll just go full bore now.

This election is almost like a photo-negative of the 1990’s. If you remember those bygone days of Grungy cynical loveFlannel Shirts and neon colored hats, the economy was generally booming under Bill Clinton so the Republican’s best strategy to win in the House, Senate and White House was to focus on the “Culture Wars”. Affirmative Action, Drug Use, Abortion, Soccer Moms and the like dominated the GOP narrative, and they were generally successful at the state and occasionally congressional level with these arguments.

But this year it’s the reverse, and Obama is using his 2008 Cult of Personality to seduce the public back into his arms by using the culture wars in reverse. The economy is lousy so Obama hits Republicans on issues like Gay Marriage, Contraception and Gun Control (Trayvon Martin and Gabrielle Giffords opened up the door).

While Americans as a whole aren’t in love with the Democratic position on these issues most of the public is totally horrified with Republican views on gay marriage and contraception. If the GOP fights this election on the cultural battleground instead of the economy field they’ll lose this election. They have to remember it’s the economy stupid – this election is All About The Benjamins. (Okay that’s two 90’s references back to back. I’m done)

There are over 30 states that have some type of ban on gay marriage, many of which went for Obama in 2008 (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota and Florida just to name a few). It is highly unlikely that this announcement by the president is going to flip a blue state red or turn a red state blue. However his best option is to keep talking about this issue … because it’s certainly going to make a lot more people happy than last month’s jobs numbers.

DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson 

About the Author

Jason Johnson
Jason Johnson



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  1. Ariana

    I think that happiness over Obama's statement is making reporters and the talking heads seriously overlook some things. Obama got a lot of independents last go round. I personally know people who would otherwise be conservative who voted for Obama. Lots of people were angry with the Republicans and the war (and wanted "Change", right?).

    And I might add that the gay marriage issue is not the only one. He ran up against Catholics and other strongly religious in attempting to force religious institutions to compromise beliefs that have been clearly defined for a long time now.

    Obama is playing to the Left rather than to the Center, and I think that's where the potential issue might lie. The people to the left of him would have voted for him anyway–regardless of what he said or didn't say; but the people to the right of him are the ones he needs to worry about losing.

    • Dr. Jason Johnson

      I disagree. The left wasn't guaranteed to vote for him this time. Remember when liberals get angry they stay home. Next, this is NOT an issue that drives most voters. While there are plenty of Americans who disagree with gay marriage, moderates who are against gay marriage are NOT as passionate as liberals who are for it. This was essentially a neutral move or a win for Obama. The most glaring example of why? 24 hours after his talk the Republicans were going crazy to turn the page from gay marriage back to the economy. Being against gay marriage is a non issue for the GOP but Obama saying he's for it (in a milquetoast way) is a net plus for him. He'll lose about as many votes or his gay marriage stance as Romney will lose for being outed as a 'bully' in highschool.

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  4. Ariana

    I think the underlying thought of many in these conversations is that almost anyone for whom gay marriage would be a dealbreaker is too conservative to vote for Obama in the first place. But that's really not the case. Over the past few days I have run into people over and over again who were even excited about Obama the first go round, but who have expressed that for them, this is a deal breaker. That says nothing of the people for whom Obama was a compromise in the first place. Multiple black voters in particular have expressed the sentiment that Obama has taken the black vote for granted.

    • Ariana

      It's hard to describe the level of energy and enthusiasm that surrounded the Obama campaign on the ground in 2008. I see little to nothing of that type of enthusiasm in the black community today, and now instead of "Yeah, he's our man!" many feel like they are faced with a compromise at best. Pastors who were extremely active in Obama's first GOTV initiatives have said that even if they do decide to go ahead and cast their vote for him again (not all will), they're not sure how much energy they will put into supporting him.

      If the calculus was to drum up support among LGBT supporters (money, energy), that may well work. But I know that it has left many (not just political extremists) very uncomfortable, and in any event, splits the base all over.

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